GREENEVILLE, Tenn. — None of the prognosticators gave Oneida a chance. The computers — which are surprisingly accurate — said that South Greene should win by three touchdowns.
But when the final horn sounded in Friday’s Class 2A second round game, Oneida had gone on the road to defeat the state’s eighth-ranked team, 35-21.
Oneida took advantage of South Greene turnovers and mistakes to jump to a 21-0 first half lead, and road that margin to a 35-21 win.
“Nobody I read gave us much of a chance,” Oneida coach Jimmy May said. “But the kids believed in themselves. I sent them a (message) last night and said, ‘I believe in you. Believe in each other.’ Everybody played together. I didn’t see anybody pointing fingers. I can’t say enough about how proud I am of them.”
Oneida’s offensive line was a force to be reckoned with, and the Indians rushed for 219 yards against a South Greene team that had won eight consecutive games. Rylin Duncan had 101 yards and three touchdowns on 27 carries, while TJ Meredith had 89 yards on 20 carries.
“The offensive line dominated the second half, I thought,” May said.
Caden Rector had what might have been his best game of the season. The Indians didn’t throw the ball often, but Rector passed with precision when he had to. He finished 7 of 9 for 114 yards.
As a result, Oneida was 8 of 11 on third down. The Indians did not fail to convert a third down until midway through the third quarter. And then they converted on the following fourth down play. Oneida was 2 of 2 on fourth down for the game.
But Oneida’s defense may have been as good as its offense. South Greene quarterback Luke Myers, a Mr. Football finalist, had a miserable first half. His final numbers were impressive, 13 of 22 for 250 yards and three touchdowns. But the Rebels had just 14 yards on the ground, as Oneida controlled the line of scrimmage.
Oneida’s Achilles heel this season has been turnovers and penalties. But the Indians did not have a penalty in the first half, and did not turn the ball over all game.
When his team was down 44-14 at halftime against Williamsburg in the season opener, May admitted, “I didn’t know if we were going to win a game, to be honest with you. But I could see the fight in them.”
Oneida started the game by forcing South Greene into a three and out. The Indians then marched the length of the field and scored on a two-yard run by Elijah Phillips.
South Greene then turned the ball over on downs, and Oneida made the Rebels pay. The Indians put together a 7-play, 70-yard touchdown drive, with Rector scoring on a 1-yard quarterback keeper.
The Indians then forced a fumble, with Lorenzo Garcia forcing it on a sack and Duncan recovering it, and Oneida scored on a 3-yard run by Duncan to make it 21-0.
South Greene finally got on the board when Myers found Chandler Fillers for a 33-yard score that was initially called illegal touching before the officials ruled that an Oneida defensive back had forced the receiver out of bounds.
But Oneida answered the touchdown on the opening drive of the second half, with Duncan scoring on a 1-yard plunge to cap an 11-play, 65-yard drive that chewed up more than half of the third quarter clock.
“The drive of the game to me was that first drive of the second half,” May said. “We were able to mash on them a little in there, and control the clock and the ball and keep their offense off the field.”
South Greene answered with a 15-yard pass from Myers to Conner Race. But the Indians again struck back, this time on a 16-yard run by Duncan.
The final score of the game was a 4-yard pass from Myers to Race after a 74-yard pass play got South Greene close. But the Rebels could not recover the onside kick, and Oneida ran out the remaining clock.