In the span of one year, Central went from Class 4A state runner-up to a team everyone counted out.
Injuries seemingly derailed a promising season, but the Bobcats grew from that adversity and used it as motivation.
“We don’t get much respect around here, so we just have to keep it moving as a family,” junior running back Treysean Moore told 865 Preps. “That’s one thing about us, we work as a family and we don’t break.”
Central did not break Friday with its playoff hopes on the line, defeating Gibbs 13-7 in overtime to clinch a postseason berth for the fourth consecutive season.
“These kids have done an unbelievable job fighting through all the adversity this year, and all the adversity tonight, and they found a way,” Central head coach Bryson Rosser said. “I could not be prouder of these guys.
“This program is moving in the right direction, and this was just another huge example of that. This was a huge win for us tonight.”
The Bobcats (5-5, 3-3 Region 2-5A) will travel to Region 1-5A champion Daniel Boone for their first-round playoff matchup, while the Eagles (5-5, 3-3) will watch the postseason from home.
Central getting this far, however, was never a certainty.
It took a big blow before its season could gain any momentum when sophomore quarterback Dakota Fawver, who transferred from Carter, was lost for the season with a knee injury against Fulton in Week 2. As a freshman, he threw for 1,079 yards and 11 touchdowns while rushing for 277 yards and another five scores.
Sophomore quarterback Eli Sharp stepped in before hurting his leg in Central’s third game of the season against Sevier County, leaving freshman Luke Ferguson to take over. Sharp returned last week to play against South-Doyle and split time under center with Bradon Gaston, a wide receiver, versus Gibbs.
“We’ve asked kids to step up at certain times,” Rosser said. “Tonight, you saw Bradon and Eli at quarterback, and we’re just trying to give them an opportunity to be successful. That’s all I can do as a coach, the rest those guys have to do and I couldn’t be prouder of them.”
In the wake of so much offensive turnover, the defense has stepped up for Central following its 1-3 start, holding its opponents to just 10 points a game over its last six contests.
With the season on the line, it came through again, forcing a turnover on downs on the opening possession of overtime, capped by a goalline stand from the two-yard line.
“Coming off the sideline, coach told us that they wanted to run the fullback dive all the way down (to the end zone), so our game plan was to stop the fullback dive” senior linebacker Marcus Johnson said. “On third down, they hit us with a toss and we got a huge stop. Fourth-and-goal, my big men up front ended up holding it down and got the stop and the ballgame was done.”
On the ensuing play, Moore scampered into the end zone from 10 yards out to send Central to the playoffs. He accounted for the Bobcats only two touchdowns, also tallying a six-yard score on the opening possession of the second half.
“We just kept fighting the whole game, and that’s all this is about — just keep fighting” Moore said.
The Bobcats have fought all season, and on Friday it paid off.
“This program is based on some true core values — character, optimism, resiliency and enthusiasm — things that can use on the field, but off the field as well. You saw those values today,” Rosser said. “They were tough and they continued to fight through all types of things.
“It’s been a tough season, but you just have to keep going. That’s life. When you get knocked down, you have to get back up. The kids did exactly what I asked them to do and trusted and believed in the program and the game plan.”