Trailing 13-0 in the second quarter of Friday’s 48th annual City Championship and 11th annual Citizen Tribune Kickoff Classic, Morristown West needed some answers, quickly.
Third-year Trojans coach Dr. Alvin Sanders dialed up a prescription for his team, and it was one very familiar to the West program.
The Trojans went back to their old school roots, keeping the football for nearly 12 straight minutes spanning the final drive of the first half for a field goal and the opening drive of the second half which resulted in a touchdown.
Trailing Morristown East 13-7 when the second period drive started, Juan Villasenor booted a 36-yard field goal at the final horn of the half to cut the deficit in half, capping a 15-play, 67-yard scoring drive. The Trojans got the ball first in the third period, and a 16-play drive followed, with Dylan Cribley finding Connor Patrick with the go-ahead touchdown for West’s first lead.
Shortly after, the Trojans began another drive behind the hard running of Neyland Gordon before Hunter Delaney capped it with a 23-yard scamper to the end zone, virtually putting the game away early in the fourth period.
But it was the two-drive stretch, spanning nearly the length of one full period, stretched over the middle two frames, where West took control. The Trojans ran 31 offensive plays between offensive snaps for the Hurricanes, giving their defense a much deserved break and keeping the pressure on the East defensive unit.
It was a game-changing period in the game, and Sanders said it gave his team the lift it needed after a slow start.
“The first thing is those two drives gave us a lift, and they played to our strength,” Sanders said. “It gave us a lift defensively because we were off the field and gave us time to make some adjustments. Our team feeds off one another, so for our offense to go out there and have two long drives like that and score, you could just see how it wore (East) down. Our kids fed off that and got stronger and stronger. I’m extremely proud of the effort this team showed all together.”
Sanders wanted to see how his team would respond to adversity, and falling behind two scores early in the second period of the season opener against East proved to be a setback to his team that he did not know how they would answer. But going through a tough spring practice slate and two tougher scrimmages of late, it helped mold a resolve with his team, and he got more than he bargained for in their response.
“We talked about it at halftime, about how we did spring practice the way we did it and fall scrimmages with South-Doyle and Grace Christian, because we knew at some point this season we would have some things happen to us and we needed to see how we would respond,” Sanders said. “As a young team, we have to be able to respond, take a time out, get ourselves together, see where we’re going and then respond.
“To see our kids go through that process and not panic and not quit and just keep fighting for each other, it shows we are on the right path. It’s not a sprint right now. We just keep getting better, so I’m extremely proud of these guys.”
A key component in West’s win was the poise of Cribley, a junior quarterback making his first career start. The youngster had a game he will never forget, completing 10 of 15 passes for 100 yards and 2 touchdowns, one to Patrick and the other to Jackson Cole. He also added 61 yards, while Gordon ran for 94 yards and Delaney added 77 yards with his touchdown. It was a balanced effort that led to 331 yards of total offense, and Sanders was quick to praise Cribley and the rest of the team for their play.
“Dylan was solid, and he made the plays he was supposed to make,” Sanders said. “Whenever he made a mistake, we were fortunate it wasn’t a bad mistake. It goes back to him responding to adversity, just like this football team. They had each other’s back, and they compliment each other well, and we got better as the game went on.”
After winning the city championship for the sixth straight year, it’s now time for the Trojans to do something they have yet to do under Sanders — win back-to-back games. West gets that chance next week when they host William Blount, a team that lost 42-0 to Maryville Friday night in its season opener. The Trojans haven’t won in consecutive weeks since piling up six straight wins spanning the final four weeks of the regular season and through the second week of the playoffs during the 2016 season.
“Winning two in a row is the next step,” Sanders said. “Tonight shows the guys when we do the little things like we are supposed to do, when we are focusing, communicating, attacking, blocking and taking care of the football, that great things are going to happen for us. So many of our guys right now have to be told why before they do it so they can understand the why, and in games like this, they can see it and see what it is important. That will help us put games together, four quarters together, and be successful and get everything out of this season that we want.”