If Greenback proved anything Thursday night, it's that no lead is safe against the Cherokees' up-tempo offense.
Despite falling behind 35-14 in the first half against Oneida, Greenback was able to walk away with a 42-38 win.
"I couldn't be more pleased with our entire team," Greenback coach Jason Hicks said. "We only gave up three in the second half and gave up 35 in the first. I think that speaks for itself.
"It's all our kids," he said. "It's nothing I did. I wasn't out there throwing, blocking, catching, running — it was the kids."
Greenback fell behind on a series of self-inflicted wounds. Oneida's Cole West returned the opening kick for a touchdown, and on the next drive returned the ball to the Greenback 28 to set up a score. An interception and two fumbles set up the next three Indians touchdowns.
With 7:59 left to play in the second quarter, Greenback trailed by 21 points. Less than two minutes and six plays later, the score lead was cut to 14 thanks to a 41-yard rush by Jordan Anderson that set up a Tanner LaForce touchdown run.
After a punt by Oneida, Greenback went on another drive, mixing run and pass to chew up nearly all of the 3:23 left on the clock before scoring again, this time on a short run from Anderson — cutting the lead to seven points with possession of the ball to start the second half.
The key play on the drive came with the Cherokees facing a third down and 23 from their own 20. Samuel McCloud dropped back to pass and was flushed out of the pocked to the left. He found LaForce in the flats and dumped the ball off for just a few yards. LaForce turned up field and picked up 28 yards for the first down.
Hicks said he doesn't know how the game could have turned had the Cherokees been forced to punt on the play.
"We talk all the time about scheme and about getting in the right position, but at some point you've got to make plays," Hicks said. "Samuel and (LaForce), they just made a play. We've got a bunch of athletes on this team that can make plays, and you put that together with a bunch of kids who love this school and love this community and love to play football, good things can happen."
Whatever adjustments were made at the break, both teams came out with a much more lively defense in the second half, with each team held scoreless until Oneida kicked a field goal with 52 seconds left to play in the third quarter.
The game changed on Greenback's next drive. Facing a second and long on their own 34, Greenback ran a wideout screen they had looked to several times in the game. But on this one, as the safeties and corner played to jump the pass, Braxton Fox slipped behind the secondary into the open field. McCloud delivered a pass to the open receiver and Greenback was one score away from taking the lead.
"It feels great to have one of those guys (who can make plays), but to have as many as we do, it's amazing," McCloud said. "You don't really have to be a good quarterback to be successful with the offensive line that we have and the wide receivers that we have. We have a very great football team."
Oneida was held to a three and out, and with less than 10 minutes to play in the fourth quarter Greenback put together the game-winning drive. The play to take the lead for Greenback was a controversial pass to Brock Moore.
Moore, who dropped a pass on a similar route earlier in the game, ran one-on-one down the sideline with Oneida's Tanner Sexton. There was a lot of contact at the end of the route, with Sexton going to the ground, Moore making a catch and scoring and the Oneida fan base clamoring for a push-off call against Greenback.
As the Cherokees kicked the point after through the uprights to take a 42-38 lead, boos rained down from the Oneida home stands.
"It was a physical route, I can say that. A little more physical on my part maybe," Moore said. "But the refs make the game and that's what they called."
Greenback held Oneida to another punt and the Cherokees leaned on their work horse, Anderson, to run out the clock. Anderson finished the game with 33 carries for 222 yards.
"The crazy thing about Jordan is he didn't even practice this week," Hicks said. "He was about 50 percent yesterday. His ankle is a little bit banged up right now. He probably wasn't better than about 75, 80 percent. Jordan's a tough kid, he's worked hard. But our offensive line did a phenomenal job down the stretch when we asked them to do some stuff. They put some guys in the box and we blocked them."
McCloud, who threw two fourth-quarter touchdown passes, put the win on the shoulders of the offensive line and said the difference in the first half and second half was just execution.
"We just stuck to the game plan," he said. "We played hard. We didn't execute very well in the first two quarters, but we never gave up and we played really hard."
Hicks also put a lot of credit for the comeback on defensive coordinator Dustin McCarter. The Greenback defense held strong starting in the second quarter to allow the Cherokees to complete a 28-3 run against Oneida.
The Cherokees have rallied off three straight wins on the road since taking a 20-14 loss to Gatlinburg-Pittman Sept. 6, including two wins against opponents ranked in the top five in their classification.
"After the Coalfield game I told a couple of our coaches, it sort of makes you feel like all the things you preach and you tell the kids day in and day out, maybe it is working, maybe they are buying into it," Hicks said.
Greenback will take a week off before playing two more on the road. Hicks said the rest is needed for a team that is a little banged up five games into the season. Greenback plays at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 4 at Rockwood.