BAXTER, Tenn. — Missed opportunities.
That’s maybe the thing that will haunt Oneida the longest after Friday’s 7-0 loss at Upperman. The Bees, the two-time reigning champion in Region 4-3A and a favorite to win the region again this year, punched in a touchdown with under five minutes remaining to defeat the Indians, after Oneida got close several times in the first half but never quite got to the end zone.
Oneida started the game by marching most of the length of the field behind Kolby Morgan, who finished with 125 rushing yards on 26 carries and 174 all-purpose yards, before turning the ball over on a bad snap. Later, they got deep into Upperman territory on a long run by quarterback Noah Buttram only to have the play called back by a holding penalty. Still later, they got inside Upperman’s five-yard-line before ultimately having to settle for a field goal attempt that was blocked.
“If we play mistake-free football, we come out of here with the win tonight,” Oneida coach Tony Lambert said. “And we didn’t do that. The bottom line is, they did the little things and we didn’t.”
By halftime, it began to appear that Oneida’s window of opportunity might be closing. The Bees had begun to swarm to Morgan, who had more than 100 rushing yards in the first half.
Indeed, while the Indians started the second half with a 31-yard pass completion from Colten Daugherty to Morgan on a wheel route, the drive stalled after that, and Oneida didn’t have any offensive success after that.
“They were getting 11 hats to No. 22,” Lambert said. “We gotta be able to help him. And I thought we did some great things, but then we got down there and we shoot ourselves in the foot.”
Upperman, meanwhile, was left feeling its own missed opportunities in the first half. The Bees had three turnovers: a fumble that was recovered by Hunter Shoemaker, an interception by Joel Couch on a tipped ball, and a fumble that was recovered by Deshaun Brabson.
But the Bees, who finished with 261 yards of offense to Oneida’s 183, began to find success late in the game by running quarterback Ty Dutchess. He finished with 165 yards, and scored on a 6-yard run late in the game. For Upperman, the success was simple enough: overloading one side and running behind the blockers, daring Oneida to stop it.
“They just got a hat on a hat,” Lambert said. “They had one more than we had. There ain’t much you can do. It was just a great job (by them).”
On Oneida’s final possession, Buttram and Babson hooked up on a fourth down pass to midfield with a little more than a minute remaining. But the ball popped free as Brabson hit the ground. The official, who was on top of the play, ruled it a fumble, which Upperman recovered. Even after another official questioned the call, the play was determined a fumble, allowing Upperman to take possession and run out the clock.
“This is a measuring stick for us,” he added. “They’ve lost to Cookeville and Livingston. And they lost to Livingston in a game they felt like they shouldn’t have lost. They’ve got all the pieces. They’ve got some big ol’ linemen. They’ve got some speed. They’ve got a couple of quarterbacks. And they’re good on defense.”
Ultimately, Lambert said, the loss didn’t matter nearly as much as the Indians’ upcoming game at Rockwood.
“The only thing we lost here tonight, we got our pride skin’t,” Lambert said. “It was East vs. Middle. We told our kids, if you want some ink, you should’ve come out here tonight and made some noise. But now Rockwood ain’t gonna feel sorry for us, I can promise you. We’re going to get their best.”