CHATTANOOGA – Already battered with starters on the sideline in street clothes and more than a handful of key players on the field at less than 100 percent, the margin of error was very slim for Cannon County’s football team at Grace Academy Friday (Aug. 24).
The Lions needed something good to happen early.
They could ill-afford to hurt themselves.
Cannon County (0-2) got off to another slow start and coughed up four turnovers that were converted into 19 points in a 33-7 setback at Grace Academy.
Quarterback Josh Smith led Grace Academy with three touchdowns, throwing for 31- and 11-yard scores and scampering six yards for another. Smith was 3-of-4 for 88 yards but two of his completions were for scores. Tailback Will Slack led the ground game with 107 yards on 11 carries, including an 18-yard touchdown.
The Lions’ offense was in a bind from the outset with quarterback Cody Petro playing at roughly 70 percent with an ankle injury, and receiver Justin Tobin (shoulder) also was limited throughout the game. Their inability to function at maximum performance hampered an already struggling offense that managed just 138 yards total offense.
Petro connected with sophomore receiver A.J. Daniel for a 30-yard touchdown catch and Simon Morey added the point after to pull Cannon County to within 26-7 on the first drive of the second half. The Lions had more success moving the ball against Grace Academy than they did against Watertown in the opener; however, the four turnovers – three fumbles, one interception – eliminated Cannon County’s opportunities.
“We just hurt ourselves,” Cannon County Head Coach Brent Bush said. “We were moving the ball on some early drives. We were around midfield or in their territory on most of those drives. The drives did not end with their defense stopping us. The drives ended with us stopping ourselves. Ball security is key and we are not very sound in that area of the game right now. We will go back and work on it during practice.”
Hawk Love led the Lions’ ground attack and accounted for 42 of the team’s 89 rushing yards. B.J. Daniel added 26 yards and Petro finished with 13. Petro was 5-of-7 for 47 yards and an interception. He also threw a 30-yard touchdown. A.J. Daniel was on the receiving end of three of Petro’s passes for 39 yards.
Cannon County wasted chances provided by an opportunistic defense throughout the game. The Lions were in Grace Academy territory five times in the first seven possessions and they were beyond the Cannon County 40 on six of the seven.
The Lions’ offensive line had moments where it opened holes and paved the way for a ground game that churned out yards and moved the chains. Bradley Gunter, Dalton Ryan, Case Isenhart, Allan Robinson, Ryan McLaurine, Dillion Jackson and Tommy Melton performed well overall in the trenches.
Grace Academy turned three of the four turnovers into touchdowns and would have converted all four into scores if not for an outstanding hustle play by safety Austin Brown and Love as the horn sounded for halftime.
Grace took over at Cannon County’s 48 following a fumble recovery with eight seconds remaining n the half. Josh Smith connected with Will Slack down the right sideline but Brown ran him down and Love joined for the tackle after a 43-yard gain.
Cannon County also hurt itself with four 15-yard penalties and had senior Brandon James ejected following a horse collar tackle. The Lions also were without Jonathan Smith and Jackson Mason due to injuries.
Meanwhile, the defense continued to dig in and give the team a chance.
B.J. Daniel, Ryan and McLaurine were active throughout the game. McLaurine led the team with 15 tackles, including three for loss, followed by Daniel with 14. Ryan had eight takedowns but three were for loss. Alex Davenport also had a good showing and sophomore Ethan Smith performed well in his most extensive action at the varsity level. Brown also performed well at safety in his initial varsity season.
Bo Bryson had a fumble recovery for the Lions, who also had eight lost yardage plays. They held Grace Academy on downs three times to turn the ball back to the offense.
“We are playing hard on defense and trying to make things happen,” McLaurine said. “We are making plays and getting off of the field. As we keep improving and getting our players healthy it will all come together. We just have to keep working.”
Cannon County plays host to DeKalb County Friday. Kickoff at Schwartz Field is 7 p.m.