Every player and coach begins the year with dreams of playing for a state title. Springfield and Haywood met on Friday night with a trip to Cookeville and the 4A title game hanging in the balance. There was a massive crowd on hand at Springfield High School to cheer on their Yellow Jackets and it turned out to be a fun night for the home side.
Haywood jumped on the Yellow Jackets early by quickly building a 14-0 lead. Springfield lost fumbles on their first two possessions and the Tomcats turned the second turnover into a Xavier Walker TD run. Haywood scored again on their next possession on a spectacular 20 yard reception by Taylor Shields. Springfield was in dire need of a big play to turn momentum around and they got it just after the kickoff. Dayron Johnson has been a star for Springfield all season and he came down with a 61 yard touchdown reception from Luke Petitt to shorten the Haywood lead to 14-7 at the end of the first quarter.
The early success by Haywood was wiped away in the 2nd quarter as the Yellow Jackets owned the period. Springfield’s defensive unit put the brakes on the Tomcat offense by dominating the line of scrimmage and getting big tackles for loss from Tanner May and Harlen Zirker. The Yellow Jackets also forced three turnovers by Haywood fumbles in the first half. On offense, Springfield continued to take advantage of long passes down the field against the man coverage of Haywood. Johnson had two more touchdown catches of 34 and 43 yards and Travion Woodard added a 20 yard wide receiver screen touchdown to make the halftime score 28-14 in favor of Springfield. The Yellow Jackets had scored 28 unanswered points after trailing 14-0.
Both defenses settled down in the second half as the third quarter passed without a score from either side. Springfield’s defense forced two more turnovers but the offense couldn’t capitalize to extend the lead. The 28-14 score held until there was just over three minutes left in the ballgame. Haywood had slowly been winning the field position battle and quarterback Tillman McRae finally broke into the end zone on a 14 yard scramble to bring the Tomcats to within one score at 28-21. It felt at this point like Haywood had a real shot at mounting the late comeback but Springfield dashed those hopes on the first play from scrimmage after the kickoff. Luke Petitt and Bryan Hayes rotated at quarterback all night for the Yellow Jackets and it was Hayes that took a quarterback sweep down the home sidelines 63 yards for a touchdown to extend the lead once again to two scores at 35-21.
Haywood still had fight left in them, however, and drove down to score once again with 56 seconds left on the clock. The onside kick attempt would be unsuccessful and Springfield held on for the 35-28 victory. The win gives Coach Dustin Wilson and his Yellow Jacket players the opportunity to face Greeneville next Friday at 3 pm for the Class 4A State Championship. The game will be played in Cookeville at Tennessee Tech University.
Quotes from the game:
-Coach Dustin Wilson on what makes this team special: “Just a never quite attitude, man. We’ve been down a bunch in a lot of games. Big heart is what I can say about them. They never quit and I’m super proud. Just a daddy moment right now, I just love my boys.”
-Harlen Zirker on going to the title game: “It means a lot. To go and finish with my boys and my brothers. One team.”
-Byran Hayes on late touchdown run: “I grabbed the ball and Kevontay (White) was in front of me blocking. I saw my teammates blocking and a hole opened up and I just hit it as fast as I could.”