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Speedy Eagles thwart FCS playmakers
Dec 04, 2006 12:00 am
MURFREESBORO — A team which spent the fall of 2006 running through, around and over opponents found itself thwarted at almost every turn in the season's climatic game Friday.
Friendship Christian could never get a running game going and Jackson Christian tied a championship-game record by intercepting six passes as the Eagles won the Class 1A championship 19-13 at Middle Tennessee State's Floyd Stadium.
Jackson Christian held Jeremy Rickaway to 58 rushing yards on 20 carries while intercepting Jon Miller repeatedly, including three times by Defensive Most Valuable Player Rashad Rayner.
"We just didn't run the football well," Friendship coach John McNeal said after his Commanders concluded a school-record 14-1 season. "That was one thing that hurt us early on. And then not scoring right before the half was a killer, I think. We didn't get some breaks early. But that's part of it.
"A lot of things happened and to still be in the game when I thought we didn't get – I'm not talking from any one group or officials, but from us – we didn't get any of the breaks and to still be in the game and have a chance to win, that speaks a lot of our kids."
"We didn't stop them on defense when we needed it," Friendship senior linebacker Wade Mitchell said. "Didn't score on offense when we needed it.
"They just had big plays. We'd stop them three and out and then they'd have a big play. You can't have it happen if you're going to be state champions."
Following a scoreless first half, Jackson Christian bolted to a couple of quick touchdowns within the first 4 1/2 minutes of the second half.
Clay Fowler, who eluded Friendship's defense to complete 14 of 27 passes for 176 yards to earn Offensive MVP honors, found Tanner Perkins on a 15-yard fade for a touchdown. The score came after a questionable pass-interference penalty on Adam Stephens on a fourth-down play which gave the Eagles first and goal.
Friendship tried to mount a comeback. But a Miller pass appeared to be tipped by tight end Michael Teeter to the arms of Greg Wood, who returned it 45 yards in the opposite direction for a 13-0 lead.
McNeal went to more of a power formation and Friendship began moving the ball behind Rickaway runs and Miller passes. Bryant Alsup put the Commanders on the board on a 1-yard run on fourth down late in the third to draw within 13-6.
"The backside linebacker was the one hurting us," McNeal said of the running difficulties. "We did get in the power set and was able to run some there."
But the Commanders were unable to stop the run, or pass, on the ensuing series as Fowler completed a 17-yard pass and kept on the option for another 13 to overcome a first and 20. He was shaken up on a hit by Mitchell to end the third quarter.
But Seth Doyle came to take the snap and ran for 2 yards on fourth down to move the chains on the first play of the fourth.
Then Matt Hudson came in and found Will Johnson with a screen to the left side and Johnson weaved his way down the sideline for a 33-yard touchdown.
That would seem to have broken Friendship's back. But like the second-round game against Gordonsville when the Commanders came from two scores down in the final period to win, they had time and gumption for another rally.
Miller, who finished 15-of-34 for 215 yards, found Rickaway up the seam for a 25-yard hookup. Then, on fourth and goal, he hit Stephens in the back of the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown to draw within six.
The Commanders forced a punt and got the ball back at their 23-yard line with 2:17 and a timeout left.
But Trey Mangrum's second interception of the night all but sealed the deal with 1:56 left. And Johnson's 16-yard run on third down moved the chains and sent the Eagles into victory formation.
Jackson Christian drove into Friendship territory a couple of times in the first half. But it was the Commanders who had the best opportunity to score first, reaching the Eagle 10 before Mangrum's interception in the end zone ended the threat.
"I'm happy to be here," Mitchell said. "We'd like to have a win. But second in the state is pretty good."
"I've enjoyed this week, I know the players have. It's been an unbelieveable experience," said McNeal, who had the same experience as a Goodpasture senior in 1978. "I hope it's not the last.
"When you come out here, it makes you sure this is where you want to be and what you want to do, there's no question about that."
Notes: Perhaps in a sense of deja vu from both '79 and last year, Alcoa rolled past Goodpasture 31-3 in the 2A title game. Lebanon's Hester Gibbs was listed as the official clock operator for the contest.
Jackson Christian's six interceptions tied a team record set by Knoxville Webb against Evangelical Christian last year and David Lipscomb against Huntingdon in 2003.
Doak led Friendship receivers with six catches for 92 yards. He also recovered a first-half fumble on fourth down.
Sports Editor Andy Reed can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 17 or by e-mail at email@example.com.