East Robertson senior Dallas Caffrey dreamed of playing for a high school state championship ever since he first put on a pair of football pads. The 5-foot-9, 171-pound linebacker and two-time Indians’ leading-tackler yearned for the bright lights that accompanied Tennessee high school football’s brightest stage.
For the last two seasons, under head coach Chase Brooks, Caffrey has been the heart and soul of a revamped Indians program that is changing the narrative in Cross Plains. Prior to Brooks’ arrival in Robertson County in 2022, the Indians football program was far from a contender in the high school football scene.
East Robertson had never made a playoff run past the second round of the TSSAA playoffs and had gone a combined 8-13 in Caffrey’s freshman and sophomore seasons.
“It’s safe to say that we weren’t a very good football team,” Caffrey chuckled. “The last two years we have been growing and this year in particular has been something special. It’s been one heck of a ride and I just can’t believe it.”
Over the last two years, Brooks has turned the East Robertson football program into a juggernaut in the Midstate, posting a gaudy 23-3 record ahead of Friday’s Class 2A semifinal at York Institute.
“It’s been amazing to see the fight these kids have had,” Brooks said. “They are a special group of men and I am proud to be a part of this with them.”
On a night where East Robertson sought its first-ever trip to the BlueCross Bowl in Chattanooga, it was only fitting that Caffrey would make a game-sealing play.
With 10:30 remaining in the fourth quarter, York Institute was in need of a miracle. The undefeated Dragons, down 28-7, faced a manageable fourth down inside their own 35-yard line.
But as quarterback Myles Leffew dropped back to pass, the football fell aimlessly to the turf.
“I saw the ball on the ground and literally told myself to go get it,” Caffrey said. “I don’t think I have ever run that fast in my life. It was just a surreal feeling.”
Caffrey scooped up the fumble and sprinted to the end zone for a 35-yard scoop-and-score. It capped a historic 35-31 win for the Indians and their senior linebacker, who also posted a team-high 14 tackles.
Prior to Caffrey’s fourth-quarter touchdown, the East Robertson offense built a steady lead on the backs of Class 2A Mr. Football finalist Isaiah Groves and freshman quarterback Kason Young.
Groves was a workhorse for the Indians offense yet again, carrying the football 30 times for 224 yards and three TDs. The junior tailback, who had scores from 25, 29 and 5 yards, bruised a Dragons’ defense that had held opponents to just 7.6 points on the year.
“It’s just unbelievable,” Brooks said. “He’s such a dynamic player and so special when he gets in open space. Isaiah (Groves) is a big-time player and those guys show up in these types of games.”
Young, despite a second-half interception, was steady all night. The freshman led several scoring drives, highlighted by a four-play, 65-yard possession moments before the half.
In a drive that lasted just 37 seconds, Young hit wide receiver Cade Brooks on a 35-yard TD pass that gave the Indians a 21-7 lead at Friday’s intermission. The East Robertson touchdown followed York Institute’s lone scoring drive of the first half, a six-play, 80-yard drive.
“That was a huge moment in the game to go down and get some points,” Brooks said. “As a father, I couldn’t be more proud of Cade (Brooks) having a moment like that in a semifinal game.”
Despite leading 35-7 with just over 10 minutes remaining, the Indians had to withstand a furious fourth-quarter rally from York Institute.
The Dragons scored three consecutive TDs as the East Robertson special teams unit failed to recover two consecutive onside kicks. Leffew was stellar late in the quarter, rushing for two scores and throwing another to tight end Bryson Bilbrey.
York Institute cut the once 28-point Indians’ lead to 35-31 with 2:30 remaining.
“It was my fault that they were able to get back in the game,”Brooks said. “The game was getting chippy and we were trying to protect our players. They were doing some dirty things and I just wanted to protect my guys.”
On the final drive of the night, a post-play scuffle overshadowed an eventual game-clinching run by Groves. The chippiness after the whistle resulted in three ejections, including East Robertson starting offensive lineman Santana Washington. The team is currently appealing his potential one-game suspension with the TSSAA.
York Institute defensive tackle Micheal Wall and Joseph Linder were the other two players ejected from Friday’s Class 2A semifinal.
Despite that, the Indians prevailed over the Dragons with Young finishing out the night in victory formation.
“We are excited about the opportunity to play for a championship,” Brooks said. “Our guys are going to be up for the challenge and have a great week of practice. We can’t wait to perform on Saturday.”
East Robertson (13-1) will face Riverside (12-2) in the Class 2A state championship on Dec. 2 at 3 p.m. EST in Chattanooga.
East Robertson 35, York Institute 31
ER 7 14 7 7 – 35
YI 0 7 0 24 – 31
E – Isaiah Groves 25 run (5:06). Ted Summerer kick
E – Groves 29 run (4:13). Summerer kick
YI- Blake Voiles 2 run (1:16). Jorge Soto kick
E – Cade Brooks 35 pass from Kason Young (:39). Summerer kick
E – Groves 5 run (3:36). Summerer kick
E – Dallas Caffrey 35 fumble recovery (10:27). Summerer kick
YI – Myles Leffew 4 run (6:28). Leffew run for two-point conversion
YI – Bryson Bilbrey 13 pass from Leffew (2:56). Riylin Miller run for two-point conversion
YI – Leffew 8 run (2:30). Miller run for two-point conversion.