Smoky Bears dedicate win

The Smoky Bears had a lot to play for Friday night. A stronger than usual Bearden (6-3, 3-2) team was in house for a huge matchup for second place in region 1-5A.

But it was the emotional and inspired play of a very special senior night for Sevier County that overshadowed the playoff implications.

For the last two seasons, each touchdown scored by the Smoky Bears has been celebrated a little bit differently at Burchfield Stadium. Instead of a spike or shout, a kiss to the sky and a quick, but quiet, kneel has become customary. The humbling expression is done to remember two Smoky Bear players whose lives were taken in a car wreck before last season.

The Smoky Bears were determined to honor Lance Pate and Josh Lewis on what would have been their senior night in front of the Sevier County faithful. Both Lewis and Pate's numbers are painted into each end zone to remind the Smoky Bears of the teammates that were taken from them far too soon.

"Tonight was senior night and we just wanted to dedicate it to Lance and Josh," said a modest Corey Watson, a classmate of both Lewis and Pate. "We love them so much and still miss them, and we had that in our hearts before this game. "We really wanted to come out and fight as hard as we could for them, and we did. I'm so proud of the team. Everybody played so hard. I love Lance and Josh and just wish they were still here."

It didn't take long for the Bears to display their emotion and their ascendancy over a Bulldog team who is now 0 for their last six against Sevier County (7-2, 3-1).

The battle for second place behind Kingsport Dobyns-Bennett began with a Smoky Bear score on the second play of the game. A six-yard wide receiver screen to the right side Corey Watson to James Feezel opened the drive.

It appeared as head coach Steve Brewer and his staff had noticed a soft spot in the Bulldogs defense when the Bears called the same play again. This time the screen went to the left side, where Trey Pippen broke a tackle and dashed 59 yards into the end zone.

The next few Smoky Bear drives featured their stable of talented running backs. Shawn Hodge and Watson each danced for 20 yards at a time in the next two drives. The latter of the two ended on a Watson sneak into the end zone to put Bearden in a 14-0 hole as the first quarter came to a close.

The second verse was same as the first.

Sevier County's defense played marvelously in the first half. The Bears' defensive front seven did a wonderful job of getting their paws on balls all night. Talented Bearden quarterback Dawson Halliday suffered through a night where six of his passes were tipped. Daniel Cotter led the Bears in tackles with 12, with Austin Williams and Shawn Hodge each picking off Halliday passes.

The Bears added three scores to their total in the last five and a half minutes of the half. The first coming on behalf of none other than "Do it yourself" man Corey Watson.

The senior QB, defensive back, and punt return specialist ran a punt back that shouldn't have even been fielded from 63 yards out. After another defensive stand, Blake Wallace added another score from 16 yards away. And only one minute and 20 seconds later, Watson threw his second touchdown to Lee White. The game was all but over until a completely revitalized Bearden team took the field for the second half.

The Bulldogs owned the third quarter. Halliday ran in for a five-yard score with 9:36 to go in the third. He then hit Dontae Bunch on the final play of the third on a beautiful go route. The Smoky Bears saw their 35-0 lead shrink to 35-14 and had completely lost any resemblance of momentum going into the fourth and final quarter of play.

With Watson temporarily out of the game nursing a hip injury, the Bears struggled to sustain a scoring drive. The play of the game came while the Smoky Bears were in punt formation. Senior punter Jared Anders bobbled a high snap but barely got the punt off just before two Bearden gunners could touch it. The punt went out of bounds at Bearden's nine-yard line.

Bearden's potent offense had started to detonate during the third with running back Torey Works carrying much of the load. Works worked for 153 yards on the ground, maintaining his seven yards per carry on the season. Bunch eventually got his as well, grabbing nine balls for 113 yards, but it was all too little, too late. Watson returned and hooked up with Pippen again with 6:44 left to put the game out of touch for the Bulldogs.

"We've been preaching to these kids that they need to come out with intensity because every team you play, including tonight, is going to be a good football team, and you've gotta play that way or you go home," said veteran Smoky Bears head coach Steve Brewer whose team is second in rugged Region 1-5A for the second straight year. Brewer also spoke about his team's near flawless first half effort.

"It was one of the best first halves we've had," he said "They've got some weapons, and I was pleased with the pressure we got on Halliday. He's a very good quarterback and he's got some very talented people to throw to. I think in the first half we held them to 50 yards passing, and we were able to get some things done offensively, so it worked out really well for us."

"Without any turnovers, it put us in a position to keep the ball on offense and put points on the board, and we knew we needed to score points tonight."

Watson again led the Bears to victory, scoring three times through the air, once on the ground, and got another score on a punt return. He accumulated 295 total yards amidst the five scores. "In the off-season I worked by butt off," Watson said on what's led to his sterling senior season. "I watch what I eat and drink and I work all the time. I knew I would have to be more of a passer this year to balance out my game, but it also helps to be more mature and be a senior. The experience has helped a lot. Coach Brewer has been great to me all four years. I've had confidence in him, and I believe he has had confidence in me, and I think it shows."

The Smoky Bears have an open date next week, and should be well-rested no matter which team they draw in the postseason.

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