NEWPORT—With the region slate on the horizon, the last two weeks have not been what the Cocke County High Fighting Cocks were looking for.
After suffering a loss in their home opener last week, the Fighting Cocks returned home to face Class 3A state-ranked power Gatlinburg-Pittman. The final result led to a 59-7 drubbing from the No. 7 Highlanders.
“We’ve got to get back to the drawing board,” CCHS coach Scotty Dykes said. “We regressed a little tonight with so many guys out due to injury. You can’t make any excuses, though. You have to come ready to play regardless. They put 11 on the field just like we did. It’s on us to execute.”
Injuries piled up in droves after last week’s loss to South Greene. Cocke County (1-3) was without several players on its two-deep roster. Facing one of the best teams in the state in Gatlinburg-Pittman (4-0), though, it couldn’t have come at a worse time.
“This couldn’t have been a worse set up for us,” Dykes said. “As far as the kids that did play tonight, though, I thought the fight and effort was there the whole game. We still had guys out of position and when you get so far down the depth chart that becomes an issue. But our guys competed hard and I couldn’t ask for much more from those that stepped up.”
G-P got up on the Fighting Cocks early and never relented.
The Highlanders put up 235 yards of offense, led by quarterback JD Shults’ performance. Shults had 129 yards through the air on 8-of-12 passing. Tailback Bryce Akey led the ground game with 12 rushes for 70 yards and three scores on the ground.
“They’re a very good team,” Dykes said. “Their offense is certainly one of the best we’ve seen. Easily one of the top two teams we’ve played so far.”
As was the case last week, turnovers were a killer for CCHS on Friday. The Fighting Cocks turned the ball over six times, each of which led to a score at some point.
“You can’t beat an average team when you turn the ball over like we did, let alone a top 10 team in the state,” Dykes said. “We’ve got to stress protecting the football. We’ve got to take care of it better. Protect it when you run it and don’t put it in bad spots when you throw it. We didn’t do either tonight.”
Senior quarterback Tyler Venerable led Cocke County’s offense in yardage. He had 179 yards of the team’s 262 total yards. Venerable threw the ball for 110 yards and a touchdown — a 56-yard play to Levi Siler — and rushed for 69 yards. Sophomore tailback Roman Stewart stepped in for injured senior Lundon Shelton to rush for 59 yards.
Gatlinburg-Pittman wasted little time getting on the board first. The Highlanders went 61 yards in eight plays before capping the drive with a two-yard run by Akey to find the end zone. Cocke County went three-and-out on its first drive, allowing G-P set up with a short field on its next drive.
The Highlanders had to settle for a 39-yard field goal out of Bryson Flynn after penalties derailed their second drive, but still took an early 10-0 lead with 5:57 left in the opening period.
Cocke County picked up a first down early in its second drive off a G-P penalty, but could do no more. Venerable had a pass picked off to end the drive, giving the Highlanders possession inside CCHS territory for the second consecutive drive.
G-P cashed in the turnover with an 11-yard touchdown run by Akey, his second of the night.
With a 17-0 lead in tow going to the second quarter, the Highlanders added three more scores before the half.
After Cocke County’s second turnover of the night, Gatlinburg-Pittman worked its way down to the goal line before bringing in Kevin Burkett to push the ball into the end zone. The Big Red would cough the ball up for a third consecutive drive, which set up a one play drive for G-P.
Shults connected with Carlitos Lopez from 23 yards out to put the Highlanders ahead 31-0 with 4:03 left in the first half.
Cocke County had crossed midfield earlier in the game but had that drive upended by a turnover. Getting in sync again the Fighting Cocks made better progress the second time around.
After Venerable hit Stewart for a big gain to get near the 50, he connected with Levi Siler for a 56-yard score. Siler came back to catch a hitch pattern, made a pair of defenders miss and dash his way to the end zone to put CCHS on the board.
Any momentum Cocke County had come up with, though, was quickly brushed away.
Jayden Schober took the ensuing kickoff 87 yards to push G-P’s advantage back to 31 points with just over two minutes left in the half.
Cocke County’s offense advanced across midfield once more on its next drive, but the Big Red’s fourth turnover of the night would leave them at a 38-7 disadvantage going into the half.
Receiving the second half kickoff, CCHS came out in the third quarter hoping to build some sort of momentum to finish the game on. Instead, it was immediately hit with its fifth turnover of the night, as Gatlinburg-Pittman continued the rout.
The Highlanders blocked a punt after Cocke County’s first drive stalled out, and cashed in with another run by Akey from three yards out to go ahead 45-7. G-P would force a turnover on Cocke County’s next drive, and — as they had all night — turn it into a score on offense to take a 52-7 lead into the fourth.
With both teams working in their subs, G-P added one more score after forcing a fourth down fumble. Isaac Thompson scooped the fumble and took it 40 yards for the score to cap the 59-7 victory for the Highlanders.
Cocke County will be back on the road next week, as the Fighting Cocks open Region 1-5A play against another top 10 opponent. CCHS will head northeast to face David Crockett next Friday at 7:30 p.m.
“This week is when our season starts,” Dykes said. “It’s all about competing in the region for us. We’ve got to come together and compete these next six games, because that’s what’s going to be our ticket to the playoffs.”