Morristown East is alive and kicking in the TSSAA playoff race thanks to a heart-stopping 49-43 thriller over Volunteer on Homecoming Friday night at Burke-Toney Stadium.
It was another huge night for senior quarterback Cole Henson as he threw six more touchdown passes including the game-winner to Shaffer Harville with just 34.1 seconds left.
After Amanda Sunderland was crowned queen in pregame ceremonies, the Hurricanes surprised the visitors with an onsides kick, recovered and drove to a quick touchdown. It appeared East was in firm control with a 14-point lead late in the fourth period.
However, the Falcons scored with 4:29 left and recovered an onsides kick of their own. From there, Volunteer rode the running of Cameron Johnson to a touchdown and then hit a two-point conversion pass to take a 43-42 lead with 1:23 on the clock.
East had used up all three of its time outs when the Falcons reached a first and goal at the three, got a key kickoff return when Micah Simpson returned to the Volunteer 41. Disaster almost struck on the first play when a snap sailed past Henson and he recovered at the ‘Canes’ 41.
But the Falcons were called for a personal foul on the play so it actually only lost three yards. Henson fired a 15-yard pass to Harville on the sidelines and East was called for a motion penalty backing the ball up to the 34. After Henson scrambled and threw the ball away on the next snap, Volunteer took a time out with 50 seconds left.
Henson threw to Trevor Malone down the middle for 18 yards and East rushed to the line. The quarterback took the snap, rolled to his right, avoided a sack and floated the game-winning pass to Harville.
But, the way things had been going, it still wasn’t over. However, Malone took care of that as he picked off a deflected pass for his 10th career interception. East killed the final 7.9 seconds with one snap in the victory formation.
The victory improved East’s record to 4-3 and more importantly evened their Region One 5-A slate at 2-2. The Falcons fell to 2-6 overall and 1-4 in the region and were eliminated from playoff contention.
It was just another one of those record-setting nights for Henson and his gang. Henson finished 14 of 18 for 324 yards and for the second straight week he threw two more touchdown passes than he did incompletions. He breaks school career records for pass attempts, completions, yardage and total offense every time he completes a pass.
The six TD tosses also wiped out Nate Valentines’s record for a season as he now totals 22, four more than the old mark in 1998.
Simpson got into the record act on Friday as he his three scoring catches tied Jacob Ward’s 11 in 2017. He had four catches for 176 yards in the game.
It was also the most points ever scored in an East game as the teams wound up with 423 yards each. The previous most points was 90 in a 54-36 loss at Chattanooga East Ridge in 1998.
While East used its quick-strike attack, the Falcons featured the running of Johnson who racked up 186 yards and four touchdowns on 31 carries. Ethan Ledford had 103 yards on 15 attempts for the ‘Canes and scored once.
East coach Caleb Slover said, “That was really something. All I know is that we faced a lot of adversity and the kids fought through it and came back to win.
“When Shaffer intercepted and ran it back and they ruled he fumbled through the endzone was huge because it would have wrapped it up,” he stated. “We needed the defense to step up but they drove down the field and scored and then got the onsides kick when it just squirted out from under our guy. I’d say 99 percent of the time that ball would have bounced out of bounds but tonight it didn’t and they got on it.”
He continued, “Hats off to the kids for coming back after all that happened. This was a huge win for us in the region. I said we had to be 1-0 at the end of this week and we are. That’s what is important.”
In talking about Henson, Slover said, “He keeps doing good things for us. He’s not turning the ball over and putting us in bad situations. And he has lots of help.
“He’s got five guys in front of him fighting their butts off to keep the other team off him, he’s got a running back behind him that takes some of the pressure off by running the ball hard and helps protect him on pass plays and he’s got four or five guys on the outside that’s making plays for him and catching the ball.
“He’s doing an incredible job for us. Throwing 22 TD’s and just one interception is unreal. And that pick came on a deflection.”
Austin Ledford recovered the well-executed onside kick to start the game. Ethan Ledford ran for 22 and Henson for 18. It was fourth-and-goal at the one when a motion penalty moved the ball back and Henson threw to Ryan Harris for the touchdown. The kick was no good with 8:53 left in the first.
The Falcons ground out 70 yards in 11 plays with Johnson scoring from the nine and Dawson Dykes’ PAT put the visitors ahead. East turned the ball over on downs at its 40 but the defense got the ball back four plays later at the 36.
A 33-yard TD pass to Caden Turner was wiped out by penalty but Henson threw a 26-yard scoring strike to Malone and the same two combined on a two-point conversion for a 14-7 lead with 9:35 left in the half.
Volunteer tied it on an 18-yard run by Rayshawn Simmons but on the first play after the kickoff Simpson pulled in a 70-yard TD and Cruz converted for a 21-14 lead with 7:21 on the clock.
But the Falcons went 48 yards in 12 plays and knotted the game again on Johnson’s one-yard TD and a Dykes conversion.
It didn’t take long for the ‘Canes to score in the third quarter. On the first play, Simpson had the defender beat and he reached out and dragged him to the ground for pass interference. But on the very next play East ran the same pattern and Henson lofted a 48-yard TD to Simpson.
The defense got a stop and East struck again. A 37-yard pass to Malone set up Ledford’s 11-yard touchdown and Cruz made it 35-21 with 6:12 left in the third. However, aided by a pass interference call, the Falcons moved to another TD by Johnson this one from three yards out with 2:48 showing.
Four plays after the kickoff, it was Henson-to-Simpson again for a 45-yard TD on a flea-flicker play. Cruz made it 42-28 with 42.6 left in the third.
East punted and then took over on downs at its own 32. But the ‘Canes had to kick again. The Falcons got a huge break when Harville intercepted at his 41 and took it all the way back diving into the endzone. But the ruling was apparently that he fumbled at the one with the ball going through the endzone for a touchback.
The Falcons covered the 80 yards in 9 plays as Andrew Salyers pulled in a 25-yard TD. Dykes cut the lead to seven.
After the onsides kick, a personal foul penalty after and 18-yard run by Johnson put the ball at the East 17. Two runs by Johnson put the ball on the two with 1:39 on the clock. The Falcons appeared to be running the clock and not even trying to score on two sneaks by Barrett before Johnson scored. Tight end Caleb Scott grabbed the conversion that provided the 43-42 lead.