ATLANTIC – It was hard to tell sometimes where the bigger fireworks came from during Atlantic’s homecoming game against Knoxville Friday night.
Was it in the skies, or on the turf of the Trojan Bowl?
Arguably, that question may have been answered just seconds into the game, when Dante Hedrington took the pitch and rambled 53 yards on the first play from scrimmage to put the Trojans up over the Panthers right from the start.
The fireworks never stopped coming, and in the end, the Trojans came away with a decisive, if not explosive 42-6 victory.
The fireworks went off pre-game, six times during the game – once for every touchdown – and then after the game ... a well-deserved reward for a game pretty well played after taking three one-sided losses in as many weeks.
Hedrington got it started on the counter play, bouncing off the right tackle to put the Trojans on the scoreboard just 13 seconds into the game.
“I got the ball handed off, the line got it done up front and I saw a big hole and took advantage of it,” said Hedrington, whose first 53 yards on that scoring play was the first part of his 142-yard, two-touchdown night. “We knew we were going to run it from the start and the line did a great job.
“I think it helped our team get things rolling. It really started the night off on a positive note and kept us going,” he added.
The Trojans forced a punt after the Panthers drove to their own 45. The Trojans fumbled the ball away two plays later, but got the ball right after forcing a three-and-out.
Then it was Dayton Templeton’s turn to score, his eventual 8-yard touchdown juggle of a catch set up after an earlier 32-yard gain by Tanner O’Brien. A Panther defensive end tried to get his hands on the ball and tipped it, but it was Templeton’s way and, with 2:31 left in the first quarter, the rout – and so were the fireworks – was on.
“The first one was pretty lucky, I’m not going to lie,” said Templeton of what was the first of two touchdowns. “The guy tipped it and it fell into my hands. But, I mean, I knew I was going to be open. Caden (Andersen) throws a great ball.”
After O’Brien added a 1-yard plunge early in the second quarter to extend the lead to 21-0, Templeton got what may have been the knockout blow to Knoxville’s hopes.
He got open on second-and-goal from the 8, and from the left side took the ball in for the all-important put-’em-away score.
Fireworks, and a 28-0 halftime lead.
“Definitely sets the tone going into halftime,” he said. “The guys up front did a great job. The kid was a lot smaller than me and I went up and got it and Caden threw a great ball.”
After trading possessions to open the second half – a Knoxville punt and an Atlantic turnover on downs – the Trojans put the game on ice and continuous clock with Logan Tarrell’s 59-yard pick-six.
Jarrett Armstrong put the pressure on the Panthers’ backup quarterback, Michael Gruebel, and Terrill read the pass perfectly before blasting up the field for the score.
“That was great blocking by the line,” said Tarrell. “They kept going hard until the whistle, and Jarrett and Easton (O’Brien) made sure I didn’t get hit from behind. Kind of just a lob and it was just right there. Couldn’t have been easier, it was right there.”
Hedrington put the Trojans’ final score on the board with a 40-yard run on the first play after forcing another Panther punt.
Still more fireworks.
“We’d been preaching it all week, look for that outsider to be there,” said Hedrington. “Our wide receivers blocked it great and Tanner was right next to me the whole way.”
The Panthers did get on the board late with Tristin DeJong’s 24-yard touchdown run but the Trojans would hold them on the last series.
Atlantic finished with 300 total yards, including 195 on the ground. Andersen was 8-for-10 for 105 yards and two touchdowns, with Templeton finishing with 66 yards on five catches, two for touchdowns. The defense held the Panthers to 161 yards, including just eight through the air.
The win for the Trojans (1-2 Class 3A District 6, 2-5 overall) was no doubt big, especially on homecoming, and a great way to end a three-game losing streak.
And a lot of fireworks to help punctuate the celebration with family and friends, old and new alike.
“Coming back home and getting the win definitely helps us seniors with motivation in future weeks,” noted Templeton.
“Very crucial going into these last few weeks and we’ll see if we can keep it going,” added Tarrell.