Fireworks shot off overhead and zest permeated Anderson County High School’s football stadium on Friday, as the Maverick faithful celebrated a 9-1 regular season finish and yet another playoff berth.
Meanwhile, members of the Sequoyah football team trudged off the field. The possibility of an 0-10 season was now a reality with the Chiefs’ 55-13 road loss to the Mavericks, and head coach Ryan Bolinger ended his first year with a certain goal in mind.
“We’ve been preaching (that) those guys set the tone for next year,” Bolinger said. “Set that tone. End it with good effort. And I felt like the effort (for the) majority was there. We weren’t necessarily finishing off blocks very well, stuff like that that we could do better.
“But I think the effort was there. It’s just sustaining that effort if that makes sense.”
Anderson County scored on its first offensive play, with quarterback Stone Hatmaker connecting with Cam Thomas on a 70-yard touchdown pass. Following a Chiefs punt, Hatmaker hit Austin Elliott for another score from 33 yards out on the Mavericks’ second play.
The Mavericks went on to notch a 41-0 lead by the end of the first quarter, using two rushing touchdowns, one more passing score and a pick six.
The Chiefs produced offense in the second period, using tight end Justice Benson in the ground game. Benson broke a 39-yard touchdown run to cut the deficit to 41-7.
Sequoyah also got the ball to workhorse tailback Evan Swanson with direct snaps, trying some different play designs to attempt to move the ball against a stout Anderson County team.
“That’s something we schemed up after watching some film,” Bolinger said. “We thought that might be good for us. Idea was just kind of take the ball out of their hands on offense and run it and try to run it a little bit. We had a little bit of success early on and then some busts here and there.
“But overall, once we got going with it, it was some good stuff for us.”
But the Mavericks scored twice more before halftime, putting Sequoyah in a 55-7 hole. The only offense in the final two quarters was a 14-yard touchdown run by Benson, with a failed two-point conversion.
The loss ended the Chiefs’ season without a region or overall win.
‘Grind’ awaits Chiefs in offseason
One positive for Sequoyah moving into the offseason is that the Chiefs fielded a young roster this year.
That means the team’s returning players next season will already have experience with the coaching staff and its schemes and systems.
“We’ve been telling them, ‘Hey, this offseason, it’s going to be a grind. It’s going to be all day, every day.’ That’s what real football teams do,” Bolinger said. “A couple weeks ago, I took some of these guys over to Alcoa and had them watch practice, just see what a championship-type practice is like. For them, that opened up their eyes (to) what’s it going to take to get to that level.
“Between that and just ending the season the way we did, yeah, we didn’t get the results that we wanted, but I thought the effort was there. It’s just got to carry over more and more in the weight room and everything else.”
Bolinger himself has learned during his first season as head coach, and he’ll take that knowledge into preparing for his second campaign with the Chiefs.
“For me, it’s not leaving out just the details and stuff like that,” Bolinger said. “Take advantage of every time you’ve got with these guys, especially these seniors. I didn’t get to know them that well because I was only here right at five months … just having fun with those guys.
“But at the same time, it’s going to be a grind this summer and this spring and even starting here in a couple weeks. We’re going to work … One thing I’ve always questioned (them on) is, ‘Are you a football player or are you just here to play football?’ Because there’s a difference there. And I think they’re starting to realize that.”