HIAWASSEE — Jason Roquemore insists nothing has changed for his Towns County football team. Which considering that the Indians went a disappointing 0-10 in 2019 may not be the most ringing of endorsements on initial examination.
“We’re doing the exact same things,” said Roquemore, now in his second season in Hiawassee. “Last year we focused on the ‘what.’ Now we’re focusing on the ‘how.’ All that goes hand-in-hand with the fact that the kids are more mature this year as well.”
Upon further review, however, this year’s efforts, so far, have translated into a 2-1 start, the second time in three seasons for the Indians. But considering how far they fell in 2019, the strides made so far seem as high as scaling Bell Mountain itself.
“The difference I think is that the kids are understanding the routines better now,” Roquemore added. “They are growing and maturing in their understanding of the game and what we’re trying to do. That’s a big thing, no matter what age you are.”
Last week it all seemed to apex as they manhandled Class 3A Lumpkin County 43-14 in a game they led 37-0 at halftime. The win on the surface was certainly surprising, especially since they were a 14-point underdog at home. However, the manner of the victory was stunning -- and the real story.
The Indians showed outstanding balance on offense last week. Senior quarterback Mason Thomas was 8-of-10 passing for 215 yards and 3 TDs. Wide receiver Hayden McClure had 3 catches for 162 yards, 140 coming after the catch. Wide receiver Garrett Oakes had 3 catches for 31 yards and junior running back Kyle Oakes pounded 152 yards on the ground.
Defensively, they held Lumpkin County to just 164 total yards -- 59 yards rushing, 105 passing -- with most of that coming in the fourth quarter after the game was already well in-hand. Seth Gillis and Reece Hampton each had 9 tackles and combined for 5 tackles for loss on the night.
Those that have followed Towns County football over the decades may have witnessed the program’s most telling moment on Friday. Roquemore is hoping that isn’t the case
“The win was certainly a big one for us at this moment of the program,” he said. “But I don’t know if I’d go as far to say it’s the biggest win in program history. It definitely will give us some credibility, for sure.
“But nobody probably outside the locker room expected us to win. Our guys, however, put that behind them before the game started. They came out and really executed well right from the beginning.
“You could kind of see it building after every series. We went down and scored, got a 3-and-out, went down and scored, got another stop, and then I turned around after about the fourth or fifth series and told one of my coaches, ‘man, we’re really playing at a high level right now.’ It was exciting to see.”
And they’re doing all of it with just 28 varsity players. Believe it or not, that’s a more than 25 percent increase over last year’s 22. In fact, it’s nearly 50 percent over the number they finished the 2019 season with (17).
Thomas, McClure, and another player -- part of the Towns Park and Rec system in their younger days -- moved back from various parts known Cherokee Bluff (Thomas) and Hayesville (N.C., McClure) to rejoin the program.
This week, the Indians will entertain Mt. Zion-Carroll (2-0) a solid Class A Private program out of Carrollton, looking to continue one of their best starts in program history. The last time they opened a campaign 3-1 was in 2008.
“Mt. Zion is a very physical team and is playing well right now,” Roquemore said. “But the key is always the same for us: execution. We have to play well in all three phases to win. We’ve done that for the most part in every game.
“To beat them we can’t have a bad series in any area. We should be 3-0 but we fumbled three times in the red zone [in a 10-7 loss to Armuchee in the season opener] so that’s what happens when you don’t execute properly.
“There is no reason to think we can’t win this game. We’re playing with a lot of confidence and being consistent in our preparation. When you put those together at the same time, that is when you start to see outside successes. It is a fun time to be in Hiawassee right now. I’m happy for the kids to have this success and happy for the community to be able to be a part of it. The vibe has been very cool around town.”