Blake Martin’s 75-yard late fourth quarter touchdown run gave Oak Ridge the lead before Zack Claiborne’s strip and Jacob Proul’s fumble recovery ended Ponderosa’s last hope as the host Trojans ground out a hard-fought 20-17 Delta River League victory Friday night.
Working his way back from an injury, Martin ran for 137 yards, the bulk coming on his dash with 4:50 left. Breaking arm tackles, Martin outraced the Bruins secondary for his second touchdown.
“I was just trying to get a first down to keep the drive going but once past the line I saw daylight,” Martin said. “My O-line did a phenomenal job.”
Fans expecting a wide-open affair instead saw both teams rely on the run game. Oak Ridge attempted just 11 passes to 12 for Ponderosa. Troy caught a huge break when Bruin running back Brett Jonutz went out late in the second quarter after a helmet-to-lower leg hit and didn’t return. At the time, Jonutz had already amassed 115 yards.
In Friday’s aftermath, a poignant scene was the father-son midfield embrace of Jonutz and his dad Darren, Oak Ridge’s Defensive Coordinator.
“Give credit to Ponderosa and its coaches, they came out with a great game plan,” Trojan coach Eric Cavaliere said. “Their 4-3 (defense) surprised us and affected what we did (play calling). It wasn’t our prettiest game but our guys stuck with it, hung together and got stronger as the game went. It was 58 guys all prepared to do what it took. We made a couple of adjustments and came out with the win.”
The intra-county matchup attracted a big crowd for each side for the inaugural Tackle Hunger game. Both came in 1-1 in league but a disappointed Bruin squad fell to 1-2 after being tied or ahead most of the way.
“It hurts when you come so close and the ball just doesn’t bounce your way but I’m proud of the kids,” Ponderosa coach Jason Tenner said. “I challenged the team, told them I thought they were tougher and we were physical and chewed up yards and the clock but obviously we wanted a different outcome.”
Martin’s 11-yard run capped an opening-possession touchdown for Oak Ridge but the Bruins, behind a Jeff Camilli/Jeff Martin-led defense, clamped down for the remainder of the half.
“We were ahead the whole game, felt like we were playing harder and should have won,” Martin said. “Just a couple of big plays that they capitalized on.”
Ponderosa took advantage of a shanked Trojan punt early in the second as Jonutz picked up gains of 21 and 31 yards before quarterback Jake Bist ducked in behind center Logan Murray for the 1-yard keeper.
Curtis Goldsmith recovered his own onside kick to shock Oak Ridge but the visitors had to wait a possession to move in front after taking over inside Trojan territory. Martin fell across from the 2 as the Bruin went to the half up 14-7.
Tyler Mickelson’s fumble recovery on the second half kickoff led to Goldsmith’s 33-yard field goal as Ponderosa extended. Oak Ridge answered behind the running of Martin and Josh Wellman to move 80 yards in 10 plays — 45 on a pitch to Wellman and Kyler Flynn’s upfield block — to pull within 17-13 as Samuels found Ross Dwelley on a 6-yard touchdown pass.
Troy then took the lead on Martin’s big run.
“It was a real team effort and I’m glad we pulled through,” Oak Ridge linebacker Nick Gordon said. “Coach made the adjustments at halftime, we stuck together and pushed through.”