Last-minute score pushes Tigers past Claiborne, 21-19
Bret Shields didn’t have time to get nervous.Pressed into immediate duty with the game on the line, the backup quarterback fired an 11-yard touchdown strike with 21 seconds left to play, lifting the Pigeon Forge Tigers to a thrilling 21-19 victory over Region 1-3A foe Claiborne Friday night in Tazewell.“I was used to the pressure,” said Shields, the team’s starter during the first half of the season. “When I got into the game, I was thinking, ‘This is going to be fun!’”
Pigeon Forge coach David Ryan inserted Shields, a sophomore, into the game when senior signal-caller Caleb Moore was shaken up after gaining a critical first down on a fourth-and-one play in the game’s final minute.Shields rushed onto the field as officials restarted the game clock following Moore’s injury timeout. Shields spiked the ball to stop the clock at 26 seconds, then poised himself for the game-winning toss to receiver Michael Aparicio.
“(Bret) came in cold turkey and put it in there,” Ryan said. “And Aparicio did a great job after catching the ball . breaking a tackle to get into the end zone.”Pigeon Forge improves to 5-5 overall and 3-3 in region play. After finishing third in Region 1-3A, the Tigers meet Knoxville Austin-East (6-4, 4-2 in Region 2-3A) Friday in the first round of the state playoffs.
After setting several school passing records in a 44-7 drubbing of Gibbs the previous week, the Tigers resumed their aerial attack against Claiborne’s Bulldogs.However, Claiborne’s Jeff Poore intercepted Moore on the Tigers’ opening two offensive series. Poore returned his first interception to the Pigeon Forge 11, but the Tiger defense stuffed Claiborne on four straight rushing attempts and kept the Bulldogs from scoring.
A couple of plays later, Poore intercepted Moore again and raced untouched for a 30-yard score. Brett Minor’s PAT kick was good, giving Claiborne a 7-0 lead with 8:25 remaining in the first quarter.Pigeon Forge mounted a drive later in the quarter highlighted by Moore’s 18-yard completion to junior David Gibson. But the Tiger drive stalled at the Claiborne 10, and Van Harper’s 27-yard field goal attempt was blocked.On the next play, Claiborne’s Ryan Helton took off on an 85-yard touchdown run. The Tigers partially blocked Minor’s PAT attempt but trailed 13-0.The Bulldogs intercepted yet another Pigeon Forge pass on the next series, setting up an 18-yard touchdown run by Minor. The Tiger defense stopped Claiborne’s two-point conversion attempt, and the Bulldogs held a 19-0 advantage.
On the following drive, Moore answered with a 30-yard scoring dash of his own, but the play was negated by a chop block penalty.
“It seemed every time we broke a big one, there was a flag,” said Ryan, whose team was penalized 10 times for 90 yards and committed five turnovers in the opening half. “At halftime we told them to keep playing hard and to believe in themselves.”Things looked more favorable for Pigeon Forge when Gibson recovered a Claiborne fumble on the second-half kickoff.
The Tigers turned to their ground game, putting the ball into the hands of punishing running back Brandon Guidry, who scored from five yards out just after converting a fourth-and-two play inside the Claiborne 10. Harper’s PAT made it, 19-7.The Bulldogs fumbled again on their next play from scrimmage, and Gibson pounced on it at the Claiborne 23.
Guidry bolted to the end zone on the next play, but the Tigers were penalized for an illegal shift.Recognizing Guidry’s momentum, Pigeon Forge offensive coach Mitchell Whaley kept calling running plays. Guidry rushed four straight times, the last resulting in an 11-yard touchdown with 5:06 left in the third quarter. After Harper’s PAT, the Tigers trailed by just five points.The Tigers put together another long drive early in the fourth quarter, but it ended at the Claiborne 15.With just under four minutes to play, Harper booted a 60-yard punt that pinned the Bulldogs inside their own 10. The Tiger defense held, forcing Claiborne to punt from deep inside its own territory. Aparicio returned the punt several yards to the Claiborne 37, where the Tigers took over on offense with 1:40 left. Pigeon Forge got an automatic first down to the Claiborne 22 when Poore was called for pass interference. Moore threw two incompletions before hooking up with Aparicio on a nine-yard pass play, setting up his first-down keeper with aboutAs Moore hobbled off the field, the officials restarted the play clock and Shields rushed in from the sidelines to finish the game-winning drive. Harper’s PAT gave Pigeon Forge a two-point lead with a precious few seconds left to play.Any hope Claiborne had of creating last-minute magic of its own was dashed when Pigeon Forge’s Brandon Cogdill sacked the Bulldog quarterback on first down. Time ran out a play later.“I’m just so proud of our guys for hanging in there and fighting back,” Ryan said.Moore completed 17 of 39 passes for 141 yards before his injury. Guidry rushed for a team-high 99 yards on 17 carries and two touchdowns, while Aparicio had seven receptions for 73 yards and one score.Senior Hamilton Turner led the Pigeon Forge defense with nine tackles and a sack, and senior Chris Vaccarella added seven tackles. Turner and Vaccarella each recorded three tackles for loss.