published Saturday, November 16th, 2013

Hixson in quarterfinals first time ever

By James Beach

Star: Isaiah Robinson runs 22 times for 102 yards and a 23-yard TD.

Up next: Hixson (8-3) will host Knoxville Catholic on Friday.

On the most exciting drive in Hixson High School football history, it was fitting that coach Jason Fitzgerald went to what he affectionately terms "the hatchet" formation. After all, the Wildcats were playing a Sequoyah team that had played for the better part of 50 minutes as if it resembled its giant tree namesake.

"That's what we do," a jubilant Fitzgerald said in the wake of Hixson's 15-12 victory over the visiting Chiefs. "We stayed with what we do, and that's running the football. Once we saw them getting tired, we really turned it up with the no-huddle offense. We call it our hatchet formation. We took over and we were better than they were."

Pounding the football may well be what Hixson does best, but by virtue of the second-round 4A playoff victory, the Wildcats (8-3) now get to do something they haven't done. Ever. For the first time in a proud athletic history, Hixson will play in the state quarterfinals next Friday when it hosts Knoxville Catholic.

"When I got here, people told me when things got tough Hixson teams would quit. We learned last year to get past that, and this year we are doing something no one has ever done here," Fitzgerald added. "There are only eight teams left [in our classification], and we are one of them. These kids can go as far as they want. It is up to them."

The Wildcats basically won this one with guts and a dogged determination. After scoring on a four-play, 63-yard drive in the first quarter, Hixson was held in check by a much bigger Sequoyah team. After taking the 7-6 lead in the first quarter, Hixson managed just 40 rushing yards and had only two rushing plays longer than 3 yards until that final drive.

Trailing 12-7 with a little over six minutes left, Hixson ran the ball 15 straight times to cover 74 yards with Gill Brown scoring on a keeper with just 2:18 left. Brown's two-point conversion run made it 15-12. Isaiah Robinson carried it on 11 of those rushes, including a key 2-yard run to convert the biggest fourth-and-2 try in the school's history. It came at the 17, and four plays later the Wildcats scored.

"Those 2 yards are what we worked for all summer," Robinson said. "We just stayed at it. They stopped us for three quarters, but we got it done when we had to."

Robinson wound up with 102 yards on 22 carries and scored the first TD from 23 yards away. Hixson's two TD drives accounted for 137 of its 181 rushing yards and of its 11 possessions; five of them were three-and-outs.

"He is a warrior. They all are, but he has carried the ball 211 times coming into tonight. He simply gets it done," said Fitzgerald.

The Wildcats defense was just as stingy against a team that featured two 1,000-yard backs in Drew Carson and Garrett Dalton. Sequoyah was held to 130 rushing yards, and when Brett King was sacked after Hixson's go-ahead score by Charles Franklin, an injury prevented him from returning.

Austin Gilkey had a big fourth-down stop and a fumble recovery, while KC Shelton and Quinton Russell created havoc all night long for the winners. Darion Nicholson also had an interception to thwart a drive deep in Hixson territory.

Contact James Beach at sports@timesfreepress.com

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