The dream ended Friday night for East Robertson, but a new reality may be beginning for the Indians football program.
East Robertson dropped its Class 2A quarterfinal game to visiting Chattanooga Tyner 35-7 Friday night, ending the Indians’ season with an 11-2 mark and their first advancement in school history to the quarterfinal round of the TSSAA playoffs.
When the game ended, there were tears from players, coaches and parents but also appreciation for this year’s team taking the program to places it had never gone.
First-year head coach Chase Brooks and his staff instilled a new mindset into the program, and Brooks credited his eight-member senior class and their full buy-in as the major reason for East Robertson’s success.
“Our seniors bought in immediately. They were the leaders on our football team,” Brooks said. “They played hard every minute, and that’s why you see them crying here at the end, because it means so much to us. Hopefully, we can build upon that moving forward.”
Against Tyner, the Indians had chances early but could not cash in. East Robertson got the opening kickoff and put together a 16-play drive that relied on running between the tackles with Mr. Football nominee Zech Prince and Isaiah Groves. East Robertson marched downfield at a deliberate pace to keep the Rams explosive offense on the sideline, and held the ball until the 2:41 mark of the first period with the drive. However, it died when a fourth-and-9 pass following a false start fell incomplete at the Tyner 29.
On its first possession, Tyner was content to run the ball, using Markel McKinley as its workhorse back. McKinley carried the ball five times and caught a pass on the nine-play TD drive for Tyner that went 71 yards. Quarterback Joshua Jackson, also a Mr. Football nominee, got the Rams on the board first at the 11:44 mark of the second period with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Trae Ruffin for a 7-0 lead.
The Indians answered with Prince’s 54-yard kickoff return that set up East Robertson at Tyner’s 28. From there, the Indians kept the ball on the ground and reached the Tyner 7-yard line facing fourth-and-1. However, another opportunity went by the boards as a fumbled snap was recovered by the Rams, ending the threat.
Tyner then went on a long drive, and cashed in when Johnson hit Ruffin again for a 20-yard score at the 3:14 mark in the first half. The point after was no good as the holder bobbled the snap, leaving the Rams up 13-0 at the end of the first half.
Brooks said the missed opportunities on two first-half scoring chances were hard to overcome.
“We controlled the clock in the first half, but we shot ourselves in the foot on the penalty as they called us for a false start,” Brooks said. “And then we fumbled the snap there after the long kickoff return. We just didn’t take advantage of opportunities in the first half.”
Tyner took the second half kickoff, an onside try by East Robertson that the Rams recovered at the Indians 48, and began to drive. However, a controversial call aided the Rams, as a Tyner pass receiver was stood up and stripped of the ball at the Indians 26. An East Robertson player picked the ball up and began running downfield, but officials ruled that the receiver’s progress had been stopped and he was down. The Indians sideline protested vehemently and received a 15-yard penalty that pushed Tyner into the red zone. McKinley scored two plays later from 5 yards out. The Rams then went for two and got it to push their lead to 21-0.
The Indians, however, battled their way back into the game. Shaun Groves returned the ensuing kickoff back to his own 43. Two plays later, Prince found an opening over the right side of the line and raced for a 50-yard TD to get East Robertson on the scoreboard, cutting the lead to 21-7.
Late in the third quarter, Tyner reached the end zone again, this time on an 11-yard run from Jarius Cameron to push the lead to 28-7.
Tyner closed out its scoring with McKinley scoring from 8 yards out with 8:34 left in the game to make it 35-7.
The game was unique in that neither team punted at all in the contest.
Despite the disappointment of the loss, Brooks is excited about the future of Indians football.
“We’ve got a lot of good young players, a lot of juniors and sophomores, who will hopefully fill the shoes of the seniors who are leaving us,” Brooks said.