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Playoff race is under way

Andy Reed • Sep 28, 2017 at 8:30 AM

With four games left in the regular season, all five Wilson County games Friday night have playoff implications before schools head into fall break.

Lebanon, Wilson Central and Mt. Juliet will play next week before taking the following week off. Watertown, Friendship Christian and Mt. Juliet Christian will be off next week before returning to play Oct. 13.

Mt. Juliet Christian at Friendship Christian

The 6-0 Commanders are trying to hold onto their share of the II-A East Region standings while 5-1 Mt. Juliet Christian looks to get closer to the top as the Saints seek their first playoff appearance, and first-ever win over Friendship. The top two teams in the region standings will have a first-round bye while the next two enjoy a first-round home game. The fifth- and sixth-place finishers will be on the road while those below sit at home.

“Great opportunity and we’re all looking forward to it,” Mt. Juliet Christian coach Dan Davis said.

“Not only is it a county rivalry, it’s a big game for the region,” Commander coach John McNeal said.

Mt. Juliet Christian has some players, including running back Darius Hylick and quarterback Alex Pitman, who have put up some astounding offensive numbers. Friendship’s running-back tandem of Jajuan Foutch and Justin Seagraves haven’t been shy with their production, either.

“They’re very athletic,” McNeal said of the Saints. “They do a lot of different stuff on offense. They’ll throw it. They run it very well. They’re very diverse.

“They got very good skill guys. They’re very talented. We’ve got our hands full.”

“McNeal always has a solid team,” Davis said. “Two good backs. They can run it, they can throw it. They play solid defense.

“They’re very well-rounded.”

Keys for the Saints?

“The biggest thing is going out and playing good defense and take advantage on offense,” Davis said. “It’s going to be a fight. (We have to) be tough, play tough and see what happens.”

Friendship has equaled its best start since 2009. The Commanders last won their first seven was in ’08 when they began 8-0. McNeal said the key is during the week on the practice field.

“Everyday when we leave the practice field, we hope we’ve gotten better to perform at the level we want to,” McNeal said.

Both coaches said their teams were healthy as of Tuesday.

Lebanon at Station Camp

The Blue Devils will play their final four games on the road, including a Week 10 trip to nearby Wilson Central. But a short time after wondering if they could just win one game, the talk now is not just whether Lebanon can make the playoffs, but playing at home.

If the season ended now, Lebanon would be seeded third and on the road. But if the Blue Devils can extend their current three-game winning streak, a Week 11 game at Rossview could be the key to a second-place finish and a first-ever playoff game at Clifton Tribble Field/Danny Watkins Stadium.

But such talk is not coming from the LHS fieldhouse.

“I told our kids we’re not going to talk about playoffs,” said Lebanon coach Chuck Gentry. “We’re taking them one game at a time.

“I told them before we played Mt. Juliet, which started the region season, I expect to make the playoffs, but we’ve not talked playoffs all year.”

As for the road, it doesn’t bother Gentry one bit.

“I kind of enjoy going on the road,” Gentry said. “There’s no mowing the field. There’s no lining the field. There’s no putting the tarps down, the sideline rugs. You get on the bus, go play and get on the bus and come home.

“I’ve enjoyed playing at home, but it’s a little easier to go on the road, especially for coaches.”

This will be Gentry’s first trip to Station Camp for football, though he’s been there for basketball. The Bison, coached by Mt. Juliet-graduate Shaun Hollinsworth, are coming off their first win of the season last week 49-6 over Hunters Lane.

“They’re a lot like us,” Gentry said of the Bison. “They run some sniffer stuff in their offense. They’ll run some spread stuff like we do.

“Defensively, they’ll line up in a 50 and a 40, kind of similar to us in that fashion, also.”

Gentry said the Blue Devils are healthy with the exception of long snapper Levi Sampson, who injured his ankle while playing quarterback in Monday’s junior-varsity game at Mt. Juliet. Long snapper is a position often ignored until a snap goes awry.

“We’ll have a new long snapper Friday night unless we take him out in a boot,” Gentry said Tuesday. “I don’t know who that will be. We had some auditions today.

“We have several who’ve been long-snapping all year, but several play every down and you need someone fresh mentally to long snap. Bad snaps can kill you, change field position. Levi’s done a good job for us, but it’s next-man up.”

Hendersonville at Wilson Central

While the 3-3 Commandos try to strengthen their playoff positioning, the 1-5 Wildcats are running out of time to make themselves relevant for the postseason.

“We got to have some wins to be playoff contenders,” Wildcat coach Brad Dedman said. “We’ve got to win this one. We’re doing our best to treat this as a playoff game this week.”

Hendersonville, coming off a Region 4-6A loss to Lebanon two weeks ago, has a well-established tradition of success under longtime coach Bruce Hatfield, built around the wing-T offense, 50 defense and a strong kicking game.

“They’re standard Hendersonville wing-T team,” Dedman said. “They block it really well up front.

“(The defense) is the same as it’s been for years, and they do a really good job at it.”

Central’s injuries are piling up as high as the Wildcats’ defeats. Offensive lineman Will Spencer Wamack will continue to be out with a knee injury. Wide receivers Kwamez Kirby (back) and DeMarius McBroom (knee) are questionable and outside linebacker Dawson Ray (ankle) is doubtful.

“We’re beat up pretty hard,” Dedman said.

Watertown at Westmoreland

Like Hendersonville in the southwest corner of Sumner County, Westmoreland is entrenched in wing-T tradition in the northeast corner, regardless of coach. The Eagles have run it since at least the days when current Mt. Juliet director of football operations Roger Perry was starting out as their coach in the 1980s.

“They’ll do some other stuff off of it,” Watertown coach Gavin Webster said of the Eagles. “They got some decent size. They have one pretty good-size running back. They have another who’s a long athlete who’s lanky, runs well.”

Watertown is 4-2 while Westmoreland is 2-3. But the Purple Tigers and Eagles join Jackson County and East Robertson at 1-1 in Region 4-2A, one game behind first-place Trousdale County. This week’s games should shape up the race somewhat as the quartet tries to fit into the top four to qualify for the playoffs and top two to earn first-round home games.

“You’re playing for a home playoff spot Friday night,” Webster said. “It’s a very big game.:

The Tigers have won three straight, but in different fashion. After putting up 100 points in the first two wins, they had to score in the closing seconds of an 8-7 victory over Forrest last week.

“We pulled it together,” Webster said of last week. “We were able to put a good offensive drive together at the end and put it in the end zone. We moved the ball all night. We just couldn’t get it in the end zone. We’d stall out at the 20.

“We had about 230 passing yards and about 150 rushing. You’d think with that kind of yardage, we would’ve had more points.”

The Tigers should be healthy this week.

“We should have everybody back,” Webster said.

Rossview at Mt. Juliet

While Mt. Juliet’s six-game composite score of 243-0 has been the talk of the area high school football world, that should take a backseat as Rossview comes in for a first-place battle in Region 4-6A. Both are 2-0 in the region. The Hawks, a veteran team under first-year coach Todd Hood, have won four straight after two season-opening losses. Their run began with a Saturday-afternoon victory over Wilson Central at Austin Peay.

“Really well-coached football team that has a lot of experience,” Mt. Juliet coach Trey Perry said of the Hawks, who start 20 seniors. “In their four-game winning streak, they have averaged over 40 points per game, so they have a very explosive offense.

“It’ll definitely be a big test for us.”

As Wilson Central found out the hard way, getting Rossview in third-and-long is no time to get comfortable as the Hawks showed the ability to convert, both on the ground and through the air.

“Their ability to spread you out and run the football tough indicates really good personnel,” Perry said. “They’re tough to get off the field in third-down situations. They utilize the field well. You have to defend the whole field. They’re really good with the perimeter run, which opens up the interior game.

“Every coach I’ve talked to says as big as their line looks on film, they pass the eye test even better.”

Mt. Juliet has faced local rivals Lebanon and Wilson Central and traditional nemesis Gallatin. But this week is the most crucial to date as far as playoff positioning.

“That’s why this is our biggest game,” Perry said. “On Saturday morning, one team is 3-0 and the other is 2-1. That makes it two games because of head to head. That right there makes it huge.

“We have a good opportunity Friday night. It should make for a really good football game because you have two teams that have a lot of confidence.”

Perry said the Golden Bears seem to be getting healthier. Last week’s 43-0 win over Northwest enabled his staff to spread the playing time around.

“It was important that we were able to get a lot of guys some rest last week,” Perry said. “Our receiving corps is getting healthier and that’ll be a plus.”

Someone getting healthier all the time is senior inside linebacker Chris Humphreys, who suffered a non-contact knee injury during fall camp. He passed up surgery and, following weeks of rehab and a brace, has gotten more and more reps in practices and even games.

“It’s neat to see that he’s getting back in there,” Perry said of Humphreys. “A kid who has worked hard for the football program is getting to see some of the fruits of his labors.”

Week 7 games

FRIDAY

MT. JULIET CHRISTIAN at FRIENDSHIP CHRISTIAN, 7:30 p.m.

LEBANON at Station Camp

Hendersonville at WILSON CENTRAL

WATERTOWN at Westmoreland

Rossview at MT. JULIET

All kickoffs at 7 p.m. unless otherwise noted.

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