Some costly breakdowns by Morristown East in the punting game and a fumble led to four first-half touchdowns proved too much for the Hurricanes to overcome as Tennessee High rolled to a 45-20 victory Friday night at Burke-Toney Stadium.
The Vikings blocked two punts to set up easy scores, pounced on a fumble at the East 28 for another short field and took advantage of a 12-yard punt to grab a 28-0 margin at intermission.
Tennessee High stretched it to 31-0 in the third quarter before the Hurricanes finally got their offense going in the contest.
Quarterback Cole Henson threw three TD passes in a 12-minute stretch that got the final margin down to a more respectable-looking deficit on senior night for the ‘Canes.
East honored 16 football seniors as well as senior cheerleaders, band and ROTC members in pregame ceremonies.
It was the third victory in four games for the Vikings and put the defending champions at 2-0 in the Mountain Lakes Conference (Region One 5-A).
Playing without Coach Caleb Slover, who sat out the game because of being ejected the week before, the Hurricanes fell to 1-2 overall and are now 1-1 in the region.
Levon Montgomery ran for 139 yards and a pair of TD’s to lead the Vikings while Isaiah Smith ran for the first touchdown and caught a 10-yard pass for the other.
Tennessee High had 348 yards total offense with 251 coming on the ground. East finished with 255 yards after gaining only 64 in the first half.
Henson was 12-22 for 141 yards. He threw scoring passes of 64 to Trevor Malone, 18 to Micah Simpson and 6 to Shaffer Harville. Simpson had 5 grabs for 60 yards. Henson improved his school record to 39 TD passes.
Sophomore Ethan Ledford finished with 102 yards on 21 carries, his third straight 100-yard game.
Levi Cooper was in charge of the ‘Canes in Slover’s absence and said, “The first half got away from us with the blocked punts and the turnover on our own end. It kind of snowballed on us and put our defense in bad situations time and time again.
“Offensively, we couldn’t get anything going in the first half,” he added. “We came out in the second half and ran the football better and that opened up the passing game.”
Tennessee High’s Mike Mays said, “We had a good effort in the first half. We should have punched it in on the first drive of the second half but we went a little flat. I didn’t like the way we finished the game.”
In talking about the punt blocks, Mays commented, “We were going after it. They were spread out and we just felt like we could get more numbers than they had and it worked out. It put our offense in some good situations and we were able to take advantage of it.”
East went three-and-out to open the game and the snap was low. The punter picked the ball up and tried to get the kick off but one of the Viking linemen blocked it. Gregory Harris snatch the ball off the ground and took it seven yards to the ‘Canes’ 14.
Jaden Keller gained seven yards and then Smith scored on the next play. Jacob Craft kicked the first of his seven extra points and it was 7-0 just 1:47 into the game.
After an East first down, the ball popped free and Bryce Snyder recovered. The visitors overcame 4 penalties for 35 yards in driving to the endzone. Quarterback Steven Johnson hit Keller twice for 19 yards and connected with C. J. Henley for 22 before tossing the 10-yard TD to Smith. Craft made it 14-0 with 4:14 left in the first.
The teams exchanged punts twice before disaster struck when the ‘Canes had to kick again. Marquis Phelps broke through to block the kick and then picked the ball up and returned it 24 yards to the East 13. Montgomery scored from the four two plays later and it was 21-0.
East went three-and-out again and this time the punt was a 12-yarder that went out of bounds at the Hurricanes 40. It took 7 plays with the biggest a 22-yard pass to Keller. The TD wasn’t exactly textbook as Montgomery fumbled at the three and it went into the endzone with Henley recovering to make it 28-0.
It looked like the Vikings were going to score again after the second half kickoff but Craft missed a 39-yard field goal attempt. Another 12-yard punt put the visitors right back in business at the East 26 and this time Craft nailed a 32-yard field goal for a 31-0 lead with 5:11 left in the third.
The Hurricanes finally came to life. Ledford ran three times for a first down and then Henson hit Malone in stride with the 64-yard TD strike. Israel Cruz kicked the point after with 3:29 on the clock.
But the Vikings came right back to go 51 yards in 4 plays with Snyder scoring on a 13-yard run. East came right back as Ledford ran for 30 yards and Henson passed to Simpson twice with the second one an 18-yard touchdown. Cruz made the kick and it was 38-14 with 10.8 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
East got a stop when freshman Max Baker sacked Johnson for a nine-yard loss on fourth down. The ‘Canes then went 62 yards in 11 plays for their final points. Henson had two big runs to convert first downs and fired a 16-yard toss to Simpson to set up the TD to Harville. A two-point conversion pass was completed but stopped short.
Montgomery ran all three times including a 10-yard TD as the Vikings closed the scoring with a 58-yard drive.