JASPER, Tenn. — Marion County established the run, the tempo of the game, and the dominance that was on the way with its first possession Friday night.
Blake Zeman capped the opening 71-yard drive with a 1-yard plunge, his first of four touchdowns on the night, and the Warriors rolled to a 42-14 victory over Middle Tennessee Christian in a TSSAA Class 2A state-playoff game at Marion County.
Marion County (9-2) will play next week at Boyd-Buchanan (4-6). Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. EST.
Middle Tennessee Christian (6-5) won the coin flip at the start and deferred to the second half. Marion County coach Mac McCurry said the Warriors were going to take the ball anyway had they won it.
"Them being a new team to the playoffs, we were going to attempt to put them behind the eight ball early so to speak," McCurry said.
MTCS answered the Warriors' opening march by driving the ball from its 29 to Marrion County's 20 before turning it over on downs. The Warriors put together another scoring drive that culminated with Hamilton Shoemaker scoring from the 4 around left end on the first play of the second quarter.
After another Cougars drive ended with a failed fourth down -- this one at the Warriors' 15 -- Zeman broke through for a 53-yard run on the next play. He eventually ended up scoring from 3 yards out.
"We knew they were going to put points on the board," MTCS coach Brian Stewart said. "We were able to drive it on them early on, but we couldn't punch it in. If we stick it in the end zone early, it could've been a different football game."
Josh Henderson, who had an interception in the first half, added a 56-yard punt return for a touchdown. After a fumble recovery by Hayden Tudors, Marion County went 28 yards in four plays with Zeman going in standing up from the 2 with 26.5 seconds left in the half for a 35-0 lead.
Zeman finished the night with 156 yards on 15 carries. Deion Riley added 61 yards on five rushes.
Nick Merritt had a 49-yard scoring run and a conversion run and led MTCS on the ground with 65 yards on seven carries. Cougars quarterback Justin Winn threw for 149 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown to Griffin Harper.
"We allowed way too much in the running game to them," McCurry said. "Their quarterback is a talented young man. We felt like he was going to make some plays with his arm, and his legs."
MTCS loses eight seniors but the majority of those who played return next year.
"We've got a lot of kids coming back," Stewart said. "We've got a big bright future ahead of us."
Contact Kelley Smiddie at email@example.com or 423-757-6653. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/KelleySmiddie.
Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or firstname.lastname@example.org.