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Commanders crash into semifinals
Nov 21, 2006 12:00 am
After two straight failures to advance to the Super Bowl, Houston Oilers coach Bum Phillips promised to "kick in the door".
He never did and it took nearly two decades for one of his successors, Jeff Fisher, to step into the Super Bowl, and he did it after the Oilers moved to Tennessee to become the Titans.
Friendship Christian kicked Tennessee Temple off the porch and busted down the door 54-7 Friday night to advance to the TSSAA Class 1A football final four after two straight frustrating failures in the round of eight.
The battle of 12-0 teams turned into an early knockout delivered by Jeremy Rickaway, who rushed for 229 yards and five touchdowns on 28 carries. He returned a fumble 65 yards for a final score late.
"It's the best feeling in the world," Rickaway said. "I never thought we could make it to the fourth (round). Now we did.
"I was kind of nervous at first. But I got to step up and be a team leader and that's what I did... I found my holes and I just took what I could get. If it wasn't there, I just tried to make something of it."
With Rickaway leading a 291-yard ground attack, quarterback Jon Miller completed 6 of 10 passes for 129 yards and a touchdown.
"Jeremy Rickaway, he showed up tonight," Miller said. "He showed who he really was. I believe he's one of the best backs in the state, if not the best. He's a great part of this team."
The Commander defense kept the Crusanders on the muddy Pirtle Field canvas with seven takeaways, including two each from Jordan Carman and Adam Stephens.
"We asked our guys, we said 'we want to be physical, we got a physical defense, we want to play physical'," Commander coach John McNeal said after Friendship moved to 13-0 with Hampton (12-1) coming in for next Friday's semifinal. "We weren't sure if they played physical teams. We felt our secondary needed to play and hit their receivers.
"Offensively, we finally lined up and ran a little set with two fullbacks. We lost (John) Markham early which made us change some. We were able to run it up there and Rickaway had an unbelievable night."
The Commanders scored on their first two possessions on Rickaway runs of 1 and 52 yards. The second touchdown came moments after Markham was helped off the field and taken to the Sportsplex training room where he was diagnosed with a torm hamstring which will keep him out of action 10 weeks.
Friendship missed the first two extra points, which could have left the Commanders in a vulnerable position, much like Gordonsville in FCS' 20-19 thriller last week.
It looked big when Erik Larson hooked up with Temple's Mr. Football Back candidate Seth Skogen with a 60-yard touchdown pass as the Crusaders climbed within 12-7. Larson completed 9 of 27 passes for 140 yards and four interceptions. All but one of the completions went to Skogen.
Temple, which gained 334 yards (compared with Friendship's 420), got a 44-yard run from Kameron Ridley (147 yards on 13 carries) to move past midfield on the Crusaders' next series as the visitors looked to take the lead.
But a fumble at the end of Joey Skogen's 25-yard run on the next snap was recovered by Friendship's Mr. Football Lineman candidate, Wade Mitchell, at the Commander 29-yard line.
Friendship had to punt. But the Commanders' John Doak fielded Temple's next punt on a bounce and broke several tackles to return the ball 42 yards to the Crusader 27. Rickaway scored from 16 yards out four plays later and ran over safety Joey Skogen on the two-point run to open a 29-7 lead.
Rickaway's 3-yard score with 1:43 left made it 26-7.
Larson's fumble on Temple's next series was recovered by Carman at the Crusader 16 with just under 45 seconds left in the half.
That was enough time for Miller to zip a 16-yard touchdown pass to tight end Michael Teeter for a 33-7 halftime lead.
Miller completed 6 of 9 first-half passes for 129 yards while his mother, Christy, was in University Medical Center after being taken to the emergency room Thursday night. The senior wrote "mom" on the cross taped to the back of his helmet.
"I went to see her in the hospital today and she told me right before I left she wanted to watch me play again next week, and I told her that we would," Miller said. "And it happened, thank goodness."
With the Commanders compiling 291 rushing yards, it made passing easier. Miller threw only one incomplete pass after halftime and receiver Cody Searcy was incomplete on a wide receiver heave.
"They were all biting up on the run which made it a lot easier to pass," Miller said. "My guys were getting open and Teeter caught two balls I know that were amazing. Everybody just played hard and did what we wanted to do."
Showing no letup in the third quarter, Friendship took Temple completely out with Rickaway's 80-yard touchdown sprint.
But it was the defense in general and secondary in particular which shined. Larson threw three interceptions during the third quarter. Stephens picked off two passes, deflected at least one other and laid the proverbial wood with his shoulder pads. Carman also picked off a pass and Teeter fell on Larson's errant option pitch in the end zone for another score 17 seconds after Rickaway's 80-yarder. Brent Boyd had a pickoff in the fourth.
"Adam did a great job," McNeal said, crediting the whole secondary. "John Doak is who we put on 11 (Seth Skogen), their best receiver, and just did a tremendous job as a secondary.
"But that's seniors back there and they played well all year. We expect them to do that kind of job."
It was such a good night for Friendship even a botched play ended up in a score. Miller tried to sneak for a first down on fourth and a couple of inches with just over two minutes to play. The ball fell to the ground and Rickaway picked it up and swept 65 yards down the Temple sideline for the final score.
"I told everyone when I got over to the sideline I put that play in myself," Miller joked. "But no. I botched the snap and luckily Rickaway was there to pick it up and just ran it all the way in."
Friday's win means Friendship's schedule season-opening basketball game with Eagleville will be postponed. All but three hoops players are on the football squad.
In addition to it being Friendship's first foray into Thanksgiving football, it's the first time a Wilson County team has practiced on the holiday since Mt. Juliet in 1997.
Sports Editor Andy Reed can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 17 or by e-mail at email@example.com.