Andrews goes toe-to-toe with Robbinsville in football finale
Hold on a second, there goes another touchdown.
Andrews and Robbinsville staged a classic AFL-style track meet Friday night in the regular-season finale, but the Black Knights made several key plays to pull away for an exciting 55-38 win that was closer than the score indicated.
“I’m so proud of these guys,” Andrews senior lineman Hunter Rickett said. “We went toe-to-toe with them all night.”
The Wildcats (3-8) outgained the Black Knights and put up more points on Robbinsville than any other Smoky Mountain Conference team this year and second-most all season to Christ School’s 63.
“I thought we had a good scheme for them, and the kids have practiced unbelievable for the last two weeks,” Andrews coach James Phillips said. “Offensively, we did want we wanted to. Defensively, we just could not make plays.”
Robbinsville’s Rylee Anderson had a monster game with 193 yards and five touchdowns, bringing his season totals up to 1,515 yards and 30 scores.
Not to be outdone, Andrews’ Zack Sheppard continued to shine at quarterback, rushing for 126 yards and two touchdowns and completing 12-for-17 passes for 152 yards and no interceptions.
“We were clicking, finding holes, finding gaps, getting our wide receivers open,” Sheppard said. “We had a great offensive game.”
The senior also kept a promise to classmate Cody Mathis, getting him in the end zone for the first time this season in what was perhaps their last chance to do so.
“Zack played really well running and throwing the ball tonight,” Mathis said. “This was a good game. We were just trying to give all we could.”
A few key mistakes shifted the momentum of the game in favor of the Black Knights at crucial moments.
Trailing only 14-7 early in the second quarter, Andrews sought to pin the Knights back with a punt. But a fumbled snap allowed Robbinsville’s Landon Orr to block the kick and return it 45 yards for a touchdown.
Later in the quarter, after a Tucker Holloway field goal, Robbinsville scored on the defining drive of the game.
Facing 4th-and-2 at the Wildcats’ 21, Orr kept the ball and powered forward in search of the first down. He came up short of the 19-yard-line, but after a controversial measurement that involved difficulty with the yard clip, the officials declared it a first down.
A Knights personal foul pushed them back to 4th-and-20 later, but Andrews gave them new life with a roughing the passer call. On 4th-and-5, Orr fired a pass that was deflected and popped up in the air. Clayton Lane alertly ran under the fluttering ball and broke a tackle on his way to the end zone and a 27-10 lead for the Knights with just seconds before halftime.
“We had some missed tackles and the muffed punt that hurt us. We opened up the wrong way on the veer and lost that fumble that they turned into a touchdown,” Phillips said, the latter referencing Anderson scoring his second touchdown of the night after a long fumble return by Chris Rabb.
“We just knew it would be a playoff atmosphere and we had to play our best ball,” Sheppard said. “We put it all out there, but we made some mistakes in the first half that shaped this game. But I’m proud of these guys.”
After an exchange of fumbles in the third quarter, Andrews got the home crowd going with an electrifying 43-yard touchdown run by Sheppard. Trailing by just 10, the Valley shook when Landon White punched the ball out on the ensuing kickoff and Sheppard returned the ball to Robbinsville’s 8-yard line.
The Knights held, though, and just before a possible field goal attempt, the referee looked over at two of the Wildcats and threw his flag for unsportsmanlike conduct. The flag took them out of field goal range and resulted in a turnover on downs.
Robbinsville’s Lex Hooper made the sequence more painful by immediately taking the next play 77 yards for a 34-17 lead.
Andrews responded with a 14-play drive than ended on Mathis’ touchdown catch, but Anderson was not done. He carried the ball seven of eight times on the next drive and scored again to balance the ledger.
Undaunted, the Wildcats struck again as Sheppard completed four straight passes – including three to Mathis and one 32-yarder to a leaping Holloway – then ran the ball in for another score to make it 41-31.
Anderson, showing no signs of fatigue, carried the ball six more times and scored his fourth TD to push the advantage again.
Andrews still was not done, as Gavin Wilson scampered 50 yards to the house to keep it interesting in the final minutes.
But Anderson would not go away, this time taking just one more carry to seal the game for good with another score.
“The kids played their guts out,” Phillips said. “I’m proud of these guys.”
Phillips said after the game that he was not sure if his team would have another game, and he sadly turned out to be correct.
“The chances of us getting in are very slim,” Phillips said. “I don’t know what the seeds are going to look like. If we get in, we’re dangerous because we’re playing our best football right now.”
The Andrews seniors went out with a bang.
“It’s been a fun season, I am glad I got to spend it with the guys I did,” Mathis said.
“I told the guys before the game, don’t go out there and leave anything on the field,” Sheppard said. “I don’t think we did.”