It might have been the first half of the season’s first game, but Oneida looked like a well-oiled machine for the first 24 minutes of Friday’s season-opener against Claiborne.
The Indians jumped to a 28-0 halftime lead, dominating on both sides of the ball.
Then came the second half.
After a nearly flawless first half, the Indians stumbled through the second half before eventually putting Claiborne away, 35-0.
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[s2If current_user_can(access_s2member_level1)]“In the first half, I thought we were pretty efficient,” Oneida Coach Tony Lambert said. As for the second half, “Claiborne County had something to do with that. They played hard and our kids looked like they were a little tired.”
Oneida rolled up 264 first half yards to just 58 for Claiborne, and racked up 15 first downs to just two for the Bulldogs.
But the offense was not as efficient in the second half, finishing with 118 yards in the final 24 minutes.
“I told our kids at halftime, here’s the M.O. on this team: We’re bad to come in and get a lead and then just lay around,” Lambert said. “Sure enough, that’s what we did.”
Still, the game was never close, and Oneida’s defense was just as dominant in the second half as in the first. In fact, the Bulldogs had a loss of 23 yards in the second half, finishing the game with only 35 yards of total offense. It earned the team its first “pizza party” of the season.
“I gotta buy pizza on Thursday,” Lambert said. “I’m excited about that. In this day and time you don’t get many shutouts.”
Oneida’s much-anticipated rushing attack was on point in the first half, with the offensive line looking dominant against Claiborne’s defensive front, opening gaping holes for its backs. Senior tailback Evan Roberts was every bit as good as advertised, finishing the game with 151 yards and three touchdowns on 15 carries.
Matt Hood was close to the century mark as well, finishing with 93 yards on 18 carries.
After Claiborne pinned the Indians in the shadow of the end zone on the first possession, Oneida ripped off a 38-yard run on its first play from scrimmage, setting the tone for the first half.
The Indians’ defensive front, meanwhile, was every bit as dominant as its offensive line, sacking Claiborne quarterback Eli Stone four times and limiting Claiborne to just six rushing yards while recording eight tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
Senior lineman Logan Stephens, in his first game back from a knee injury that kept him off the field in 2016, recorded three of those tackles for loss.
Perhaps one of the most pleasant surprises for Lambert and his staff was the play of sophomore quarterback Elijah West. In his first start, West completed five of seven passes for 23 yards and managed the Indians’ new approach on offense, which involves signaling in plays from the sideline to speed up the tempo.
“I thought we managed the game well from the quarterback position,” Lambert said.
Oneida started the scoring with a 20-yard touchdown run by Roberts, which capped a seven-play, 87-yard drive.
Following a Roberts fumble recovery, the senior back scored again, using a seven-yard run to cap another seven-play drive, giving the Indians a 14-0 first quarter lead.
Sophomore tailback Bryson Buttram got in on the scoring action in the second quarter, scoring from eight yards out to cap an eight-play drive.
Oneida’s final touchdown of the first half was Roberts’ third of the night, with the senior lunging over the offensive line and into the end zone to give the Indians a 28-0 lead just before the intermission.
Oneida’s final touchdown came on a 41-yard run by Colby Boyatt in the fourth quarter.
Despite the win, Lambert said his team has much to work on before this week’s visit from Gatlinburg-Pittman.
“If we don’t get better in a hurry, we’re going to struggle,” Lambert said. “We know we have some things that we need to work on.”[/s2If]