NEW TAZEWELL – Claiborne head coach Nathan Medlin handed out shirts to his team last week with the inscription “fear the veer” on the front in reference to the offensive set the Bulldogs play. With the way Medlin’s squad keeps rolling up points while at the same time employing a shut-down defense, other teams in the area are finding out just how scary this team is.
The ninth-ranked Bulldogs were impressive once more as they blanked Hancock County 40-0 Friday night. Claiborne moves to 5-0 on the season as they outgained the Indians 341-68 in total yards and have now outscored their opponents by an incredible 203-26 so far.
Medlin said the game plan was to try to get a comfortable early lead and then sit the starters the rest of the contest. “We asked our boys to come out early and get as many good reps in as possible. We wanted to see how our younger players would respond because as you get later in the season, injuries happen and we wanted to see who could step into those roles and I felt very good with what we saw.”
With the talent Claiborne has all over the field, a different player seems to be the leader each week and on Friday, it was Jimmy Del Ervin’s turn. He finished the game with 106 yards on six carries and scored three times. Storm Livesay finished the game with 80 yards on the ground and a score and quarterback Eli Stone was a perfect three-for-three passing for 53 yards and a touchdown and he also ran for 21 yards. The Bulldogs scored on their first five possessions with three of those five touchdowns coming on the very first play from scrimmage on the drive. “We are very blessed right now as we have kids who can tote the rock and some who can throw it and some who can catch it,” the Bulldog boss said. “We always try to make sure that we are feeding the player who is hot and tonight, it was Jimmy Del. We saw some bring spots out of most of our backs and we didn’t throw it a lot because we didn’t see the need to but when we did, it looked pretty good.”
Claiborne got the ball first and didn’t waste much time in finding the end zone as Livesay had runs of 21 and 14 yards to get the Bulldogs into good position and Ervin capped things off by scoring from the two. Alex Bailey’s kick was good to put the home team up 7-0. Disaster struck the Indians when on their first play of their first drive the ball popped loose and Tristan Cowan fell on it at the Hancock 23 yard line for Claiborne. On the first play. Stone fired to Challen Massengill for the touchdown and Bailey booted through the kick to make it 14-0.
Another Hancock fumble resulted in another quick score for the Bulldogs. Cowan had his second fumble recovery of the night as he put his team in business at the Claiborne 33 and on the first play of the ensuing drive, Ervin was off to the races for a 67-yard rush for the touchdown. Bailey was true once more on the kick and Claiborne was up 21-0. The Bulldogs’ defense stopped the Indians and forced a punt that was rolled down at the Hancock 45 yard line. Livesay flashed 45 yards for the score on the first play and after Bailey’s kick, Claiborne was on top 28-0 and that was how the first quarter ended.
Claiborne added one more score before halftime as Ervin completed a four play, 75-yard drive with a four yard touchdown run, a scoring drive that was aided by Livesay’s long jaunt. The PAT failed, however, and the Bulldogs took a 34-0 lead into the locker room at the end of the first half.
With such a commanding lead, Claiborne was able to rest their starters the rest of the game and let some of the younger guys play. Gavin Shelburne provided a highlight in the third as he recovered a fumble at the Indians’ 42. No points was produced out of the play, however, as the third stanza ended at 34-0.
After Josh Bolton recovered the fourth Indians fumble of the night at the Hancock 22 yard line, the Bulldogs went to work again on another scoring drive. Kendall Smith got in on the action when he busted in from the eight yard line for the touchdown. After a delay of game backed the ball up five yards on the kick, it failed and that made the score 40-0. That proved to be the final score in the impressive win by Claiborne.
“Our guys are playing their tails off right now and our coaches have put together a good game plan against everyone we have played. It’s one of those things where when things come together, it can be really special,” Medlin said of the season his team is piecing together right now. “We gave up a lot of points the past few years and yet those same kids are still here with us and they have grown up a little bit and understand what it means now”.
Hancock County head coach Brandon Gibbs said his team had a huge challenge in playing one of the best states in the state. “We are a really young and inexperienced team and just try to get a little better each week. I thought my guys fought hard and played hard tonight but we were just overmatched.” The Indians were without the services of their regular quarterback because of injury and freshman Chandler Parson was thrust into the position. Gibbs said he thought he handled the difficult challenge well. “Our starting quarterback had a little bit of a knee sprain last week and it was still sore so we held him out this week. I told him before the game all the pressure would be on the offensive line, backs and receivers and we didn’t want to put the pressure on him as we needed him to manage the game and he did a pretty good job of that.”
The Bulldogs’ toughest test of the season comes next week as they host Johnson County, a team they have never beat, in a pivotal regional matchup. A win against the Mavericks will put Claiborne in good position to contend for the regional championship and a run in the TSSAA playoffs. Hancock will hit the road once more as they travel to Jellico.