He would be the last person to tell you, but the Hampton Bulldogs are going to play for a state championship and it’s because of Conor Jones.
With time ticking down on Friday night while the Bulldogs were trailing state powerhouse Trousdale County Jones made play after play, after play to send Hampton to a 22-20 win over Yellow Jackets in the Class 2A State Semifinals.
“I love my linemen and I love my blocking backs,” Jones said. “This is an 11-man team, and all 11 guys have to do their job for us to achieve our goal. Tonight that is what we did. We fought through some adversity, but dad gone these guys are tough. These guys have no quit in them.”
The Bulldogs now advance to the Class 2A State Championship game which will be played on Saturday, December 4 at 3 p.m. at Finley Stadium in Chattanooga. Hampton will take on Westview which beat Riverside 35-18 on Friday.
“It’s hard to put into words, but this is for all of those people that came here before us,” Jones said. “For all of those teams that got close, but just couldn’t get through, this is for them. It’s for this community that supports us so much.”
Jones’ heroics started with 4:10 left in the contest with the Bulldogs trailing 20-14. His first big play came on third down with 11 yards to go when he went straight up the middle with his legs for a 14-yard gain. On the next play he went outside behind his blockers for 14 more yards, and the Bulldogs were rolling.
An eight-yard completion to Johnathan Greenwell was followed by Jones carrying the pile for a 15-yard gain that put Hampton on the Yellow Jackets’ 17-yard line.
Jones picked up nine yards on third down to get the Bulldogs within two yards of the goal line.
Twice before on Friday the Bulldogs had been stopped inside the two-yard line and ended long drives with nothing to show for them. But with 49 seconds left on the clock Jones would not be denied a third time. The senior went straight up the middle and the Bulldogs’ big offensive line made it easy on him to tie the game at 20-20.
Then, of course, it was Jones who converted the history-making, two-point play that sent Hampton to its first state title game in program history.
“I told the guys right there ‘stand up, be strong,’” Jones said. “They stopped us a few times before, but the only play that matters is the next one. It all about the end result. You just put the plays that you messed up before behind you, and you go execute the next play.”
Hampton started the second half leading 8-6, but it did not take long for Trousdale County to take control.
On Trousdale’s first offensive snap of the second half Bryson Claiborne took a pitch and raced 79 yards for a touchdown. The play was called back on a hold, but three plays later Brian Banks took an option pitch the other way went 77 yards up the left boundary. Claiborne ran in for two points and the Yellow Jackets led 14-8.
On the ensuing kickoff the ball popped out of Chance Point’s hands. Claiborne scooped it up and ran it across the goal line to give Trousdale County a 20-8 lead with 7:22 left in the third quarter.
“I’ll tell you the truth we did not expect that to happen,” Jones said. “We did not expect to be in that position, but I think it shows you just how tough we are and how much our coaches believe in us. A lot of teams would have laid down, but coach told us that we were going to line up and run over top of them. He said we were going to win this game, and thank the Lord that is what we did.”
With 6:41 left Hampton was able to close the gap to 20-14 when Levi Lunsford powered his way into the endzone from two yards away.
The Bulldogs’ defense answered by standing strong and forcing a three and out to give the offense one more chance.
The night started with the teams trading punts, but after Hampton’s defense forced the Yellow Jackets to kick for a second time the Bulldogs were set up 39 yards away from the end zone.
Lunsford carried it three times on the drive, Greenwall carried it twice and Jones put Hampton on top with a quarterback sneak from inside the one-yard line. Lunsford ran it in for two points for an 8-0 lead.
The Bulldogs only miscue of the first half came when Kyle Shockley intercepted an attempted double pass.
Five plays later Claiborne took a jet sweep to the right and raced past the Bulldogs for a 16-yard score that narrowed the gap to 8-6.
Hampton looked as though it would add to its lead before halftime, but the Yellow Jackets stopped Jones inches from the goal line on fourth down with 42 seconds left.
Jones finished Friday with 148 yards rushing on 22 carries with two touchdowns. He also completed 3-of-4 passes for 58 yards.
Lunsford added 60 yards on the ground and as a team Hampton ran the ball for 236 yards and gained 294 yards of offense.
The Bulldogs held Trousdale County to 117 yards on Friday, and 77 of those came on Banks’ long touchdown run. The Yellow Jackets were forced to punt five times, and only earned one first down on Friday.
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Stories and photos by Tate Russell.