District wins have been few and far between for Locust Grove since 2006. So escaping with a 38-34 victory over Sequoyah on Friday night at Thompson Field will be just fine by the Pirates.
"A win is a win," Locust Grove head coach Matt Hennesy said. "We're 4-0, and I can't tell you the last time Locust Grove was 4-0. Who knows when that was?"
Mason Fine completed 25 of 37 passes for 271 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Pirates to a perfect start through four games. Jason Pirtle was Fine's favorite target, hauling in seven passes for 139 yards and a touchdown as Locust Grove remained unbeaten through four games while also winning the District 3A-7 opener for both teams.
Despite trailing throughout the game, Sequoyah (1-3, 0-1) nearly foiled the Pirates' unblemished record.
The Indians, trailing 38-18 early in the fourth quarter, worked their way back to a four-point deficit with 3:44 left. Sequoyah's defense forced Locust Grove into a punting situation with under two minutes to play, so Fine punted the ball away from the Pirates' 40-yard line. The ball landed near the 25-yard line and rolled down to the Indians' 9-yard line.
Suddenly, Sequoyah had to go 91 yards if it wanted to lead for the first time in the contest.
"That was huge," Hennesy said of Fine's 51-yard punt. "That was a tough call, because the fake punt is a big part of our package. ...We went ahead and punted — which I don't like to do — but we did and that was a great punt."
Sequoyah head coach Shane Richardson knew it was a big blow to have the field flip on his team.
"We just had to take the ball where he got it," Richardson said, "and try to take it down and score."
The Indians picked up one first down on their final drive, courtesy of quarterback Zach Parish's 19-yard scramble. But after Parish hit Billy Sunday for an 8-yard strike, a false start penalty set the stage for three straight incompletions, which would soon follow.
One incompletion was more costly than the others, though. On second down, Parish overthrew Kyle Sanders, who had raced past Locust Grove's secondary and was wide open up the middle of the field.
"You've got to take advantage of plays that are touchdown plays, and that, potentially, was a touchdown play," Richardson said of Parish, who was 15 of 33 for 211 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
"But I can't complain about Zach. Zach battled and he made plays for us. He played out there while he was cramping, and he fought to the very end."
The Indians would turn the ball over on downs, and Locust Grove would soon erase the remaining time on the clock.
Getting off to a fast start, Locust Grove opened up to a 24-0 lead by the 9:45 mark in the second quarter. The Pirates scored two touchdowns in the first quarter — a 1-yard run by Fine and a 5-yard touchdown pass from Fine to Calin Witt — and added another one early in the second quarter on Fine's 32-yard strike to Pirtle.
Sequoyah's first score came on Justin Hooper's 5-yard touchdowns run with 6:32 left before halftime, narrowing Locust Grove's lead to 24-6 after a failed two-point conversion.
Also in the second quarter, Fine would connect with Cameron McIntire on a 34-yard touchdown, and Tiron RattlingGourd would provide a 1-yard touchdown run for Sequoyah.
The Indians trailed 32-12 at halftime.
Hooper — who rushed for 240 yards on 36 carries — scored again early in the third quarter on a 1-yard touchdown run to get Sequoyah to within 32-18. And the Indians appeared poised to get even closer early in the fourth quarter.
Marching down to Locust Grove's 5-yard line, Sequoyah was faced with a fourth-and-3 to try and extend the drive inside the red zone. But Hooper was stopped at the line of scrimmage, resulting in a fruitless drive for the Indians.
And in an instant, McIntire reeled off a 95-yard touchdown run on the very next play from scrimmage. The longest play of the night put the Pirates up 38-18 with 8:42 left.
McIntire rushed for 101 yards on four carries.
Rather than shifting its focus to next week's game against Keys, Sequoyah started chipping away at Locust Grove's lead. Within a span of one minutes, 31 seconds, Parish tossed two touchdown passes to Caisen Green — one for 24 yards and another for 31 yards (on a catch that Green tipped to himself while falling out of bounds in the back of the end zone).
But the four-point deficit would be as close as Sequoyah would get.
"Our kids showed a lot of heart in the way they fought back," Richardson said. "We were down and could have been out, but we asked (the players) to respond and they came out and they responded and they fought hard every snap in the second half. We just came up a little bit short."
As for Hooper's performance, Richardson knew a dominant showing was rapidly approaching.
"That kid keeps getting better and better and better," Richardson said of Hooper, who averaged 6.7 yards per carry. "He's a sophomore and he's got a big-time future."