Less than two minutes into the first meeting between Sweetwater and McMinn County in 57 years, freshman Brayden Westfield hauled in a pass from Landen Boyd for a 12 yard score.
The Cats had lift and for the second week in a row, made it into the end zone early.
Things changed after that. McMinn County scored on the next six possessions — getting out to a five touchdown lead at halftime and a 45-14 home win over Sweetwater on Friday. The Tribe move to 11-2-1 all-time against the Cats.
Sweetwater drops to 2-5 on the season with a crucial region tilt in Chattanooga on the horizon.
Setting up the opening touchdown, Boyd connected with Malik Arnett for a 68 yard gain on 3rd and 11. Arnett finished the night with three receptions for 85 yards.
“(On) the third down play, their linebackers and their defensive backs — especially on third and long — I knew they would really vacate and try to take away the deep ball,” Sweetwater Coach Mike Martin said. “We thought we might be able to hit them right underneath there and Landon did, and Malik went 60 yards. After that … I don’t want to come out wrong here, but if we execute I still think we have some success. We fumbled the ball three times in the first half and they scored 21 points off of that.”
Trailing 45-7 late in the fourth quarter, freshman quarterback Wyatt McClure ran in a six yard rush capped off by a Jesus Guzman point after.
Sweetwater (2-5, 0-2 Region 3-3A) managed to scrape together over 250 yards of offense on the night. Boyd, in his first year as a starter, has grown comfortable in his position throwing for 168 yards on 14 completions.
“I think (Boyd) has a solid, solid year — I think he is a little under looked for the year he has had. We just try our best to put him in a situation to make easy plays. I think he has bought into that. I think he fits our scheme pretty good and I think Wyatt fits our scheme pretty good,” Martin said.
Chris Alford matched Arnett with three receptions for 28 yards, followed by two each for Jayden Barker, Ryan Littleton and Brayden Westfield — for 17, 10 and nine yards respectively. Dallas Presley had one catch for 14 yards and Amarion Palmer grabbed one for five yards.
Palmer was the lead rusher, picking up 29 yards on four carries. Arnett, 26, and Boyd, 24, finished above 20 rushing yards as well.
Sweetwater mustered together a nine-play drive in the second quarter down to the McMinn County 24-yard line before a fumble ended what looked like a solid chance to score before the half.
“We didn’t do the things that you have to do to compete. When you turn the ball over that many times … we had a lot of drops in the ball game. We cannot get out of our own way sometimes,” Martin said.
“It’s not like McMinn County changed their defense after the first drive. It is not like they changed anything. We just did not execute really well.”
The Tribe ground game had an outstanding performance — led by Davion Evans. Evans ran in a score from six yards out two minutes after Sweetwater scored. The back then capitalized on the next possession, scoring off a 19-yard run.
A 65 yard punt return from Evans created a two score separation with two minutes to go in the first quarter.
“That kid (Evans) can fly. We went over that in practice. On the punt return … we do not ever punt at returns — I don’t believe in giving them an extra offensive play,” Martin said.
Evans had enough to speed to get across the field and receive a punt from Guzman placed in-between the numbers and the sideline.
“We actually covered it, but we decided we don’t want to tackle. There is another (example) of when we do not execute. He made a play, not to take anything away from them — they are loaded with talent, speed and size.”
The Tribe (4-3, 1-1 Region 4-6A) finished the night with two rushing touchdowns and 251 yards on the ground.
McMinn County turned more pass happy in the second quarter. The Tribe accounted for 112 yards in the air with three passing scores — all in the second quarter.
“It is all on me. Until I can get our kids to simply do what they are supposed to do we are not going to win a lot of ball games,” Martin said.
Miller’s third touchdown pass of the night was a 12-yard hit to Ty Runyan and a 42-7 lead at the break.
Spencer Sullins nailed a 40-yard field goal with 4:48 left in the third quarter for McMinn County’s final score of the night.
Sweetwater travels to Brainerd (2-5, 0-3) on Friday for a pivotal Region 3-3A contest. The 34-27 loss to Signal Mountain in Week 7 has put the Cats behind in the region standings, but a win over Brainerd, as well as McMinn Central in Week 11, should be enough to warrant the fourth seed in Region 3-3A.
Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. in Chattanooga.