Down by seven at halftime, the Indians scored 21 unanswered points in a 28-14 victory. It secured D-B’s first 10-win season since 2012, which was also the last year the Indians advanced to the third round of the playoffs.
Next up, the Indians (10-2) will host perennial power Maryville, a 42-0 winner over Farragut.
“We’ve got great kids, great coaches, and it has been a special season,” Tribe coach Joey Christian said. “We challenged the back end of our defense with the way they were throwing in front of them and completing some out routes. We tightened up our coverage and we got out of our breaks a little better. Then we were able to get home with the front six with our pass rush.”
Whitson connected on 7 of 11 passes for 133 yards, hitting Dalton Harkleroad and Rayshawn Simmons for touchdowns. Whitson also rushed seven times for 40 yards, picking up three first downs on run-pass options.
Whitson has thrown for 23 TDs this season against just one interception.
“As we’ve gone along, we’ve given him more and more opportunities,” Christian said. “He deserves it because he’s a great kid, a heady football player who competes like you wouldn’t believe. Tonight is no different than what he’s done the previous 11 games.”
Collin Ironside was 20-of-35 passing for 207 yards for the Bulldogs (5-7). Hayden Candela was his main target, hauling in 11 catches for 96 yards. Kenneth Parker-Smith added four catches for 37 yards.
Ironside was 6-of-7 for 59 yards on the game’s first drive, which ended with a 9-yard touchdown pass to Candela.
The Indians responded with an 11-play, 63-yard drive that saw Jet Harris power in from a yard out.
Ironside led Bearden downfield 80 yards on the next drive, hitting James Adkins in the left side of the end zone for a 19-yard TD and a 14-7 lead.
Whitson hit a wide-open Simmons down the left side with seconds left in the half, but the wide receiver dropped the potential game-tying touchdown.
The Indians marched 71 yards on the opening drive of the second half. Phillip Armitage busted up the middle and raced to the end zone for the game-tying 23-yard touchdown.
Whitson took over on the next drive. After running for a pair of first downs, he found Harkleroad, who stayed inbounds down the left sideline for a 36-yard touchdown. On the next D-B possession, Simmons made up for his earlier drop, getting behind the defense for a 37-yard TD reception and a 28-14 Tribe lead.
“I felt terrible at the end of the first half, but as a wide receiver, you’re going to drop passes,” Simmons said. “I had to make it up to my team with the second one. When I caught it, it felt great. I feel good helping out the team. We’re all friends who have known each other since elementary school.”
After another stop by its defense, D-B drove to the Bearden 36. Jaden Alderson placed the Bulldogs in a precarious position with his punt that was downed at the 1-yard line, and another stop by the stingy Tribe defense ended the game.
“The secondary got their stuff together and stopped about every pass in the second half,” Indians linebacker Jackson Martin said. “We were able to figure out their blocking schemes and got more pressure on them. It’s just a great feeling. We’re giving it our all to finish this season out strong.”
THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
For the second time this season, D-B’s “Thunder and Lightning” combination of Armitage and Tyler Tesnear gashed Bearden.
Armitage had 15 carries for 101 yards plus a key 22-yard reception on the Indians’ first scoring drive. Tesnear had 13 carries for 65 yards and two catches for 18 yards.