Quarterback Braden Reece fueled the second-half comeback with two rushing touchdowns. He saved his best for the final two minutes when, with the ball on the Friendship 20-yard line trailing 23-20, he threw a bomb into the wind which Ben Jamison caught behind the defense and took to the house for an 80-yard strike, giving the Commanders their first lead of the night.
Friendship had to survive a couple of final possessions by Nashville Christian before the Commanders could punch their ticket to the Dec. 2 BlueCross Bowl in which they will face Donelson Christian at 11 a.m. at Tennessee Tech’s Tucker Stadium.
For the first part of the night, it appeared Nashville Christian would be the team packing for Cookeville as the Eagles dominated play, leading 14-0 at halftime. Mr. Football finalist Xavier Myers ran for 18 of his 198 yards in the first half, setting up Chad Kinnard for an opening 1-yard quarterback sneak for the Eagles’ first touchdown and doing the honors himself on a 6-yard scamper in the final minute of the first quarter.
Friendship’s defense keyed on Myers after that, keeping him under some control. The secondary also intercepted three Kinnard passes - one each by Chad Holcombe and Gray Taylor in the second quarter and another by Holcombe in the final minute.
But the Commander offense did little until the second half.
“I just said, ‘Guys, we’re going to see what we’re made of’,” Commander coach John McNeal said after his program improved to 4-0 in state semifinal games. “If it was what I think, we were going to fight and we’re going to do it the right way. We made some changes at half and it paid off.
“It was a great effort by the boys on both sides of the ball.”
After holding Nashville Christian to a three-and-out to begin the second half, the Commanders shoved the ball down the Eagles’ throats to Reece’s 2-yard scoring run. The snap was botched on the extra point, leaving Friendship trailing 14-6.
Nashville Christian drove to midfield where the Eagles faced a punting situation into the wind. Upback Adam Young tried to pitch the ball forward, only to have Jacob Bostian intercept the pass and return it to the NCS 27. Reece ran it in from 8 yards out to, after the two-point run came up short, bring Friendship within 14-12 going into the fourth quarter.
“Luckily, we had holdup,” McNeal said of Bostian’s interception. “We had been going after it. That time we held up not to go after it. Luckily, it was a good play that we weren’t going for the block.”
Nashville Christian drove to an insurance touchdown when Kinnard flipped a 6-yard pass to Sid Morris. But the extra point was wide left, leaving Friendship down by one score 20-12 with nine minutes left.
Jamison returned the ensuing kickoff 49 yards to the Nashville Christian 27, setting up a play which may or may not have been a trick play, but looked like one where Reece took the snap and started to roll right, taking the defense with him. But he slipped the ball to Jajuan Foutch, who was wide open for a 19-yard touchdown run with no Eagle in the Possumtown area code. Foutch then caught Reece’s two-point pass in the right corner of the end zone to final even the score 20-20 with just over seven minutes to play.
“It was a play St. Georges scored on us (in the playoffs) about three to four years ago,” McNeal said of the Foutch score which started with Reece taking the snap while lined up behind a guard. “We practiced it where we ran two guys up behind the guards. The first one gets it, hands it to Speedy, takes off like he has it, they sit and wait a minute and then go and their whole team went. St. George scored against us on it, so we just kind of stole it.
“It’s deceiving, which is what I wanted.”
Nashville Christian came back to a 37-yard field goal by Zach Clark with the wind to break the tie with 1:51 to go. His kickoff sailed into the end zone for a touchback, setting up the play which will be remembered as long as Jon Miller’s last-minute hookup to Garrett McKnight in the final minute to beat Gordonsville in the 2006 Division I quarterfinals, played the same night as the D-II semis.
Reece threw the ball, and caution, into a breeze. Jamison caught it, weaved around a defender and scored with 1:35 left. Neill Kane’s first kick of the night hit the upright, but ricocheted across for the key extra point to take the field goal out of Nashville Christian’s option.
“We saw it open earlier because they were coming up so much on the run,” McNeal said of the home run pass. “I didn’t know when we would finally do it, but we just decided to go for the post-wheel. It was one of those situations where we decided to take a chance, into the wind. Jamison made a heck of a run to make it to the end zone.”
While Nashville Christian is finished for the season at 8-4, the Commanders will carry a 12-0 mark into the program’s fourth championship game. They will face one of their oldest rivals, Donelson Christian, which knocked off undefeated Davidson Academy 27-21. The Commanders knocked off the Wildcats 47-27 Sept. 15.
Like the 2006 club, Friendship will go into the final undefeated. After losing in the bowl game that year, the Commanders finally captured championships in 2011 and ’12 before moving to Division II in ’13.
“The thing they all have in common is a large senior class that love each other,” McNeal said of his BlueCross Bowl teams. “That’s the whole concept. The ’11 and ’12 teams had large senior classes that genuinely loved each other. These guys love each other. There’s 12 of them and they lead the team.
“You want to have a good team, it’s got to be led by the players. Coaches can only do so much, and that’s what this group did.”
Friendship Christian 27, Nashville Christian 23
Nashville Christian 14 0 0 9—23
Friendship Christian 0 0 12 15—27
Nashville Christian—Chad Kinnard 1 run (Zach Clark kick), 7:13.
Nashville Christian—Xavier Myers 6 run (Clark kick), :32.
Friendship Christian—Braden Reece 2 run (pass failed), 7:26.
Friendship Christian—Reece 8 run (run failed), 1:37.
Nashville Christian—Sid Morris 6 pass from Kinnard (kick failed), 9:07.
Friendship Christian—Jajuan Foutch 19 run (Foutch pass from Reece), 7:07.
Nashville Christian—Clark 37 FG, 1:51.
Friendship Christian—Ben Jamison 80 pass from Reece (Neill Kane kick), 1:35.
First downs 12 10
—Rushing 9 7
—Passing 2 3
—Penalty 1 0
Rushes-yards 52-221 33-154
Passing yards 50 112
—Comp.-Att.-Int. 6-18-4 5-11-2
Punts-avg. 3-34.3 4-36.3
Penalties-yards 8-70 7-65
Fumbles lost 0 0
RUSHING—Nashville Christian: Chad Kinnard 5-5, Jesse Watson 3-27, Xavier Myers 44-189. Friendship Christian: Justin Seagraves 11-28, Jajuan Foutch 8-37, Braden Reece 14-89.
PASSING—Nashville Christian: Adam Young 0-1-1—0, Chad Kinnard 6-17-3—50. Friendship Christian: Braden Reece 5-10-2—112, Justin Seagraves 0-1-0—0.
RECEIVING—Nashville Christian: Adam Young 1-9, Jesse Watson 2-34, Bobby Clark 1-5, Sid Morris 1-6, Xavier Myers 1-(-4). Friendship Christian: Jajuan Foutch 1-(-3), Justin Seagraves 1-12, Jacob Bostian 1-10, Cade Holcombe 1-13, Ben Jamison 1-0.
MISSED FIELD GOALS—None