Thunder bows to undefeated Knoxville team

By Marvin Birchfield
STAR STAFF
mbirchfield@starhq.com
The Carter County Thunder didn't have the overall firepower to stop the Appalachian League champs, the Knoxville Raiders, in a 46-14 final at Orr Field Saturday night.
The Thunder (5-4) put up a good fight, but the big playmakers from the Raiders proved why their team ended the season at 9-0, which propels them onto the national playoffs.
"We're going into the national playoffs starting on Nov. 8th, and hopefully we can win three home games and go onto play for the national championship," said Knoxville coach Michael Littleton.
Knoxville struck early with quarterback Todd Droz hooking up with wide receiver John Bowen.
A nice leap and grab from Bowen moved the ball down into Thunder territory, and then another completion went to Bowen in the end zone for a 29-yard score.
Droz found success again during the first period, when he hit a streaking James Moore down the sideline for an 83-yard touchdown, giving the Raiders a 15-0 lead.
The Thunder missed an opportunity to put points on the board at the end of the first period, as a 48-yard field goal attempt from Travis Brown was short.
The Carter County secondary stepped up from that point to turn the Raiders away on their next two possessions.
An interception from Clint Myers at midfield gave the Thunder excellent field position.
Momentum was gained by the Thunder after a 47-yard scoring pass from Eric Cooper to Justin Bowling.
"We came to play tonight but didn't get the big breaks we needed, and that's what killed us," said Bowling. "We had a couple of mistakes that cost us, but overall we played well on both sides of the ball.
"I've had a ball out here this season and the guys are great, so next year we'll definitely be ready to play."
A nice block from Myers sprang the touchdown and Allen Johnson added the two-point conversion with 7:44 left in the first half.
"I saw Curly (Bowling) coming around the corner and he looked straight at me, and I told him to come on and laid the block out for him," said Myers.
On the ensuing kickoff Vic Wharton got loose for an 81-yard return, which seemed to be the turning point of the game.
"Special teams we consider to be very important, especially in a close game. It can make you or break you," said Littleton. "Fortunately, we've scored on special teams every game."
An interception from Cooper in the final two minutes ended with Marvel Moore making a 40-yard touchdown return to put the Raiders up 27-8 at the half.
Things didn't go well for the Thunder in the second half, as Knoxville scored on their first play from scrimmage.
A 57-yard touchdown run by Paul Charles took its toll on the Thunder's spirit, as they desperately need to get something going on offense.
"We didn't have a lot of training or people not being here, but our defense played great, and I thought we did a good job with the lack of unity on offense," said Myers.
Things just didn't seem to happen for the Thunder, with Carter County turning the ball over on fumbles with their first two possessions during the third quarter. A fumble inside their own 20 led to a three-yard TD run by Adonis McGinnis.
"Fumbles and mistakes hurt us tonight, but I thought both our offense and defense played well," said Carter Co. coach Bo Puckett. "I thought we had a chance in the second half because we've been a second-half team all year long and never given up."
The Raiders tacked on another score in the fourth after a fumble from the Thunder's own one yard line resulted in a quarterback sneak from Droz.
Carter County added its second touchdown on the night when Cole Gouge ran the quarterback keeper from three yards out.
"We're 5-4 this year and that's a good start -- most of these guys are first year players -- and it's hard to learn a new system when your fresh," said Puckett. "We'll be back next year and have some new guys coming in and be even stronger next year."