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Friendship resumes playoff push at MJCA

Andy Reed andy.reed@lebanondemocrat.com • Updated Oct 2, 2013 at 9:51 PM

Friendship Christian’s move to Division II revived a dormant rivalry with Mt. Juliet Christian.

Under the D-II playoff system, only district games count toward playoff qualification, meaning this is one of five games on the Commanders’ schedule  which factor into whether or not the Commanders will play past Nov. 1.

In D-I, Watertown will play host to Gordonsville in one of only four District 8-A games. But unlike the private school classification, overall wins factor into the postseason equation.

Lebanon, Wilson Central and Mt. Juliet will begin a four-game run of District 9-AAA competition to close out the campaign, interrupted by a Week 8 break.

Friendship Christian at Mt. Juliet Christian

This is the first meeting between the Wilson County private schools since 2008. Friendship bounced back to 2-2 with a win over Franklin Road Academy last week as quarterback A.J. Long returned to the lineup after a three-game absence, two of which FCS lost.

At 1-1 in the East-Middle District 1-A, Friendship is trying to keep pace with undefeated Donelson Christian, which will play host to defending D-II-A champion Knoxville Webb. The top three finishers in the district, and no more, will qualify for the playoffs.

“It’s good in a way because non-district teams don’t hurt,” Commander coach John McNeal said. “Prime example is Webb playing Maryville and Baylor [both losses], it doesn’t hurt them. In fact, it may help them in the long run playing competition like that. But losing those games doesn’t make a difference. They could still finish first in the district. They don’t have to balance out records.”

Long threw four touchdown passes and ran for another in Friendship’s 40-10 triumph over Franklin Road Academy last Friday.

“I’m not sure we had four completions in the [three] games he wasn’t there,” McNeal quipped. “Not that we threw it a lot. But it did make a difference in keeping the defense honest.

“And another thing, we were able to use Steven [Hollis] in the backfield and Austin [Taylor] in the backfield and split them out. We started doing that so that instead of taking them off the field, let’s leave them on the field and use them in other areas. Steven hadn’t been used as a receiver, but he had three touchdown catches. He had two long touchdown runs that were called back. That helped us to move that around.”

Mt. Juliet Christian [1-4, 0-2] is trying to make some noise in the district race.

“Coach [Jake Roberts] has done a good job,” Commander coach John McNeal said of the Saints. “They spread the ball. They throw it quite a bit. They’re a 40 on defense.

“We had a good game last week and we’re just trying to get better. We have a lot of younger kids and each week is important to them to get more experience and just get better.”

Roberts was impressed with Friendship’s talent

“They’ve got athletes,” Roberts said. “They’re well coached.

“[Long’s] very good, probably the most athletic quarterback we’ve seen. He can do it all – run, throw, he can read the zone.

“Up front, this will definitely be the most physical game we’ve played. They’ve got big linemen and they’ve got athletic backs.”

Roberts said the Saints are as healthy as they were last week. But he expects 12 eighth-graders from the undefeated middle school team to join the high school squad shortly.

“It helps us for practices and it helps them go ahead and prepare for the future,” Roberts said.

Lebanon at Gallatin

After a 3-7 season a year ago, Gallatin appears to be back closer to its traditional dominating self. The Green Wave did suffer a 28-27 hiccup at Trousdale County last week as a late extra point was blocked, dropping them to 3-2 for the season.

“They dropped one last week they shouldn’t have to Trousdale,” Lebanon coach Sam Harp said. “From watching the film, they spent themselves emotionally on Hendersonville [a 39-36 win which put them at 1-1 in the district] the week before. That’s not taking anything away from Trousdale County. They’re a real good 2A team that can compete with anybody.

“It’s like watching us against Station Camp and against Cookeville; it was like watching two different teams.”

When the Green Wave are on, they are loaded.

“They’re the most athletic team we’ve seen this year,” Harp said. “They got good size across the front. They have good speed in the backfield.”

Gallatin bases its offense out of the I, but will break it and go multiple. Senior running back Eric Debow and quarterback Clay Carnes, who was injured most of last season, key the attack.

“He’s the best running back we’ve seen to date,” Harp said of Debow. “He runs hard, breaks tackles, as speed and if he gets in the secondary he’s gone.”

Harp said Carnes has completed about 65 percent of his passes for some 800 yards so far.

“He spreads it around,” Harp said of Carnes.

Gallatin’s defense is a 4-4 base, though like the offense, the Green Wave will change looks on occasion.

“Their linemen have very good technique,” Harp said of the defensive front. “They do a good job reading their blocks and squeezing them and freeing their linebackers to make tackles.”

Lebanon is coming in 1-5 for the season, barring a second-half surge, out of the playoff picture. Harp most wants his Blue Devils to get off to strong starts.

“We’ve spotted everybody we’ve played except Mt. Juliet at least nine points before we start trying to do anything,” said Harp, whose Blue Devils are coming off a 16-0 loss to Cookeville. “We were on planet Neptune last week, I guess.”

Harp said running back Jarren Stewart, who broke his fibula in Week 0 against Mt. Juliet, has been cleared to practice and play next week when Lebanon travels to Portland.

Station Camp at Wilson Central

With Beech running back Jalen Hurd sidelined with a season-opening shoulder injury, Station Camp wide receiver Josh Malone is the district’s most decorated and sought-after-by-colleges player.

And while the Bison don’t throw the ball on every down, they do try to get the ball to the 6-foot-3 receiver, even if it’s not through the air.

“You got to know where he’s going to line up,” Wilson Central coach Brad Dedman said of Malone. “He plays quarterback, he plays outside receiver, inside receiver. They give him the ball several different ways. They’ll throw him the screen, hand it to him on the jet and, of course, throw it to him deep.”

Station Camp has other offensive weapons, including junior quarterback Kyle Anderton and senior running back Tre Malone, who may be the key player on defense at linebacker.

“He’s hard to bring down,” Dedman said of Tre Malone, whose Bison are 3-2 for the season and 2-1 in the district.

After five road games to open the season, Central began a closing five-game homestand last Friday with a rip-roaring 34-3 drubbing of Dickson County.

“We played well on the defensive side, played well on special teams, we came around on offense,” said Dedman, whose Wildcats are 3-3, 1-2. “We’re getting closer to putting a whole game together and hopefully this will be the week.”

Dedman said running back/linebacker Vick Johnson will return this week from a knee injury.

Gordonsville at Watertown

After graduating the vast majority of its regulars from last year’s state championship squad, Gordonsville has not dropped off the map. The Tigers, with holdover running back Kaelin Cason leading the way, are 3-3 entering their final trip to Robinson Stadium and 1-0 in District 8-A.

“Those guys are playing hard,” Watertown coach Gavin Webster said of the Tigers. “They’ve regrouped and got started off a little rough at the beginning of the year. But they’re playing some young kids … and they’re playing really well.”

As per all Ron Marshall-coached teams, Gordonsville continues to run the 50 defense.

Offensively, junior Noah Smotherman has taken over at quarterback.

“[Smotherman’s] got a pretty good arm, he can throw the ball,” Webster said. “You can expect [Cason] to carry the ball a lot.”

This is Gordonsville’s final trip to Robinson Stadium, a place the Tigers have visited every other year for decades, perhaps dating to the beginnings of both programs in the 1920s. Former Watertown coach Brownie Robinson, for whom the stadium is named [along with his son Bill], played for Gordonsville in the 1930s. Webster played for GHS’ 1984 state championship team under coach Mark Medley, who later coached Lebanon and retired after calling the offensive plays for the Tigers last season.

“There’s a lot of history between Gordonsville and Watertown back through Coach [Turney] Ford days to Brownie Robinson days to Coach Medley and Coach Robinson,” said Webster, son-in-law to Bill Robinson. “A lot of coaches have played against each other on this field.”

Watertown is 2-4 for the season and 1-1 in the district, facing a possible last stand as far as the playoffs are concerned.

“We control our own destiny and we’ve been preaching about that all week,” said Webster, who also noted the Purple Tigers are as healthy as they’ve been for a while.

Mt. Juliet at Beech

Jalen Hurd has been the face of Beech football since he emerged as a superstar running back two years ago. But the UT-commitment injured his shoulder in this season’s opener and won’t play again until he reports to Knoxville next summer.

The Buccaneers haven’t missed a beat offensively as Dorian Carter has stepped right in and helped his team go 4-2, 3-0 in District 9-AAA.

“A case could be made they’ve missed [Hurd] more defensively [at free safety] than offensively because he was so good athletically, he cleaned up everything,” Mt. Juliet coach Trey Perry said. “[Beech coaches have] got a lot of confidence in [Carter] for a good reason, he’s a good back.

“They’re getting better throwing the ball [behind quarterback Parker Henry].”

Mt. Juliet comes in 3-3 for the season following a 38-24 loss at Centennial last week. But the Golden Bears are 2-1 in the district.

“Interesting thing, if we can find a way to win a football game Friday night, we can throw this thing into a logjam and we’d have a chance to win the district.

“We’re getting healthier. After playing the worst half of football to start last week’s game, we turned around and played our best half in the second half, and that was because it was a complete effort offensively, defensively and special teams.”

Special teams could have been thrown into complete disarray when junior Justin Dubay was injured making a tackle on the opening kickoff. He broke two bones in his ankle and is scheduled to undergo surgery Friday, ending his season, Perry said.

“A microcosm of  our season thus far,” said Perry, who saw a silver lining when junior Garrett Zickgraf and freshman Josh Mitchell took over Dubay’s kicking and punting duties, respectively. Zickgraf hit three extra points and a field goal while Mitchell averaged over 30 yards per punt.

“There are a lot of places that would kill to have a starter like Garrett, and we have him as a backup,” said Perry, crediting the work former Hendersonville and UT kicker James Wilhoit has done coaching the kickers. “If you got a freshman who can catch a snap and kick it, you’re fortunate.

“If nothing else, we’re getting a lot of experience this week.”

Week 6 games



LEBANON at Gallatin

Station Camp at WILSON CENTRAL

Gordonsville at WATERTOWN

MT. JULIET at Beech

All kickoffs at 7 p.m.

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