TAD king of Middle Seven

By Jeff Birchfield

   JOHNSON CITY -- The championship tradition continues in Elizabethton.
   Paced by Aaron Bray's three touchdown runs of 32, 2 and 53 yards, T.A. Dugger (6-1) wrapped up the Middle Seven Conference football title Tuesday night with a 22-12 win over Science Hill (5-2) at Steve Spurrier Field.
   "Things turned out pretty well for us," said interim head coach John Oakley, filling in for Brian Culbert, who missed most of the game due to the birth of his first child. "I have to give all the credit to the kids, mainly the line, they blocked unbelievably tonight. You don't have a hole, you don't have anywhere to run."
   After being deadlocked in a scoreless game for one and a half quarters, Bray broke free of two Hilltopper tacklers and bolted outside for a 32-yard touchdown run to put the Jr. Cyclones ahead 3:16 before halftime. He added a two-point conversion and the youngsters from 'Betsy held a lead they would not relinquish.
   "That's one of those things you learn from little league," said Bray about not stopping on the TD run. "My dad has been helping me. All these coaches do a great job. I had a great year with these coaches and everybody on this team."
   The third quarter was highlighted by a long drive by T.A. Dugger that featured an 18-yard run by Curtis McKeehan, as well as short runs by J.C. Atkinson, Weston Jeffers and Caleb Trivett. The Junior Cyclones had four first downs in the 13-play drive that culminated with a 2-yard touchdown by Bray to start the fourth quarter.
   Down 14-0, the Science Hill offense added excitement to the contest. Kyren McClain returned the kickoff 41 yards to get the 'Toppers in good position. McLain preceeded to catch a crucial 24-yard play from quarterback Brandon Shoun two plays later.
   Then Jordan Hughes made a couple of nice runs and Joseph Moore made a key block on a Cyclone defender, setting up a 6-yard touchdown run by McLain.
   "He's a good athlete," said 'Topper head coach Scott Hazell about his star tailback. "We tried to use him against their weaknesses to our best advantage. But, they had a group who was great up front and that's where the game was decided, in the trenches."
   Dehee Qwewea never got the opportunity to try an extra-point attempt as the special teams for TAD swarmed the kicker, keeping the lead at 14-6.
   After recovering an onside kick, the Jr. Cyclones had great field position. That's when Aaron Bray broke the backs of Science Hill, following the blocks up front and racing 53 yards for a touchdown. McKeehan ran in the two-point conversion for a 22-6 advantage with only 3:48 left in the game.
   "The fullback Caleb Trivett and the line did their job," said Bray. "We came out here ready to play and that's what we did. We beat Science Hill on their turf."
   Added Coach Oakley about Bray: "He never quits moving his feet and he stays square all the time. He always turns his feet and keeps them moving and when you do that, you never know what's going to happen. When he gets hit, he stays up. When he gets tackled, he always falls forward and keeps his pads in front of him."
   The 'Toppers did make one final strike when Shoun hit Brandon Howard on a 50-yard pass play to cut the lead back to 10. After the two-point conversion run was stopped short, Science Hill was still two scores behind.
   T.A. Dugger's offensive line of David Lyons, Lucas Deloach, Adam Grindstaff, Logan Hyatt, Jeremy Wallin and Michael Hodge took over on offense as they had all night and after a first down, the clock ran out on the game and the title-winning season. In the game, David Bray and Wallin made key fumble recoveries for the Junior Cyclones and Ryan Kennedy added an interception. Hunter Shields and Jesse Hampton each had big defensive efforts for the champs.
   While disappointed, Coach Hazell knew his team performed well this fall with its only previous loss coming to Kingsport's John Sevier. They pulled out all the stops to win, including going to a shotgun formation with four wide receivers in the final quarter.
   "In an emergency in the last game of the year, you don't hold anything back," Hazell remarked. "We had a good real good season. The kids did what we asked of them and did things the right way. We showed class. I don't feel bad just because we lost the last game."
   Coach Culbert got to the ballgame in time to see the last of Bray's heroics and to help his team celebrate. Congratulations to the new father as he and wife, Leslie, welcomed daughter Brilee Hope into the world on Tuesday.
   Officially tied with Sevier with the best record in the conference, T.A.D. wins the tiebreaker and the Middle Seven conference crown through their win over the Indians earlier in the season.