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PREP FOOTBALL: PACKING A PUNCH; West Ridge wins fifth straight, defeats Tennessee High to win inaugural homecoming game

PREP FOOTBALL: PACKING A PUNCH; West Ridge wins fifth straight, defeats Tennessee High to win inaugural homecoming game

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BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. – It would be silly to say that the West Ridge Wolves did not miss senior Ethan Bergeron on Thursday night, but they didn’t.

With the standout quarterback sidelined due to a bad ankle, West Ridge looked to two proven commodities and fashioned another strong defensive outing in a business-as-usual 35-7 whipping of visiting Tennessee High.

The non-conference victory was the fifth straight for the Wolves (7-2), who host Jefferson County in a key Region 1-6A regular-season finale on Friday.

A win over the Patriots would allow West Ridge to avoid a trip to Maryville.

“I’m not sure [if a win would give West Ridge a No.2 or a No.3 seed in the playoffs] but I just know we need to win,” West Ridge coach Justin Hilton said.

Chances are that Bergeron would be back for Jeff County, but even if he isn’t the Wolves would have a proven field general in speedy Austin Riner and a man-among-boys power back in 6-foot, 222-pound senior Eli Topping.

Generally more noticeable at linebacker, Topping did his best Bergeron impression in heavy inside traffic, toting the football five times for 57 yards and scoring on heavy-jumbo runs of 11, 11 and 14 yards. Topping’s second 11-yard TD blast gave West Ridge a 28-0 lead at halftime.

“He’s a man,” Hilton said. “I don’t know [what he bench presses] but it’s a lot. I’ve seen him in the weight room working his tail off. If you want to see the definition of a football player, it’s No.1 [Topping].”

Topping’s 14-yard plow job upped West Ridge’s advantage to 35-0 with 5:14 left in the third quarter, providing a merciful continuous clock for tattered THS.

The first half featured a pair of touchdown runs by Riner, a 2-yard sneak to open the scoring and a 72-yard dash on a quarterback draw that provided the Wolves with a 21-0 edge midway through the second quarter.

Riner finished with 142 yards rushing on 10 carries behind an always consistent offensive line which helped produce 285 yards on the ground.

“I thought that Riner did a very nice job of stepping in and doing what we needed him to do for our football team,” Hilton said.

West Ridge generated 303 yards of total offense to THS’s 204 yards.

Much of Tennessee High’s offense, which featured 83 rushing yards from Levon Montgomery, came in the second half with second units on the field, including a 24-yard touchdown run by Josh Sizemore with 1:14 left in the game.

The first half was a recurring nightmare for the Vikings, who compiled 86 of their 131 total penalty yards over the first two quarters.

It’s certainly been a tough season for Tennessee High (2-6) in 2021.

“We’re friends with all their coaches and they are great guys,” Hilton said. “They’ve been through an awful lot and the fact that they keep coming back to fight every week is pretty impressive.”

First-year Vikings coach Matt Chandler, whose club was riddled with terrible field position that led to a 14-0 hole, said the show must go on.

“We’ve got a big [home] game with Cherokee and we still have playoff ideas and I want to send the seniors off with a win,” the affable leader said. “We’re going to come back and we’re going to battle.

“West Ridge has done a great job. For a first-year program to come together like they have is very impressive. They just flat put it on us tonight.”

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