It took the Sweetwater high school football team nine games to notch its second win of the season in 2018.
The Wildcats matched that win total in their third game of the 2019 season on Friday night, as they went on the road and recorded a 14-2 win against McMinn Central in their first region game of the year.
“There’s just a will to fight to win, somehow,” first-year head coach Mike Martin said. “It’s not pretty. If you want to come watch a pretty football game … you know. But they’re fighting hard.”
The Wildcats used a nearly 10-minute scoring drive in the fourth quarter to ice the game away.
Starting at its own 34-yard line after stopping McMinn Central on fourth down, Sweetwater executed a methodical 12-play, 64-yard drive to bleed the clock. All 12 plays came on the ground.
Junior quarterback Austin Long capped things off with a 5-yard scoring run on a quarterback boot on third and goal with 1:29 left in the game, putting the Wildcats up 14-2. Long was just 3-of-10 for 46 yards through the air, but he tallied 70 rushing yards on eight carries.
“That’s all Austin on the touchdown. He called that play,” Martin said. “We were going to go lead again. I was just trying to run the clock out and he said, ‘Coach, I promise you if let me boot it … ’ and I said, ‘Boot it.’ I have to listen to my kids every once in a while.
“That was all on him. He called that play and got it into the end zone and it was the difference maker.”
Sweetwater’s winning effort started on the defensive side of the ball, keeping McMinn Central from scoring on offense in front of its home fans.
The Wildcats forced three turnovers in the game, including an interception from sophomore Jonah Kile late in the first half. Junior linebacker Bryce Johnson forced a fumble and led Sweetwater with eight tackles in the game.
“Our defense has been outstanding all year,” Martin said. “I mean outstanding.”
The Wildcats had several productive offensive drives that came up short of the end zone. A field goal try with just seconds remaining in the first half bounced harmlessly off the right upright.
A fumble recovery at the 2-yard line held McMinn Central out of the end zone late in the third quarter. The ensuing possession ended in a blocked punt that went out of the end zone for a safety.
“You try to tell the offense when you blow so many opportunities, eventually they (McMinn Central) are going to get a drive going and they did,” Martin said. “We still ended up getting a turnover down here. Our defense has really carried us so far. We’ve got to get better offensively.”
Sweetwater’s other scoring play came early in the game, as Johnson ran for a 78-yard touchdown midway through the first quarter. He finished with four carries for 100 yards.
Long was shaken up on the game’s final touchdown, but he was able to get back on the field for the last drive. Martin says there is nothing to be worried about with Long’s health.
“He’s a quarterback, he wants everyone to feel sorry for him,” Martin said. “He’s fine. He’s fine. Austin’s fine.”
The Wildcats have next week off before traveling to Brainerd on Sept. 20.
Austin Long- 3/10, 46 yards
Bryce Johnson- 4 carries, 100 yards, 1 TD
Austin Long- 8 carries, 70 yards, 1 TD
Thomas Billingsley- 2 receptions, 32 yards
Simon Blomstrom- 1 reception, 14 yards
Bryce Johnson- 8 tackles, forced fumble
Zack Nichols- 5 tackles, fumble recovery