GATLINBURG — The Highlanders spent the first half of Friday’s game against Oneida shooting themselves in the foot. They spent the second half chasing Bryson Buttram.
Oneida turned a 14-7 first half lead that was primarily due to Gatlinburg-Pittman’s unforced errors into a 33-14 win that was largely due to a dominant second half that saw the Indians control the line of scrimmage on either side of the ball.
“I’m excited for our kids tonight,” Oneida head coach Tony Lambert said. “Our offensive line and defensive line won the line of scrimmage tonight, and I can’t tell you how proud I am of them.”
For a second straight game, Oneida rushed for more than 300 yards, finishing with 319 and a whopping 9.4 yards-per-carry average. But it didn’t appear that would be the case in the first half, when Gatlinburg limited the Indians to 60 rushing yards.
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The second half, as it turned out, would be completely different — in no small part because of Buttram. With the Indians’ line opening gaping holes, the junior running back did his part by rushing for 227 yards and three touchdowns on 14 carries.
“He’s a load, now, when he gets wound up,” Lambert said of Buttram. “He just has unbelievable vision for a guy his size.”
Buttram set the tone for the second half with a 50-yard run on the first play out of the locker room. Two plays later, the Indians scored to take a 21-7 lead, and the game was never the same. Expecting to tangle with an improved Gatlinburg-Pittman team that had taken the Indians to double overtime in two of the last three seasons, the Indians instead wound up with the largest margin of victory for either team in the series since 1984.
“We preach that you play good defense, don’t beat yourself on offense and win the kicking game,” Lambert said. “I think we did all three. I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud of a football team than I have been tonight.”
The first half saw G-P, not Oneida, with a statistical advantage, but the Highlanders couldn’t get out of their own way.
Gatlinburg muffed the opening kickoff when two return specialists got tangled up at the 20-yard-line as they attempted to field Danner Keeton’s kick. The Indians recovered, and that led to the first of two Rhemci Chitwood field goals. While G-P answered on the ensuing drive to take a 7-3 lead and then shut down Oneida’s offense, the Highlanders had a snap sail over the head of quarterback JD Shults, giving the Indians another short field and another Chitwood field goal after Johnny Manis pounced on it.
Later in the first half, with G-P leading 7-6 and driving, the momentum flipped in a big way. First, the Highlanders — who rushed for 216 yards and averaged 5.3 yards per carry, opted to pass on third-and-three — after advancing into Oneida territory. Jake Slaven made them pay, sacking Shults deep in the backfield. On the next play, yet another error costed G-P. A snap sailed over the head of punter Carlitos Lopez. As he retrieved it and attempted to punt anyway, Matt Terry blocked it and returned the loose ball all the way to the five-yard-line, setting up a Buttram touchdown that gave the Indians a 14-7 lead after Kolby Morgan added the two-point conversion.
The last fireworks of the first half came when Hunter Barnhart intercepted a pass on a fake punt at midfield. The Indians drove the ball to the 20-yard-line but failed to convert on fourth down just before the half ended.
The second half was all Oneida, starting with Buttram’s 50-yard gallop that set up a 19-yard touchdown run by Matt Hood.
Later, Buttram broke off a 60-yard touchdown run to give the Indians a 27-7 lead after a blocked extra point.
Gatlinburg was able to get back into the game after an Oneida fumble — its first of the season — inside the 10-yard-line, which led to a seven-yard run by Pierce Hammonds early in the fourth quarter. But if the Highlanders had any thoughts of climbing back into the game, Buttram put a stop to it two plays later, breaking free for a 75-yard touchdown run to ice the game.[/s2If]