Someone once famously made the pronouncement, “Home is where the heart is.” Apparently the heart of East Ridge football is anywhere there’s a field with green grass that is marked in a gridiron.
On Friday night, in its “home opener,” the Pioneers, using Baylor’s field _ the revered Raymond James Stadium has been condemned _ moved to 3-0 for the first time since 2001 by handing it to Signal Mountain, 35-10.
“As long as there’s grass on the field we come to ball,” East Ridge Coach Tracy Malone told his team in a post-game huddle.
“Balling” is right. East Ridge used big plays on both sides of the ball to prove that having its home field yanked out from under them makes little difference.
“Our kids got jacked up to play,” Malone said. “Our kids are sick of hearing about it (the problems associated with the stadium). We had a good week of practice, and every challenge I put in front of them, they keep meeting it.”
The particular challenge facing the team on Friday night was having only three offensive plays in the first quarter and facing a 10-0 deficit with 7:29 left in the half.
But, Pioneer defensive back Jesse Jones intercepted a Thomas Vatter pass with with 3:12 left in the half. Jones then pulled in an Eric Bennet pass for 34 yards setting up a Traneil Moore 10-yard rush off the right side for six. C.J. Bond’s extra point reduced the East Ridge deficit to 10-7.
East Ridge then stopped Signal Mountain on a fake punt from the Eagles 34-yard line with under two minutes to play in the half.
The Pioneers picked up a first down before Bennett found a streaking Jones down the right sideline for 28 yards to the Eagles 1-yard line. Lorenzo Stewart punched it over the left side of the Pioneer line to give East Ridge a 14-10 lead at the half.
East Ridge opened the third quarter with a long drive. Starting at it’s own 24-yard line, the Pioneers looked to Moore to grind out 76 yards on the ground. Moore went wide left for the final 30 yards for a score. Bond’s PAT put East Ridge up 21-10 with 4:35 left in the third quarter.
Stewart, playing linebacker on defense, intercepted a Vatter pass and rumbled 37 yards for six points to give East Ridge a 28-10 lead.
“Bennett played great,” Malone said of the sophomore quarterback who came on in relief of starter Matthew Yarbrough. “The offense really rallied around him. And I guess Moore is not a secret anymore.”
Bennett finished the night completing three of four passes for 74 yards. Moore rushed for 140 yards on 20 carries.
The Pioneer faithful rallied around their team, too, as what appeared to be more than 300 folks, mostly in orange, cheered from the Baylor bleachers. The crisp notes of The Pride of East Ridge Marching Band, which originally was not going to travel to the game, echoed across field in support of the team. Heck, even the Lady Pioneers’ girls’ soccer team (also off to an undefeated start) showed up.
Malone said he was appreciative of Baylor officials allowing East Ridge access to its facilities. “They rolled out the red carpet,” he said.
East Ridge will travel to Central next Friday, then host Red Bank on Sept. 18 on Shanks Field.