ROAN MOUNTAIN, Tenn. — Overcoming inclement weather conditions that forced a game delay and a game Cloudland ballclub, the Avery Vikings (4-2) offense rallied to score three unanswered second-half touchdowns, while the defense pitched a second-half shutout to springboard the Big Red to a 42-16 road victory at Orr Field.
The win is the team’s fourth win of 2019, doubling Avery’s win total from a season ago and providing welcome momentum as the Vikings prepare to enter Western Highlands Conference play in two weeks.
Throughout the first half, Cloudland sought to play possession football, figuring that the best way to keep the contest close would be to keep the ball out of the hands of the high-powered Viking defense. The ‘Landers were largely successful, possessing the ball for almost 19 of the 24 first-half minutes of play.
Unfortunately for the home team, however, Avery maximized every second of time it had the football on the offensive side of the line of scrimmage.
After Cloudland’s first possession chewed up more than half of the first-period clock, the Vikings drew first blood in the contest with its first series, as quarterback Troy Hoilman connected with receiver Ty Smith on a 9-yard touchdown pass to cap a 7-play, 55-yard drive. Finley Serafim’s PAT gave Avery the 7-0 advantage with 4:09 to play in the opening quarter.
Avery’s defense made a big play on the ensuing CHS possession, when the Viking defense forced and recovered a fumble from running back Tristan Lacey at the CHS 24-yard line. Four plays later, AHS was back in the end zone as Hoilman found Smith on a 4-yard strike to boost the Viking lead to 14-0 at the 2:23 mark of the first quarter.
Midway through Cloudland’s ensuing possession, play entered the second quarter, and after just one play into the new period the game was halted due to lightning in the area, prompting a 30-minute delay.
Though the break for safety was necessary, the stoppage slowed the Viking momentum.
“We had pretty good momentum going at that time too, which was a little frustrating as I thought we had them on the ropes a little bit,” Avery head coach Mac Bryan said after the win. “The weather delay gave them a chance to regroup.”
Upon returning from the locker rooms, the ‘Landers found its footing on offense and marched downfield, completing its interrupted possession with a Tristan Lacey 4-yard touchdown run. Lacey also scored on the two-point conversion to cut Avery’s lead to 14-8.
On the ensuing kickoff, however, Avery created its own lightning in a bottle, as return man Mason Thomas gathered the football at his own 12-yard line, sliced through the Cloudland special teams and darted 88 yards for a kickoff-return touchdown, helping the Vikings to a 21-8 lead.
“That kickoff return kind of broke our backs,” CHS head coach Glenn White said after the game.
Despite the blow, Cloudland still responded with its own scoring drive, highlighted by a 48-yard pass to paydirt from quarterback Hunter Shell to Lacey. Lacey added the two-point conversion and Avery’s lead was cut to just five points at 21-16 with 7:16 to play before halftime.
Both teams possessed the football one final time in the half, but Avery was stopped on a fourth-down conversion inside the CHS 30-yard line, and the Viking defense withstood a 15-play, 63-yard drive by Cloudland that elapsed more than five and half minutes, stopping the ‘Landers 10 yards shy of the goal line to close the half.
“Their basic idea was to run the clock and keep the football out of our hands. We gave them a couple of good drives in the second quarter that ate up some time, but offensively we were clicking, but we just didn’t have the ball,” Bryan explained. “We didn’t really make any adjustments at the half. I just told the team that we need to stand up physically and win. We’ve lifted, and we’re stronger, and we’re going to stand up and win and physically wear them down. We stood up physically to the challenge and played more physical in the second half. We rotated a lot on the defensive front, and I believe that eventually took its toll as the game went on.”
Following an Avery punt to end its first offensive series of the second half, the defense again rose to the occasion, forcing another fumble on the wet turf at Orr Field which Viking Steven Deyton recovered at the CHS 22-yard line. Three plays later, AHS running back Lucas Andrews scored on a 5-yard jaunt. The Serafim PAT pushed Avery back out front 28-16 with 8:16 left in the third quarter.
The Big Red defense was downright stingy throughout the third quarter, limiting the Cloudland offense to just 12 yards for the period. The teams traded possessions as the quarter elapsed, with Avery’s defense stopping the ‘Landers on a fourth-down near midfield. The Vikings took advantage of the field position to drive 55 yards in eight plays, capping the drive with a 6-yard touchdown pass from Hoilman to Chad Giarrusso to give the visitors a commanding 35-16 lead less than two minutes into the fourth quarter.
The Avery defense was a bit more generous to the ‘Landers offense in the final 12 minutes of the contest, surrendering 27 total yards for a total of only 39 second-half yards. Avery quelled each of Cloudland’s final two offensive series by stopping fourth-down conversion attempts.
In the game’s final minute, Avery tacked on a final touchdown on a Hoilman 10-yard pass to Giarrusso to account for the final margin in the 42-16 win.
Hoilman completed 24-of-33 passes for 164 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions, raising his total for the season to 25 touchdowns and only two passes picked off through six games.
Lucas Andrews toted the football 13 times for 88 yards with a touchdown.
“He runs the ball hard. Lucas is one of the guys who was one of the upperclassmen totally committed to working in the weight room and developing that mentality,” Bryan said. “He has good balance, and that offensive line has done a really good job not only as a pass-blocking group, but we’ve ran the ball for the most part with success. We may not run the ball 50 times, but when we do run it, it has to be meaningful, and I think we’ve done a decent job of that.”
Giarrusso caught nine passes for 65 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while Smith caught eight passes for 48 yards and a pair of touchdowns as well. Andrews led the defensive charge with 10 total tackles, with more than eight tackles each from Jesse Jones, Jonas Bowman and Hunter Jameson.
Unlike last week’s loss to Draughn, Avery converted in the red zone, scoring five times on its six chances inside the CHS 20-yard line in the win.
“I thought we did a good job understanding that once we got down in the red zone that we needed to make plays, and we made them,” Bryan added. “That’s the name of the game: making the plays.”
Lacey led Cloudland with 101 yards on 27 carries with a touchdown.
Avery has an open date this Friday, Oct. 4, and returns to action at MacDonald Stadium on Friday, Oct. 11, to open conference play against defending WHC champion Mountain Heritage.