It was the call that changed everything for Tellico Plains.
When the Bears decided to go for the winning two points in overtime rather than a second extra period against dangerous District 3-A rival Midway, then executed the double reverse pass from Brett Nicely back to quarterback Dwayne Hollingshead with perfection, they did more than just win the game. They also may have improved the outlook for the entire rest of the season.
It was a situation in which Tellico Plains would not have вЂ” and didn't вЂ” prevail in 2012.
Last season, the Bears had two chances to score the tying points against the same Green Waves, only to turn the ball over twice, the last one being a pick-six for a 28-14 loss.
Move forward a year later, with Tellico Plains still searching for that signature win in the second year of coach John Mullinax, and although the Bears did not close the game as cleanly as they would've liked, they still managed to pull out the crucial 29-28 district win.
"That builds character and a belief in your team that you can come back and get the job done instead of panicking," Mullinax said.
And the Bears started Monday's practice with a standing ovation for the 11 players who executed the winning two-point conversion, a testament to the program's progress and change in mentality.
"I had enough guts to call it, but the players executed perfectly. So they get all the credit," Mullinax said.
"Pulling that out gives us a lot of confidence."
Tellico had already shown signs of overcoming adversity in Week 1, getting a crucial first down to fend off a comeback by Andrews, N.C., preserving the Bears' 26-23 road win and recovering from the shellacking it took from Sequoyah the week before.
And now, all of a sudden, at 3-2 and 1-1 in the district, the Bears are in a good position to get a winning season and make the TSSAA playoffs for the first time since 2009.
Tellico's opponent for Friday this week, Sale Creek, is winless after four blowout losses вЂ” two of those to, ahem, powerhouses such as Oakdale and Meigs County. The Bears will very likely be 4-2 heading into their bye next week.
And looking at Tellico's remaining four opponents вЂ” all in district вЂ” the Bears will likely be favored against Harriman, whom they beat 41-24 last season, and against Meigs County in the last game of the regular season.
That would get the Bears to six wins right there and clinch the winning season.
Tellico will be heavy underdogs on the road against Greenback вЂ” currently the No. 4-ranked team in Class 1A per the Associated Press вЂ” but the home game against Rockwood on Oct. 11, coming off the bye, could be an opportunity for the Bears. While Rockwood is as solid and well coached as ever, it does not have quite the explosive playmakers it has had in recent seasons.
But first things first: Tellico does have things to improve on if it wants to fulfill its promise.
"I was very disappointed we were in the red zone four other times in the game and didn't score," said Mullinax about his teamвЂ™s missed chances to perhaps put Midway away sooner.
The Bears' three turnovers in that game were also a concern. The last one, a fumble while Tellico was trying to run out the clock on the Green Waves, gave deadly quarterback Shandon Lyle the opportunity he needed to force overtime against the Bears and then push Midway ahead in the extra period.
So the Bears have work to do on closing out opponents when they should. But nevertheless, the progress the program has made in a year and a few weeks is undeniable.
"I think we've improved," Mullinax said. "We won the three games we should've won. We took care of business, and hopefully we'll get better over the last half of the season to give ourselves a chance of a winning season and make the state playoffs."вЂў
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