NEWPORT—It’s been one hit after another for the Cocke County Fighting Cocks in 2021.
On Friday, they’ll face their stiffest challenge yet in a year full of obstacles.
This week is the final home game of the season for the Fighting Cocks, and should be a spectacle as Larry Williams Stadium will play host to the No. 1 Class 5A team in the state when the West High Rebels roll into town (KICKOFF: 7 p.m., RADIO: WLIK — 97.9 FM, 1270 AM).
“They’re really good, obviously. They’ve got talent all over the field. You don’t become the No. 1 team in the state if you don’t,” CCHS coach Scotty Dykes said. “They’re a great team all the way around and they’ve got a tremendous program over there.”
It’s been a trying season for Cocke County (1-7, 1-2 Region 2-5A). Since a week three win in their region opener over Heritage, the Fighting Cocks have suffered losses five consecutive losses. Each of those losses have come by a minimum of 35 points, which was the differential this past week at previously winless Morristown East.
CCHS has continued to show marked gains throughout the year through spots in each game. The issue has just been putting a complete effort together.
For the first time since a week five loss to Knox Halls, the Fighting Cocks scored on their opening drive of the game at Morristown East this past week, taking an early 7-0 lead over the ‘Canes.
The offensive growth in the latter half of the season is an area Dykes and his staff hope to continue to exploit into more scoring opportunities with the season winding down.
“We felt like we had a good game plan coming out to start, and we executed,” Dykes said. “We moved the ball right down and scored. Coming out of the half we had a good opening drive, but couldn’t punch it in. At times we’re doing some really good things, but it’s not as consistent as we’d like it to be.”
Red zone efficiency has continued to plague the offense, though.
On the year CCHS has run 22 plays inside the red zone but scored just three times. Only one of those scores occurred from outside the five yard line. In comparison, five of the offense’s touchdowns have come from outside the red zone, as big plays have been a part of the unit’s identity this season.
“Our ability from a physicality standpoint is hindered once the field shrinks,” Dykes said. “We’re just not strong enough to get the push we need because we’re still so young.
“We’re getting more explosive plays, and that was one of our big keys in the offseason. Unfortunately they haven’t all resulted in touchdowns. They get us to the red area, but we don’t finish them with scores.”
Against Morristown East, Cocke County came up with a stop to start the second half and quickly advanced the ball into the red zone with a chance to turn a 20-point deficit back into a two-score game.
Instead, four plays from the three yard-line resulted in -2 yards of offense and a turnover on downs. The next play Morristown East broke off a 95-yard touchdown run to seal off any hopes of a comeback.
“There were so many times we moved the ball last week, or had opportunities to make big plays, but didn’t execute or missed on them,” Dykes said. “We executed and got to our spots on defense too, but when we missed we let them go for big yardage, untouched.
“We can’t be having these types of misses this late in the year. We still play a lot of young people, but as this point they’ve got the experience so we’ve got to clean up some mistakes and execute.”
This week, West (6-1, 3-0 Region 2-5A) is the last opponent the Big Red needed to see pop up on their schedule.
The Rebels have just one loss on the year, a 21-20 loss to the top-ranked team in Class 3A, Alcoa.They enter Friday’s matchup coming off a 56-6 win over winless Heritage.
“Playing the No. 1 team in the state is a tremendous opportunity for us,” Dykes said. “We’re going to be out-manned this week, but our objective focuses around us and controlling what we can to get better. It’s all about shifting the mindset. Just because some of these teams are from Knoxville we still have to show up and compete.
“We’re not going to cower away from competition. Moving to this region this year we knew we were going to be playing some top tier programs week-in and week-out. We have to raise our mentality to meet the level of competition.”
West has had other close calls in 2021, including a one-point victory over fellow region rival Sevier County, an eight-point win over Knox Halls and a three-point win over Farragut.
Former Morristown West head coach Lamar Brown took over the Rebels program in 2017, and has turned the west Knoxville program into a perennial powerhouse with four consecutive postseason appearances.
In 2019 he had the Rebels one win away from a trip to Murfreesboro. Last season West exited after a surprising quarterfinal loss to Oak Ridge.
“Lamar has done a great job over there,” Dykes said. “He’s a great person, all around. One of the best people I know in the coaching game. He did a great job at Morristown West before taking over in west Knoxville. I have nothing but respect for him.”
Regardless of how Friday night plays out, Cocke County will enter the final week of the season with a shot at making the playoffs. The Fighting Cocks have a week off in week 10 before wrapping up the year with their most important matchup of the season, on the road at Sevier County to close the regular season.