A weight seemed to be lifted off the shoulders of the La Vergne football program Friday night.
The Wolverines beat Oakland 24-21 to capture their first district win in five years. It was also the first league victory under third-year coach Stanton Stevens, who summed up his squad’s vigor with a pair of fourth-and-1 conversions late in the fourth quarter to clinch the win.
“At times, you have to want to win bad enough to just take it. We weren’t going to punt there,” Stevens said. “If we’re going down, we’re going down fighting. And we did fight, and we didn’t go down.
“I’m so proud of these players, and I’m thankful for everybody. It’s a great night.”
La Vergne senior running back Daryl James had a career night, rushing for 215 yards and one touchdown on 31 carries. He converted the aforementioned fourth-down runs, the last coming with 19 seconds remaining to seal the win.
“In the huddle, we all said to each other, ‘This is the game right here. Let’s take it,'” James said. “We reached deep into our hearts, and we got it.”
It was especially gratifying for La Vergne (1-2, 1-0 District 7-AAA), which squandered halftime leads in its first two games by going scoreless in the second half. The Wolverines led Oakland (1-2, 0-1) 18-7 at halftime and finished off the win despite the Patriots’ comeback attempt.
Oakland rallied with two fourth-quarter TD passes. Emmanuel Smith threw a 45-yard scoring strike to Tyson Cope with 7:39 remaining.
And when Smith was moved to receiver as a deep threat, backup quarterback Rhett Stacey tossed a 28-yard TD pass to Kyle Oliver. The PAT kick cut La Vergne’s lead to 24-21 with 1:25 remaining.
But Oakland’s onside kick was touched before going 10 yards, and La Vergne ran out the clock with its final fourth-down conversion.
Stevens said his team took a no-frills approach to pounding out the final minutes of the clock.
“At some point, you have to take it upon yourself to say, ‘I want to win. I don’t need some fancy scheme or trick play. I’m going to come off the ball and win this game,'” Stevens said. “But we don’t want this to be it. We want to keep doing this and keep winning.”
Oakland committed four turnovers, had one touchdown negated by a penalty and prolonged La Vergne’s early scoring drives with defensive penalties among several miscues.
“We were snake-bit the whole night,” Oakland coach Thomas McDaniel said. “We were our own worst enemy and that’s no one’s fault but our own. Part of being a young team is that you’re going to have some sloppy games. This is very humbling. La Vergne wanted this one worse than we did.”
Oakland stopped La Vergne for a three-and-out on the opening possession, but the Patriots muffed the ensuing punt return and the Wolverines recovered.
La Vergne converted the second chance by drawing two pass interference penalties to move the ball to the 5-yard line. C.J. Fore scored on a quarterback sneak three plays later. The PAT kick was blocked.
Later in the first quarter, La Vergne’s Willie Cowan scored on a 2-yard run just after J.J. Horner hauled in a 33-yard catch to the 2-yard line.
Oakland answered with a 53-yard march, capped by six straight runs from Darryle Hood Jr. – the last for a 1-yard dive into the end zone to cut La Vergne’s lead to 12-7.
James then busted a 38-yard TD run to finish off a quick 80-yard drive to earn an 18-7 halftime lead for La Vergne.
James struck again late in the third quarter, breaking a 63-yard run down the right sideline before Smith tripped him up at the 1. Fore scored on his second quarterback sneak touchdown for a 24-7 advantage.
The Patriots – led by Hood’s 91 rushing yards – simply could not stop La Vergne’s momentum long enough to mount a complete comeback.
“We expected to win this,” James said. “We’ve given a couple wins away, but we weren’t giving this one away. We wanted it.”