Oneida quarterback Elijah West throws a pass during the Indians’ game against Meigs County at Jim May Stadium on Friday, October 18, 2019 | Sarah Dunlap/IH

Meigs County scored two touchdowns and two 2-point conversions in the final nine minutes Friday to pull away for a 24-3 win over Oneida, claiming the Region 2-2A championship and locking up the region’s top seed for the postseason.

In a defensive battle, Oneida (6-3, 3-1) was down 8-3 and had the ball on the Meigs County side of the 50 early in the fourth quarter, driving for what would have been the go-ahead touchdown. 

But the Tigers (8-1, 3-0) held, and then Aaron Swafford took over. 

Swafford, who will sign with Navy this winter, is a two-time Mr. Football winner in Tennessee Class 2A football, and he showed why, scoring two touchdowns in the waning minutes. His 64-yard run with 8:04 remaining was a back-breaker. While he was not especially effective throwing the ball — he finished just 5 of 11 for 37 yards — his ground game made the difference. He rushed for 205 yards on 24 carries.

“You knew who was going to run the ball, we knew who was going to run the ball, they knew who was going to run the ball,” Oneida head coach Tony Lambert said after the game. “We just didn’t do a good job of stopping him.” 

Oneida, meanwhile, was unable to take advantage of good field position in the second half. The Indians had the ball in Meigs County territory on three consecutive drives, but weren’t able to move into the red zone to set up a serious attempt at a touchdown. The Tigers’ defense limited the Indians to just 74 rushing yards.

“We’ve got to be able to win at the point of attack in the run game,” Lambert said. “We have for the most part t his year. We just didn’t have a great night off-tackle like we normally see. Meigs had something to do with that. They’re awfully good on defense.”

Oneida started the game as well as could’ve been hoped for. Jakob Hamilton stepped in front of a Swafford pass and returned the interception inside the 35-yard-line. The Indians then turned in their most successful drive of the night from a rushing standpoint, and moved the ball to the Tigers’ 1-yard-line. But a personal foul penalty after a third down play forced Oneida to settle for a 33-yard field goal attempt, which Rhemci Chitwood made for an early 3-0 lead.

Meigs County responded with an 18-play, 73-yard drive that chewed more than eight minutes off the  clock before Swafford connected with Cameron Huckabey for a 6-yard touchdown. Swafford then kept the ball for the 2-point conversion, and Meigs County led 8-3 as the second quarter started.

That is the way things stood until halftime. The teams traded blows with both defenses dominating the game. Oneida appeared to have some momentum late in the half, but turned the ball over on a fumble. Meigs County then had a chance to take advantage, but was introduced to Colby Boyatt, who sacked Swafford to end the half.

The second half started with the ball in Oneida’s hands, but the Indians were limited to a 3-and-out. Still, Meigs County was unable to punch the ball in, and the two teams continued the defensive stalemate. 

The game appeared to change at the end of the third quarter. Oneida had moved the ball to Meigs County’s 36-yard-line, with the aid of a pass interference penalty. But on second-and-nine with the clock running out, the Indians opted to let time expire and head to the fourth quarter. In the resulting confusion, Oneida was flagged for illegal procedure, putting the Indians behind the sticks as the final period began.

Three plays into the fourth quarter, the Indians turned the ball over on downs, and Swafford took charge. He first broke off a 57-yard run to set up his own 1-yard touchdown plunge. Then, after another 3-and-out by Oneida, he broke free for the game-sealing touchdown.

“We got a little flat there at the end,” Lambert said. “The final score wasn’t indicative of how the game was played.”

With the loss, Oneida will finish as the No. 2 seed in Region 2-2A. Lambert was appreciative of his team’s effort against the state’s second-ranked team in Class 2A, though he said that the Indians did not finish the game as they would have liked.

“Everybody in that locker room thought we were going to come out and play well tonight,” he said. “We did play well. We just didn’t finish well.”