By Carey Phillips
Smoky Mountain’s non-conference football game with Tuscola on Friday at Carr Hooper Stadium/Babe Howell Field was delayed by an hour and 15 minutes.
When play got under way, it was the Mustangs (4-2) with the thunder and lightning as they rolled to a 37-7 win. That’s SM’s largest victory margin ever over the Mountaineers.
Dustin Stephens accounted for 250 yards of total offense. He carried 15 times for 132 yards and two touchdowns and caught six passes for 118 yards.
Will Frady scored three TDs and gained 135 yards in 24 attempts.
Caleb Lominac completed seven of 13 passes for 127 yards.
Tuscola was limited to 163 yards of total offense and seven first downs in losing to the Mustangs for the first time since 2012.
Garrett Fox rushed 18 times for 90 yards. Nick Rich completed four of 10 passes for 32 yards.
“There were a lot of things to like,” Coach Ricky Brindley said. “I felt good about our play up front on both sides of the ball. Anytime you are playing a team that is traditionally as physical as they are, you need your effort to be able to match that if you want to be successful. I felt like we did that for four quarters, which was a great thing to witness as a coach. We had two backs go over 100 yards, and one was over 100 yards receiving. That’s very balanced production from your offense.”
Brindley was pleased with how his team handled the weather delay.
“I am a proponent of being mature and mentally capable of handling obstacles,” he said. “It was adversity where you have to be able to control your emotions. We tried to convey that to our kids. Our senior leadership did a good job making sure the locker room stayed focused.”
On the game’s first scrimmage play, Stephens took a swing pass from Lominac and turned it into a 74-yard gain to the 6. Frady scored on the next play. The extra point was no good leaving the margin 6-0 with 11:26 to play in the first quarter.
Following a punt, SM drove 60 yards in eight plays. Lominac gained 2 yards on a quarterback sneak to convert a fourth-and-1. Frady ripped off a 35-yard run to the 10, and Stephens scored on the next play. Hunter Pressley kicked the first of his four extra points for a 13-0 lead with 6:35 to go in the first period.
The Mounties countered with a 69-yard march in 10 plays. Rich had a 16-yard run and completed a 9-yard pass to Ephraim Tice on fourth-and-4. On fourth-and-2, Fox broke a tackle behind the line of scrimmage and ran 25 yards for a TD. Davis King’s PAT cut the gap to 13-7 with 2:11 remaining in the opening stanza.
Citing the Tuscola TD, Brindley said, “The one area I was disappointed in was at times we were poor tacklers. Sometimes we ducked our head and dove at their feet as opposed to wrapping up.”
Both teams punted on their next two possessions before the Mustangs drove 82 yards in nine plays. Frady had runs of 24 and 10 yards, and Stephens had gains of 17 and 16. Frady scored from a yard out increasing the lead to 20-7 with 2:25 left in the half.
A shanked punt under pressure gave the Mustangs possession at the Tuscola 39. Stephens had a 14-yard run and caught a 16-yard pass from Lominac. Pressley’s 25-yard field goal with 2.7 seconds on the clock sent SM to the locker room on top 23-7.
Darien Bird intercepted Rich’s pass on the first possession of the second half and had a 55-yard return to the 10. A 15-yard pass from Lominac to Stephens overcame a penalty. Frady’s 2-yard TD run made it 30-7 with 6:57 to go in the third quarter.
Tuscola reached the Mustang 26 before being stopped on downs.
After an exchange of punts, SM drove 49 yards in eight plays, aided by a penalty. Stephens’ 8-yard TD run completed the scoring for the 37-7 lead with 7:23 left in the game.
The Mustangs will be off Friday before opening Mountain Six Conference play Oct. 11 at Pisgah.
The team was scheduled to practice Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of this week.
“We are going to make sure we’ve got a really solid game plan and start getting ready for Pisgah this week,” said Brindley, who is a former assistant coach for the Bears.