Oneida placed itself in the driver’s seat for the Region 2-2A championship on Friday by upsetting Monterey, 20-13.
The Indians’ senior night win was a score that reverberated throughout Tennessee Class 2A football, especially in Region 2. On paper, Oneida was a significant underdog. But the paper was scrapped after Caden Rector hit McLorne Love on a 61-yard touchdown pass to start the game, and the Indians recovered a Monterey fumble two plays later. That led to a 12-yard touchdown run by TJ Meredith, and proved to be the sequence that changed the game.
Monterey owned the stat sheet, with 17 first downs to just six for Oneida, and with 264 yards of offense to just 222 for Oneida.
In fact, after Meredith’s touchdown put the Indians in front 14-0 late in the first quarter, Oneida had -2 yards of offense until late in the third quarter. That’s when Meredith broke off a 77-yard touchdown run around left end to turn a 14-6 lead into a 20-6 lead.
It was the first 100-yard rushing game of Meredith’s career. He had 100 yards on five carries.
The real story of the game was Oneida’s defense. Monterey picked up 264 yards, but was held out of the end zone except for scoring plays in the final minute of each half. The Wildcats came in averaging 33 points per game, but struggled to move the ball consistently against the Indians.
Oneida first clogged up the middle, putting Monterey behind the sticks on several occasions and forcing them to throw. And when the Wildcats attempted to throw, they did not throw the ball well. They completed just 13 of 29 passes, and Landon Limburg was a big part of the reason why. The sophomore cornerback had several passes broken up throughout the course of the game.
Oneida’s Rector, meanwhile, completed 5 of 7 passes for 74 yards.
Monterey marched 82 yards in 13 plays on its final possession, scoring with 42 seconds remaining. But Oneida’s John Selby fell on the ensuing onside kick, and the Indians needed to snap the ball just once more to win the game.
The win gives Oneida the upper hand in the battle for a Region 2-2A championship and a No. 1 playoff seed, although there’s currently a three-way tie atop the region standings.
Oneida, Monterey and Rockwood each have one loss in the region. Oneida defeated Monterey, Monterey defeated Rockwood, and Rockwood defeated Oneida, so no team owns the head-to-head tiebreaker.
The second tiebreaker is the team with the most number of wins, and covid may turn out to be the Indians’ biggest friend, depending on how everything shakes out in the final two weeks of play.
Currently, Oneida is 6-2, Monterey is 5-3, and Rockwood is 4-3. The Indians have games remaining against Sequoyah and Coalfield, while Monterey has games remaining against Bledsoe County and Wartburg and Rockwood has games remaining against McMinn Central and York Institute.
If Oneida wins out, the Indians will be the region champion with seven overall wins, including a covid win over Oliver Springs.
Even if Oneida loses one of its next two, the Indians can finish with seven wins — the same number as Monterey if the Wildcats win out. Rockwood, however, can finish with no more than six wins, after being forced to cancel a game earlier this season due to covid.
In that scenario — where Oneida and Monterey would have seven wins and Rockwood would have six wins — the Tigers would be eliminated due to having one win fewer than the other two teams. That would leave Oneida and Monterey in a tie. The tiebreaker would then revert back to the head-to-head outcome, which favors the Indians.
That means Oneida can likely wrap up the region championship with a win over Sequoyah next week. However, an upset win by Wartburg over Monterey would change things, by handing the region championship to Rockwood. On the flip side, an upset win by York over Rockwood would render the Indians’ game against Sequoyah unimportant by allowing the Indians to win the region title outright.
If Oneida finishes as the No. 1 seed, the Indians will host Happy Valley in the first round of the playoffs. The Warriors have won just one game this season. As a 3-seed, the Indians would have been looking at a first round trip to Hampton. That may now be Rockwood’s destination, depending on how things shake out the next two weeks.