KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE)- Oak Ridge is back in the state championship game for the first time since 2005, competing for their first state title since 1991.
While Joe Gaddis was not the head coach the last time the Wildcats made states, he was at the helm the last time they won a title in the 1990’s.
“Ya know it means the world to them, it means the world to me because it means so much to them,” said Gaddis. “The city is really hungry for this. They’ve rallied around this team. It’s been a really long time so it means a lot.”
The Wildcats sent shock waves in 5A to get to this point. After starting their season off slow 2-3, the team hit its stride at the end of September turning a losing record into a nine-game win streak, upsetting 5A powerhouses left and right.
“Everybody picks against us every week,” said Gaddis. “These guys love being the underdog, they’ve embraced that role and I’m sure everybody’s going to be picking Summit to beat us and that’s going to play right into our hands.”
The team faces a rising program in Summit with a high-powered offense lead by highly touted Destin Wade. The dual-threat leads the team in passing and rushing yards. Wade has completed 74 of 119 attempts for 1,255 yards and 18 touchdowns this season: with only 5 interceptions, and has rushed for 1,414 yards for 16 touchdowns; averaging 9 yards per carry, just one yard shy of a first down every time he has the ball.
“Hopefully we can stop him [Wade] from reeling off big plays,” said Gaddis. “The idea of a shutout is probably ridiculous, but our defense is very good, we’re playing great right now. I think it’s a lot up to our offense to produce and try to keep them off the field.”
As the old football adage goes, “defense wins championships” and for Oak Ridge that could hold true. The Wildcats posted their fifth shutout on the season against South-Doyle in the semi-finals, allowing only an average of 12 points over the 13 games played this season.
“Oak Ridge is a very good football team,” said Summit Head Coach Brian Coleman. “Coach Gaddis has done an excellent job and has his team playing great football.”
The Wildcats have a plethora of playmakers on defense including Jacob Berven who leads the team in tackles with 139 total, nine for a loss. Summit will be challenged with Oak Ridge’s secondary with Cole Adams and Turner Preston both knotting 4 interceptions this season.
“As long as we keep a spy on Wade the entire game I think we’ll be fine,” said Berven.
The Wildcats offense started to peak in the regular season with running back Kendall Jackson back at full health, and in the postseason quarterback Mitchell Gibbons has been peaking at the right time.
“Mitchell has had some good moments in his career for sure but thank goodness, and fortunately for us, he’s saved the best for last,” said Gaddis.
Gibbons has completed 168 of his 282 pass attempts for 1,976 yards on the season and 22 touchdowns, rushing for 243 yards and 4 touchdowns. Jackson has rushed for 1,143 yards on 195 carries and 10 touchdowns: averaging 5 yards per carry. Feeding Jackson the ball is a must.
“We have to run the ball some, we haven’t done that very well in most games to be quite honest even with Kendall Jackson at running back although 5 or 6 games in 9 game streak where he rushed for 100, 150 yards,” said Gaddis. “We’re going to have to do that some Friday night we can’t be one-dimensional.”
Oak Ridge and Summit meet at 8 P.M. at Tennessee Tech’s Tucker Stadium in Cookeville as the last of the three state championship games slated for Friday.