Fall break is over and students are back in class.
Wilson County’s four public school football teams are back on the field, most with two more weeks before packing away the helmets, shoulder pads and jerseys for the winter.
Wilson Central and Mt. Juliet though still have playoff hopes but have to use the last two weeks to add to their victory collection. Friendship Christian, which played through the break, is comfortably lodged in second place in the East-Middle District 1A bound for a first-round home playoff game.
Lebanon at Wilson Central
By not playing last week, the Wildcats didn’t add to their four victories, which is what TSSAA looks at when placing wild card teams. But Central has this week and next Friday’s finale against Gallatin to get six victories, which would all but lock up a spot in the 6A playoffs.
“We got to take each game one at a time and keep winning,” Wildcats coach Brad Dedman said.
“I saw Wilson Central play in a jamboree back at Trousdale County back at the beginning of the year and I was impressed with them then,” Lebanon coach Sam Harp said. “Fine looking athletes, they executed well, they ran to the ball, played very aggressively. Looks like they’re well coached and I certainly haven’t changed my mind as I’ve watched film on them as they’ve gone through the season.
They’re a well-polished football team and we’re going to have to play extremely good to beat them.”
Both teams are coming off big wins before the break. The time off enabled them to heal bodies and should have allowed them to come down from the high without crashing while preparing for or playing a game.
“We’ve had time to examine ourselves and get down from the high part,” Dedman said. “Last week gave us a chance to get guys rotated into the training room.
“We’re going to be pretty much healthy this week. We’re supposed to have everybody back.”
“It seems like it’s been forever since we’ve played a game,” Harp said. “I’m not real fond of open dates but sometimes they can come at opportune times if you’ve got a bunch of injuries and it probably came at a good time for us. We’ve had some guys who’ve been banged up and it’s allowed them to kind of get healed up.”
Harp said all Blue Devils will be available except receiver J’Quan Jackson, who is serving a one-game suspension following his ejection from the previous game at Portland.
It’s the final Wilson County rivalry game of the season. While Lebanon-Mt. Juliet is time-tested and most Central students come from the MJ area, more Central faculty and coaches [across the staff] have LHS ties, including Dedman.
“A couple of us have graduated from there and some of us have coached there,” Dedman said. “It’s a rivalry game no matter what. Our kids talk to theirs and their kids talk to ours. Everybody knows each other.”
Lebanon is 2-8 but coming off a win at Portland two weeks ago.
“They’re definitely big up front,” Dedman said of the Blue Devils. “Offensive line is probably the biggest one we’ve faced all year long.
“They have some good running backs with Taye Davis and [Karlton] Bruton. They have a big tight end in [Julian] Crutchfield. He catches the ball and blocks, does a very good job.
“Lebanon’s going to give us a challenge. We’ve got to match their intensity coming out of the gate.”
“It’d be nice to upset them,” Harp said. “We’re the underdogs going in. We’ve been the underdogs in every game we’ve been in. But we’ve been competitive in every game we’ve been in. Hopefully, we won’t shoot ourselves in the foot because they’re too good of a football team for us to make mental errors and mistakes.
“Obviously, they’ve got their little bit extra motivation because it can get them in the playoffs and hopefully it will motivate us to, being a rival school, I don’t feel it because I’ve not been here, but hopefully we can take care of business and make it a long winter for them.”
Watertown at Goodpasture
Playing their first season in District 8-A, the Cougars, a longtime state power in other divisions, are 3-5 for the season and 1-1 in league play with a Week 10 contest with Gordonsville which will probably secure a playoff berth for the winner.
“They’re a better football team than 3-5,” Watertown coach Gavin Webster said. “They have good-sized defensive linemen.
“[Offensively] they try to run the ball.”
Goodpasture runs a 4-3 defense and a multiple offense, including the I with shotgun and two-set. The offense is new to a program which for 20 years ran the wing-T under former coach David Martin, now at first-year Stewarts Creek in Rutherford County.
“Definitely probably a culture shock to them after what they’ve done over there for years,” Webster said. “They got some good athletes on both sides of the football. We’re going to have to keep them contained and just play good football.
“They’re playing for a playoff spot. We want to be that spoiler, take care of ourselves these next two weeks and you never know what might happen.”
Watertown is 2-6, 1-2 and would need wins at Goodpasture and Jackson County and have a lot of dominoes fall just right to play past Nov. 1, if there is that chance at all.
The Purple Tigers will be without receiver Brandon George, who will serve a one-game suspension after he was ejected at the end of the loss to Jo Byrns two weeks ago. Otherwise, Watertown is healthy, Webster said.
Fayetteville at Friendship Christian
Lincoln County and Lebanon have met on and off [regular season and playoffs] since 1982, including last month.
But Fayetteville High School opened a few years ago, siphoning a number of students from LCHS. The Tigers, coached by longtime Lincoln County assistant Alvin Palmer, will bring a 4-4 record to Pirtle Field on Friday night.
“They got some athletes,” Commander coach John McNeal said of the Tigers, who run a spread offense and a 4-4 defense.
Other than that, McNeal said he doesn’t know much about the Tigers since the Commanders haven’t face them before. They also haven’t met their opponents.
“Not seeing them in person, I don’t have anything to gauge it on,” McNeal said. “When we’re seeing them on film, I don’t know the teams they’re playing against.
“Friday night, we’ll start knowing a little bit about them so we’ll know going into next year… I would think they’re in the same boat with us.”
Friendship is 6-2, having won five straight since star quarterback A.J. Long returned from a three-game absence. He was spectacular in a 52-49 win over longtime rival Donelson Christian last week, which clinched a likely first-round home playoff game for the Commanders.
This week’s game has no playoff implications and since it’s against a foe with no history, McNeal was asked about a possible letdown.
“I don’t worry about it right now,” McNeal said Monday night. “I may say something different Wednesday if our first two practices aren’t good.
“How we won could be more of a boost.”
On the injury front, fullback/linebacker Cody Walker suffered a strained neck last Friday and will miss this week, McNeal said. Linebacker Jeff Cherry played limited snaps last week while recovering from a high ankle sprain and will be a game-time decision.
Mt. Juliet at Gallatin
A year after going 3-7, the Green Wave are headed back to the Class 5A playoffs at 5-3 for the season and 3-2 in District 9-AAA.
“They are a very much improved football team, and I would include Lebanon in the group too, as much as any we’ve got in 9-AAA,” Mt. Juliet coach Trey Perry said of the Wave. “They are getting more confident every week. Their team chemistry on offense sets the tone for them. They got a very high-powered offense.”
Mt. Juliet’s numbers are just the opposite as the Golden Bears need to sweep Gallatin and Portland to get to 5-5, which would put them on the 6A playoff bubble.
“If we can win these last two games, if a five-win team gets in the playoffs, we have a chance because of the tiebreaker,” Perry said. “We have a chance because of the schedule we’ve played and the first tiebreaker [games played against teams over .500], we have the tiebreaker over anybody in the state.”
In that vein, this game is already a playoff for Mt. Juliet. And it hearkens back to the 1980s when only one team from a district advanced. Gallatin’s win over the Bears in Week 4 often kept MJ out of the TSSAA postseason.
“Our kids don’t know all of that history,” Perry said. “So we spent the offweek telling them about it. Mt. Juliet-Gallatin is an old rivalry and it’s important to the community.”
Like most of their district brethren, the Bears had last week off, but didn’t necessarily get healthier. As an aside, Gallatin did play last Friday, rolling past Portland.
“We needed to be more physical after our performance against Hendersonville, so we got a couple of people banged up,” Perry said.
Zion Christian at Mt. Juliet Christian
The Eagles will come into Suey Field 2-6 for the season but needing only a win over former MJCA coach Paul Townsend’s Davidson Academy team next week to qualify for the Division II playoffs.
“They are a little down this year, but Zion is still Zion,” Mt. Juliet Christian coach Jake Roberts said. “They still find a way to win tight ballgames.”
Zion has run a 4-4 base defense most of the year, but unveiled a 3-3 stack in a loss to Battle Ground Academy last week.
“I think [the 3-3 stack is] how they’re going to play us,” Roberts said. “[On offense], they like to spread it out and throw it around a lot. They like to throw a lot of screens and jet sweeps off of it.”
Mt. Juliet Christian is 2-7 for the season as the Saints celebrate Senior Night. Eleven seniors will play their final home game.
“It’s probably one of the bigger senior classes they’ve had,” said Roberts, nearing the end of his second season at MJCA. “This bunch has really stuck it out. There’s been a lot of turnover in the four years and they have fought the fight.”
Week 9 games
LEBANON at WILSON CENTRAL
WATERTOWN at Goodpasture
Fayetteville at FRIENDSHIP CHRISTIAN
MT. JULIET at Gallatin
Zion Christian at MT. JULIET CHRISTIAN
All kickoffs at 7 p.m.