N. MT. JULIET – Page kept the powerful Green Hill running game stuck in neutral and regained control of Friday’s 5A quarterfinal with a kickoff return for a touchdown to advance to the state semifinals for the first time since 1998 with a 31-14 victory over the host Hawks.
They were the only two teams in the bracket with just one loss. Green Hill (11-2) had its 11-game winning streak end. Page (12-1) will play at home against Henry County, which beat Springfield 23-0.
Freshman Ethan Cunningham ran for two touchdowns and led the Patriots with 90 yards on 18 carries. His 1-yard run late in the first quarter provided the only touchdown of the first half. Page led 9-0 a halftime after adding a safety midway through the second quarter when Green Hill quarterback Cade Mahoney was penalized for intentional grounding while throwing a pass from the end zone.
The penalty came just two plays after Green Hill’s Anthonie Shannon blocked a Page field goal attempt, giving the Hawks the ball at their 9. Green Hill prevented another likely Page score later in the second quarter when Levi Irby recovered a fumble at the 1.
Page fumbled three times in the game.
The Hawks, playing just their 23rd game as a program, were averaging 187.2 rushing yards per game, primarily on the reliable pounding of junior Brax Lamberth. He started the game with 1,468 yards on 245 carries but had just 56 yards on 17 carries.
The Hawks rushed for 109 yards on 31 carries.
“Our defense won this ballgame,” Page Coach Charles Rathbone said. “We come into every game wanting to shut down the run game. (Green Hill) has a powerful run game and we had to deal with it.
“When I took this job eight or nine years ago our goal was to host a playoff game and now, we are in the semifinals.”
“They loaded the box and took away what we did best,” Green Hill Coach Josh Crouch said. “It is hard when you get down on the scoreboard to a team like that.”
Page fumbled the kickoff to start the second half and David Childress recovered to give the Hawks the ball at the Page 19. Lamberth ended the drive with a 3-yard scoring run just 23 seconds into the half, starting a combined 28-point outburst by the teams in the first 5:11 of the third quarter.
Green Hill didn’t hold the momentum for too long. Cason Walker took the kickoff near the Green Hill sideline and returned it 75 yards for touchdown, giving Page a 16-9 lead.
“The ball just came straight to me, and I made one cut and saw the sideline wide open,” Walker said.
Mahoney’s 18-yard scramble – the longest run of the game for the Hawks – ended a nine-play, 63-yard drive to cut the Page lead to 16-14 midway through the quarter. Two plays after the kickoff Cunningham ran 13 yards for his second touchdown.
That score was set up by Jake McNamara’s 70-yard pass play to Michael Mayer, who led the Patriots with five catches for 147 yards. McNamara, a Colorado State commitment, completed 15-of-26 passes for 239 yards. He also threw a 43-yard touchdown pass to Boyce Smith in the fourth quarter that put the game out of reach of the Hawks.
For the season, McNamara has completed 198-of-319 passes for 2,841 yards and 33 touchdowns. Smith is his favorite receiver with 45 catches for 822 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Mahoney had nearly as much success throwing the ball. He completed 15-of-27 passes for 151 yards. Noah Kefauver and Colin Hurd each had an interception for Page, which pressured Mahoney on nearly every play. Hurd, whose three interceptions lead the Patriots, also had three tackles for loss in the first quarter.
Penalties stopped the Hawks nearly as much as the Patriots’ defense did. Green Hill had 11 penalties for 92 yards.
“Our offense would start to get into a rhythm and then penalties would hold us back,” Crouch said.
Page - 7 2 14 8 – 31
Green Hill – 0 0 14 0 –14
PHS – Ethan Cunningham 1 run (Dominicke Quarantello kick)
PHS – Safety, Green Hill intentional grounding in end zone
GH – Brax Lamberth 3 run (Sam Crickmar kick)
PHS – Cason Walker 75 kickoff return (Quarantello kick)
GH – Cade Mahoney 18 run (Crickmar kick)
PHS – Cunningham 13 run (Quarantello kick)
PHS – Boyce Smith 43 pass from Jake McNamara (Michael Mayer pass from McNamara)