COOKEVILLE — Overcoming adversity has been the central theme for the Summit football team during this history-making season.
On Friday night, though, the Spartans finally ran into an obstacle that they couldn’t jump over, push aside or plow through.
Playing in the state championship game for the first time in the program’s nine-year history, the Spartans endured a frustrating first half and ultimately suffered a 30-7 loss to defending Class 5A state champs Knoxville Central at Tucker Stadium on the campus of Tennessee Tech.
Summit (12-3) earned its spot in the Blue Cross Bowl by overcoming long odds — and long road trips — while putting together an incredible November run. But against Knox Central (13-2), the Spartans were unable to recover from a tough start that featured three uncharacteristic turnovers and a 24-0 halftime deficit.
“We might have been a little nervous in the first half, I don’t know,” said sophomore running back Keaten Wade, who rushed for 65 yards on 11 carries. “For whatever reason, we couldn’t find our punch in the first half. We just couldn’t find our groove. … It’s very frustrating, but I think this loss will just drive us all the more to get back here next year.”
Despite the less-than-satisfying outcome, Summit coach Brian Coleman said making the state championship game helped set the bar for the program.
“When we look back at it, we can see we’re definitely headed in the right direction with this football program,” he said.
Knoxville Central quarterback Dakota Fawver completed 16-of-21 passes for 216 yards and a pair of touchdowns to cap his phenomenal season and earn MVP honors. He came into the night having thrown for 2,662 yards passing and 31 total touchdowns on the season.
Fawver’s favorite target was Isaiah Osborne, who had seven catches for 75 yards, including a touchdown. Braden Gaston added three catches for 53 yards for the Bobcats, who beat Henry County 14-9 in last year’s championship game.
“They’re very good,” said Coleman. “They’ve been here before — and it showed.”
Summit, meanwhile, was getting its first taste of the state’s biggest stage. And the Spartans, despite the rocky first-half performance, showed resiliency and maturity while trying to fight back into the game.
Summit scored a touchdown on its opening possession of the third quarter when Destin Wade scored on a one-yard run. The drive, which featured terrific catches by George Odimegwu and John Casey, enabled the Spartans to pull within 24-7 and brought the large contingent of Summit fans to life with 8:41 remaining in the third period.
But Summit was unable to cut any further into the deficit — despite some decent scoring chances — and Knox Central scored another TD midway through the fourth quarter to put the game away.
“We had plenty of momentum (after the touchdown), but we couldn’t finish the next couple of drives,” said Keaten Wade.
Summit’s journey to Cookeville had been a winding road, somewhat literally. The Spartans opened the playoffs with three straight road wins, beating Gallatin, Page and Shelbyville. (The trip to Gallatin included the Spartans getting ensnarled in a major traffic tie-up on the way to the game). Summit finally played a home game in the semifinals, beating Dyer County 27-20 last week to advance to the state title game. Summit had never previously advanced past the quarterfinals.
“The way we got here, how our team fought through the playoffs, that’s what is most special to me,” said Destin Wade. “We got on a roll after the first round and just started having upset after upset after upset. We stuck together as a team.”
“It was a long road, and a tough grind,” said Coleman. “But I am very proud of this football team. … We’re going to really miss these seniors. Every week we were saying, we don’t want to lose, because we want another week of practice with these seniors. They are great, high-character young men, and I am proud of what they did.”
The Spartans biggest problem in Friday’s game was missed opportunities. They moved into Knox Central territory on three possessions in the first half, but each drive ended with a turnover: two interceptions and a lost fumble.
Trailing 14-0 early in the second quarter, Summit was in desperate need of a momentum-shifting play. And the Spartans appeared to get one when Destin Wade broke loose for a 54-yard gain, setting Summit up at the Knox Central 20. Three plays later, however, Wade threw an interception in the end zone, his second pick of the night.
Knox Central converted the turnover into points less than two minutes later, when Fawver connected with Gaston on a 40-yard touchdown pass. Jarred Swislosky’s extra point pushed the Bobcats’ lead to 21-0 with exactly five minutes left in the second quarter.
The Summit football team got down and dirty in the Class 5A state semifinals. By the end of …
Summit moved the ball effectively on its next possession, stringing together three first downs — including a fourth-down conversion — to move deep into Knox Central territory again. But the drive ended with Summit’s third turnover of the night, when Destin Wade lost a fumble at the Knox Central 31-yard line with 1:40 remaining in the half.
The Bobcats once again converted the turnover into points, putting together a 9-play, 47-yard drive that ended with Swislosky’s line-drive field goal from 35 yards out on the final play of the half. The kick, which just sneaked over the cross bar, gave Knox Central a 24-0 lead at the half.
Still, the Spartans showed no signs of hanging their heads, and instead showed plenty of grit in the final 24 minutes.
“We’re 100 percent brothers,” said the senior Odimegwu. “Nothing can break that.”
Knoxville Central 30, Summit 6, TSSAA BlueCross Bowl Class 5A Championship
At Tennessee Tech in Cookeville on Dec. 6, 2019
Summit – 0 0 7 0 – 7
Knox Central – 7 17 0 6 – 30
1Q (4:52) — Knox Central: Isaiah Osborne 12 pass from Dakota Fawver (Jarred Swislosky kick);
2Q (10:12) — Knox Central: Jason Merritts 5 run (Swislosky kick);
2Q (5:00) — Knox Central: Braden Gaston 40 pass from Fawver (Swislosky kick);
2Q (0:00) — Knox Central: Swislosky 35 FG;
3Q (8:41) — Summit: Destin Wade 1 run (Elijah Mooney kick);
4Q (6:03) — Knox Central: Merritts 8 run (kick blocked).
First Downs: Summit 12, Knox Central 19
Total offense: Summit 269, Knox Central 257
Rushing Att/Yards: Summit 38-132, Knox Central 35-37
Passing Yards: Summit 137, Knox Central 220
Comp-Att-Ints: Summit 6-18-3, Knox Central 17-23-0
Penalties-Yards: Summit 4-41, Knox Central 9-61
Punts-Ave: Summit 4-31.8, Knox Central 5-44.6
Fumbles-Lost: Summit 1-1, Knox Central 0-0
Summit — Destin Wade 5-17-3-0 — 127, Ashton Lebel 1-1-0-0 — 10; Knox Central — Dakota Fawver 16-21-0-2 — 216, Jason Merritts 1-2-0-0 — 4.
Summit — Keaten Wade 11-65, Destin Wade 24-67, Jakalean Cotton 1-2, Tre Hunter 2-(-2); Knox Central — Jason Merritts 17-39, Ma’khi Anderson 6-7, Braden Gaston 2-4, Dakota Fawver 8-(-5).
Summit — George Odimegwu 2-69, John Casey 1-36, Keaton Wade 1-13, Destin Wade 1-10; Knox Central — Isaiah Osborne 7-75, Liam Fortner 4-43, Braden Gaston 3-53, Ma’khi. Anderson 2-28.