Renegades silence Thunder

Photo by Rick Harris
Thunder's Kevin Carroll disrupts a pass by Kingsport's Eric Vaughn.

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR Staff
ROAN MOUNTAIN -- Despite a valiant first-half effort, the Carter County Thunder fell 23-0 to the Kingsport Renegades in their home opener for the semi-pro team at Orr Field.
The Thunder played to a 0-0 halftime score with their defense forcing three first half fumbles. Big defensive lineman Allen Johnson was credited with two fumble recoveries including one where he literally stripped the ball out of Kingsport quarterback Shane Steffey's hands.
"We came in trying to step things up against them," said Renegade coach James Salyers. "They played us tough in the first half. We couldn't get any momentum from them. We didn't count Carter County out. They are an excellent football team."
The Thunder squelched two scoring opportunities in the first half. The first came when they stalled on the 36-line yard line in the first quarter.
In the second quarter, former Happy Valley star kicker Travis Brown had plenty of distance on a 39-yard field goal attempt, but the ball sailed wide right.
Thunder coach Bo Wilcox was disappointed in his team's offensive performance after completing only 1-of-14 passes on the night with four picks and racking up a mere 32 yards on the ground.
"We've played better," said Wilcox. "They have a lot of speed on their team, but we have speed too. It's hard to get everyone to practice like you are supposed to. We played a tough ballgame, but we will be back and be ready to go next week."
The Renegades' Sanchez Releford finally broke the scoring drought with the opening kickoff of the third quarter, slicing and dicing his way to a 71-yard touchdown return.
"We have a good team and are ready to play," said Sanchez, an ex-Volunteer High School star. "I have to thank the big men up front on that punt return. If I didn't have them, I wouldn't have had nothing.
"Scoring that touchdown brings back the old days. It brings back good days and good memories of high school."
An extra-point by Eric Vaughn put the Renegades up 7-0. A fumble by Carter County QB Mark Wilson on a later third quarter series gave good field position back to Kingsport.
Steffey completed two passes, a seven-yarder to Releford that set up a 16-yard strike to Lamont Jones for the next Renegade score. A two-point conversion pass from Gerrard Lee to Chad Blakely put Kingsport ahead 15-0.
The next time they received possession of the ball in Thunder territory, the Renegades struck again with Releford taking the reverse for 32 yards and a touchdown. After the extra-point attempt was missed, Kingsport held a 21-0 lead.
The last score came courtesy of a bad snap which forced the Thunder's Rusty Flack to run the ball out of the back of the end zone.
Kingsport had stellar performances from some of its big time athletes like former Marshall standout Jeremy Graves who picked off two passes and ex-Emory & Henry star Jeremy Honaker, who also grabbed an interception.
Steffey completed 7 of 9 passes for 124 yards with Lee on the receiving end of five of those tosses for 97 yards.
"We have a lot of skill players that can produce," said Salyers. "Sanchez, Jeremy Graves and Jeremy Honaker all have a lot of speed and talent. Talent is what builds a team. We are fortunate enough and gifted enough to be able to do things with it."
The loss didn't spoil a homecoming for former Cloudland all-state running back Tim Clipse. Despite tallying only 2 yards on five carries, the Highlander legend was glad to be back in uniform on his old field.
"It was rough, but it was fun," said Clipse, who wore jersey No. 6 for the Thunder. "Even when you lose, it's fun. I was ready to play. We just didn't have the best game."
The Thunder were able to take some positives from the game. They kept good defensive pressure on the Renegade ballcarriers and forced a total of five turnovers in the contest.
Joey Fraction and Clint Myers each picked up a fumble recovery, while former Hampton Bulldog Cody Vines picked off a pass.
They also played relatively clean committing only four infractions, compared to 12 for the Renegades. Punter Joe Beavers had a solid game booting five punts for a 36 yard average.
For Kingsport, T.J. Hamler was another defensive stalwart getting one interception and one fumble recovery.
Kingsport (2-1) will return to action in the Appalachian Football League next Saturday night when they travel to Lee County.
Carter County dropped to 0-2 on the season with their next game scheduled for this coming Saturday night 7:00 p.m. at Orr Field against visiting Abingdon.