For the first time in 12 years, the varsity Yellow Jacket football team played host to a first-round playoff game. Hayesville faced off with the Albemarle High School Bulldogs Friday, Nov. 15. The Jackets entered the playoffs with a record of 7-4 and Albemarle wrapped up the regular season at 4-7. While Hayesville had the advantage on paper, the Bulldogs executed on the field and ended the Jackets’ title hopes with a 55-7 win.
Hayesville received the opening kick and thanks to a touch back, started their drive on their own 20 yard line. After a quick three and out, the Jackets punted it away. Albemarle muffed the kick but recovered and lined up for their first possession. The Bulldogs were able to move the ball on the ground and with 8:19 left in the opening quarter, Julius Smith found the end zone. The PAT was no good but the visitors had an early 6-0 lead.
After a failed drive, Hayesville tried a fake punt but came up short. Albemarle took control but not for long as the Jacket’s defense created negative yards and forced a punt. The back-and-forth continued as Hayesville quarterback Hayden McClure threw an interception to Joshua Smith and the Bulldogs were deep in Hayesville’s territory. Albemarle wasted no time and with 3:06 left to play, Antonio Burns scampered into the end zone for a touchdown. Once again the PAT was no good but the Bulldogs extended their lead to 12-0.
A 15-yard personal foul called against Albemarle helped the Jackets advance the ball on their next possession. Just when it seemed Hayesville had found its offensive rhythm, Malachi Baldwin went up and brought down the Bulldogs’ second interception of the night. Albemarle began their drive as the quarter ended.
The Bulldogs rode the momentum wave all the way down the field and Smith pounded through the line for his second score of the night. Burns followed with a 2-point conversion to make the score 20-0 with 9:12 left in the half. At the 8:20 mark, McClure tried to make something happen for the Jackets with a pass but it was batted at the line and Albemarle regained possession deep in Hayesville territory. The Bulldogs made the most of the opportunity and Smith found his way in for a 5-yard touchdown. Adrian Little capped things off with a 2-point conversion to put the Jackets in a 28-0 hole.
Using a hurry-up offense, Hayesville was able to drive down the field and answer when McClure found a seam and scored on a quarterback keeper with 6:37 left in the second quarter. Bunch’s PAT was true, making the score 28-7 in favor of the Bulldogs. The score sparked the Jackets’ defense as they swarmed Albemarle, forcing a punt on fourth and 17. Hayesville was unable to advance and had to punt the ball back with 1:39 left in the half. The Bulldogs were content with running out the clock and headed to the locker room with the 21-point lead, knowing they would receive the ball to start the second half.
A squib kick from the Jackets got the third quarter started. On the first play from scrimmage, Smith bounced to the outside and went the distance for a touchdown at the 11:43 mark. This time, the kicker nailed the PAT to increase the Bulldogs lead to 35-7. It didn’t take long for Albemarle to again control via interception. On the first play of the possession, Smith went right up the middle for the touchdown. A successful PAT put the Bulldogs up 42-7 with 10:11 left in the quarter.
Hayesville’s struggles continued with a fumble on their following possession which Albemarle recovered. This time, the Jackets were able to stand strong on defense and force the punt. Hayesville put together a long drive, only to turn the ball over with a fumble in the red zone. The Bulldogs marched down the field and with 21.7 seconds left in the third, Smith crossed the goal line for his sixth touchdown of the night. A missed PAT held the score at 48-7 heading into the final quarter.
At the 9:10 mark of the fourth, D.J. Polk got in on the action with an Albemarle touchdown to increase the Bulldogs’ lead to 55-7 and initiate a running clock. Neither team added to their score and the horn sounded to give Albemarle the win and end Hayesville’s season.
“The biggest factor in the game was our execution on both sides of the ball,” said Hayesville coach Chad McClure. “We had too many turnovers and didn’t tackle well.” When asked to grade his first season leading the Jackets, the coach answered with, “As far as grades I am not sure, but I know we can do better.”
That said, coach McClure did not minimize his team’s accomplishments. “We did not finish the way we wanted to but there are lots of things to build on for the future. We set a goal to have a winning season and we did that and we hosted a playoff game for the first time in a long time. Looking ahead, he was clear with his vision, saying, “The next step for this program is to win a championship. To do that we have to start preparing now by getting much stronger physically and mentally.”
With Hayesville eliminated, Murphy, Andrews, Robbinsville and Swain will carry on in round two for the Smoky Mountain Conference. Keep up with scores with our SMC scoreboard watch party on our sports Facebook page Friday, Nov. 22. Kickoff for all games is set for 7:30 p.m.
Leaders vs Albemarle
Hayden McClure: touchdown, 135 total yards.
Blake McClure: 125 yards.
Elijah Deese: 67 yards.
Cable Krieger: seven tackles.