By Trey Williams
Daniel Boone football coach Jeremy Jenkins isn’t known for hyperbole, which made his assessment of the Trailblazers’ performance in a 14-6 home loss to Elizabethton on Friday especially striking.
“I thought our kids really played hard,” said Jenkins, who’s in his 13th season as Boone’s head coach. “That’s as good an effort as I’ve had since I’ve been here.”
The Trailblazers entered the non-conference clash against the physical Cyclones with a 2-0 record and 6-foot-4 junior quarterback Noah Shelton, who helped jump-start a program that was coming off a 1-9 season. But Shelton, who can exploit defenses with his arm or legs, sustained an elbow injury with 2:54 left in the first quarter of a scoreless game and was replaced by untested 5-foot-9, 160-pound sophomore Easton Harrell.
Boone was subsequently outscored 14-0 the remainder of the half, and the second TD – a 9-yard run by quarterback Carter Everett on a third-and-goal with three seconds left in the half – was the type that often breaks the will of a shorthanded team.
Daniel Boone, however, returned to the field after intermission conspicuously resolved, and very well could’ve won the game without Shelton if not for five turnovers. Football coaches have never acquired a taste for moral victories, but it was clear that, based on that passionate performance, Jenkins sees an opportunity for a rewarding season – certainly if Shelton can return sooner than later. Jenkins said Shelton’s doubtful to play Friday when the ‘Blazers host Tennessee High.
Boone’s coaches made impressive halftime alterations to the game plan that aided Easton, and apparently pushed the right inspirational buttons as well. Senior Mouin Tannous opened the second half by returning the kickoff 47 yards to the Elizabethton 42-yard line, triggering a six-play touchdown drive that was all but impossible to envision in the first half.
Freshman running back Charlie Cole (14 carries, 54 yards), whose sturdy 6-foot, 210-pound frame had him mistaken for an upperclassman by many in attendance at Nathan Hale Stadium, had four carries for 24 pile-pushing yards on the drive.
A key play on the scoring march was a 14-yard play-action rollout pass from Harrell to Jake Chandler (three receptions, 48 yards) to convert a second-and-eight. Cole followed with respective 10- and 11-yard runs to give Boone first-and-goal at the 5, and Tannous scored from four yards out two plays later.
Boone’s offensive line held its own with the Cyclones’ massive front, which is anchored by 6-foot-3, 310-pound senior Johnny Ray Woodby. A college prospect, Woodby noted the effort of Boone guards Justin Turner and Christian Bowman and center Bailey Presnell.
“They were some big boys,” Woodby said. “They are strong and they will hit you in the mouth.”
Elizabethton’s defensive front is regarded as one of the region’s best by numerous coaches.
“That’s the best up-front team we’ve seen – and that we may see,” Jenkins said. “I thought our kids did a good job of hanging in there.”
Harrell learned on the fly impressively. He rushed seven times for 29 yards and completed 4 of 6 passes for 51 yards. His first carry, on a second-and-11 from the Boone 13 late in the first quarter, went for 13 yards.
“He’s an athlete,” Jenkins said. “He’s been in a lot of pressure situations as far as baseball and stuff where he’s been in tight situations having to pitch. If we go with Easton I feel confident Easton can lead us in every game we’ve got.”
Harrell gained teammates’ confidence.
“Big shout-out to Easton for stepping up and playing the QB role,” Justin Turner said.
That said, Boone will need Shelton to reach its ceiling. After all, the ‘Blazers overhauled the offense so Shelton could operate from the shotgun while Boone gets in on all the read-pass option fun.
Shelton threw two TD passes to Tannous and rushed for 103 yards and a touchdown in the Trailblazers’ season-opening 26-6 win at Sullivan South.
He rushed for 98 yards and three TDs on the 16 carries the following week in a 21-18 win against Cherokee.
And it’s not hard to fathom Boone being 3-0 if Shelton hadn’t gotten injured against Elizabethton.
“Jeremy Jenkins’ bunch was tough tonight,” Elizabethton coach Shawn Witten said. “Those guys really responded. They could’ve hung their heads and quit when Shelton went out, but they kept battling.”
Senior Jacob Arnold played well coming off an injury. He turned around and found the ball effectively for an interception while defending a Go route that Elizabethton had some success with against Science Hill.
Ethan Harrell, Justin Clark and Justin Carter were productive for the Boone defense, as were Calvin Carrico and Austin Bagley. Carrico stopped Jacob Turner a yard short on a fourth-and-2 from the Boone 14-yard line with 5:13 left in the first quarter.
Turner was also stopped a yard shy of the stick on a fourth-and-3 from the Boone 38 with 45 seconds left in the third quarter.
Bagley had a big hit on talented Cyclones sophomore Corey Russell. Harrell sacked Everett for an 11-yard loss.
“He played his tail off in there,” Jenkins said. “I thought our secondary played a lot better, especially Austin Bagley and the addition of Jacob Arnold back for us.”
There’s no rest for the battered and weary. Friday’s visiting Vikings defeated Boone 13-6 last season at the Stone Castle.
“We can’t feel sorry for ourselves, because like we said at halftime, injuries are part of football,” Jenkins said. “You’ve gotta adjust. We said at halftime with this adversity, ‘We’re gonna find out what we’re made of.’ Well, I believe we found out what we’re made of; we’re gonna fight.”
Kaylee Rabun, a Daniel Boone volleyball player, was killed in a single-car accident on her 16th birthday. The driver, Daniel Boone football player Ryan Sanders, was also injured and hospitalized.
“It’s just a real emotional time for our community with the loss of one of our student-athletes and another in critical condition,” Daniel Boone football coach Jeremy Jenkins said. “Our community has really come together behind these two families led by our students. We have great students and we just want to lift these two families.”