DECATUR, Tenn. — Too many self-inflicted wounds, and too many wounds that were inflicted by Meigs County quarterback Aaron Swafford.
That was the story of Oneida’s state quarterfinal here Friday night, which saw the Indians come up on the short end of a 49-21 decision against Meigs County.
As has been the case so many times this season, it wasn’t as lopsided as the final score indicated. At one point in the third quarter, the Indians were down two touchdowns and had the football. But four turnovers and a blocked punt were simply too much to overcome.
The Tigers turned the blocked punt into a 37-yard touchdown for the game’s first score, and also twice used a short field after fumbles on special teams for two more scores. Without those three touchdowns being gifted to them, they would have found themselves in a nip-and-tuck ballgame in the fourth quarter. Instead, Will Meadows’ four-yard run to the end zone midway through the fourth quarter was all about window dressing for a game that had been virtually decided.
“We don’t usually get beat on special teams,” Oneida head coach Tony Lambert said after the game. “In the games we haven’t won this season, turnovers have been critical.”
But, he added, “I thought our effort was tremendous tonight. I thought we played well in spite of that, against a team that has an opportunity to win the state championship.”
In Oneida’s first meeting against Meigs County, a mid October game at Jim May Stadium that was for the Region 2-2A championship, the Indians were unable to find the end zone — despite having the ball on the Meigs County side of the 50 early in the fourth quarter with an opportunity to take the lead with a touchdown. The Tigers ultimately won that game, 24-3.
Friday’s playoff rematch was a different story. The Indians rushed for more than 200 yards against the Tigers, finishing with 214 yards. Junior Kolby Morgan led the way with 95 yards on 10 carries. In his final game, senior Bryson Buttram finished with 52 yards on 14 carries.
“I thought we did a good job offensively,” Lambert said. “I thought our offensive line did a tremendous job, giving us an opportunity to move the ball. We went on some actual drives against them. I wish we could’ve stuck it in there at the end, but it is what it is. Hats off to Meigs County. They’re a tough football team.”
More than once, it looked like the wheels might come off, but the Indians proved to have fight left in them each time. Lambert said afterwards that “helmets were still popping” at the end of the game, an indication that his team never quit.
The troubles began early in the first quarter. After Meigs County scored on the 37-yard blocked punt return for a 6-0 lead, Swafford broke free for an 82-yard run to put his team up 12-0 less than eight minutes into the game.
But Oneida bounced back with a one-yard Buttram touchdown, cutting the Meigs County lead to 12-7 at the end of the first quarter.
The Tigers scored again four minutes into the third quarter to go ahead 20-7, then Oneida fumbled the ensuing kickoff. Swafford eventually scored on a 10-yard run for his second touchdown of the game, and it was 28-7.
Oneida responded by driving the length of the field for another Buttram score — a two-yard run — just before the end of the first half to keep itself within striking distance.
But Swafford broke free for a 71-yard run — his second touchdown of more than 70 yards against an Oneida defense that rarely gives up a big play — on the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter, giving his team a 36-14 lead.
Again, the Indians bounced back, as Morgan scored on a 30-yard run just 72 seconds later to make it 36-21.
Oneida then held Meigs County twice. First, the Indians were forced to punt the football back to them and then they fumbled a punt by the Tigers deep in their own territory. That led to a one-yard Swafford run on the first play of the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach.
The Tigers finished with a whopping 469 rushing yards — easily the most given up by the Indians this season. Swafford, who will be playing for the U.S. Naval Academy next fall, had 295 of those yards on 19 carries. Meadows added 91 yards on 20 carries.
The loss ended Oneida’s run to the eighth quarterfinal appearance in school history. It was a season that saw the Indians win eight games against arguably the toughest schedule in the school’s history. Twelve of the 13 opponents faced by the Indians were playoff teams. Oneida faced five Mr. Football semifinalists and three finalists, including Swafford, who the Indians faced twice.
“I know it didn’t turn out the way a lot of people wanted it to, but if you don’t win the championship, you’re going to wind up losing,” Lambert said. “Only one team can win it all.”