The pass didn’t make it to its intended target.
Instead of falling in the hands of the Chattanooga Central receiver, it was snagged by Sequoyah’s Justin Floyd. The senior defensive back wasn’t finished, either, running back the interception, his second on the day, all the way for a Chiefs touchdown.
Floyd’s pick-six was a pivotal moment in Sequoyah’s best performance of the 2019 football season, a 47-34 loss to the Purple Pounders in Week Three.
Although the Chiefs ultimately dropped the game, they competed with Chattanooga Central in a shootout, turning on their offense to score five touchdowns, including their first of the season.
It was one of the best moments in an otherwise disappointing Sequoyah season that ended with a winless record, and despite the offense-heavy tone of the game, it featured arguably one of the Chiefs’ biggest positives heading into head coach Ryan Bolinger’s second season.
Sequoyah’s secondary showed up, paced by Floyd’s two interceptions. The Chiefs’ pass defense was a bright spot for Sequoyah in 2019, headlined by Floyd, who was named to the All-County Team as a defensive back.
And the team’s prowess in the secondary was even evident in the preseason, when Floyd, Jacob Martin and Matt Lee all intercepted passes in a scrimmage at Lenoir City.
“Just knowing their keys and knowing what to expect,” Bolinger said then. “We had just a little bit of a walkthrough yesterday and I think that helped a little bit, (defensive coordinator Caleb) Newsome having them lined up and kind of walking them through it, talking them through it, on what to expect and what to do.
“I think they’re starting to understand the defense a little bit better two months in and they’re looking a lot better. Just reading those keys and playing that defense.”
Sequoyah often utilized a Cover Zero defense, which features no defensive backs covering deep and most defenders playing up close to the line of scrimmage. It can be advantageous for teams that want to press receivers and put additional pressure on offenses, but also is susceptible to getting burnt by the deep pass.
“(Sequoyah does) some things defensively that give you the opportunity to throw it,” Sweetwater head coach Mike Martin said after the Wildcats’ 43-12 win over the Chiefs last season. “And we just kind of prepared for it this week, and Austin (Long) had a good week and our receivers had a good week. They go Cover Zero a lot, which means they don’t have a safety in the middle of the field.
“So if you can beat their press coverage, you can get people open, and we executed a few times and hit a couple big plays.”
Although some teams, like Sweetwater, found holes in the defense, it’s impressive that the Chiefs saw moderate success in pass-defense with a Cover Zero scheme, providing optimism for what Sequoyah’s defensive unit can do in the coming years under Bolinger’s watch.
But the team will have to adjust for losses in personnel. Floyd graduates, leaving the Chiefs without their best defensive back, a veteran who was also a dangerous receiver and return man.
Lee, a fellow senior, will leave the roster too, but Martin, a junior, will return next season to provide Sequoyah’s defense with experience and scheme-knowledge. Will it be enough for Sequoyah to capitalize on the strides it has already made in the secondary?
Much of successful pass-defense is coupling defensive knowledge with effort, though, and Bolinger is working to instill that mentality to his team as he rebuilds the Chiefs.
Expect more improvements, and highlights, in the Sequoyah secondary.
“We’ve been preaching (that last year’s team) set the tone for next year,” Bolinger said after Sequoyah’s season-ending loss at Anderson County. “Set that tone. End it with good effort. And I felt like the effort (for the) majority was there … It’s just sustaining that effort if that makes sense.”