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Two unbeatens meet for one semifinal spot
Nov 18, 2006 12:00 am
It's a high-powered offense against a rock-hard defense. Or it's two solid offenses against strong defenses. Take your pick.
For sure, Friday's state quarterfinal game at Pirtle Field pits a pair of 12-0 teams trying the reach a final four which will have room for only one of them.
Tennessee Temple, a team in the playoffs for only the second time, is in the round of eight for the first time and will be making the bus ride from Chattanooga. Friendship Christian is in the quarterfinals for the third straight year but has never gotten past this point.
"We've done a couple of things the school had never done – undefeated, 12 wins," Friendship coach John McNeal said Wednesday while he and his Commanders were returning from Portland, where they practiced in the Panthers' indoor facility. "Now we'll try to make a third one, getting past the quarters to make the semis."
Temple is coming off a 32-31 win over defending state champion Trousdale County. The Crusaders have outscored opponents 498-181 this season. Friendship has won its 12 games by a composite 475-100 count.
"They've given up a lot of points, but they've scored a lot of points," McNeal said. "It comes down to their high-powered offense against our, I feel, pretty good defense."
Most teams have size in their lines. The Crusaders have it in their skill positions, where they've also put up big numbers. Running back Kameron Ridley finished the regular season with over 1,000 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. Fullback/middle linebacker Josh Smith (6-3, 230) had nearly 700 rushing yards going into the playoffs. Quarterback Erik Larson passed for nearly 2,000 yards and 25 touchdowns through eight games. Seth Skogen had 20 touchdown catches in the regular season.
McNeal said he hasn't seen so much athleticism on one team this season. He probably hasn't seen so many formations either.
"Sometimes, they're in a wishbone, sometimes they're in a spread," he said. "They don't do a whole lot out of the wishbone, but they run a lot of different sets."
The Commanders are coming off a heart-stopping 20-19 second-round win over Gordonsville last Friday in one of the most thrilling games in FCS' three-decade history. The natural letdown which follows such a high is something Friendship can't afford.
"They understand that was still the second round, even though it was a big win, because you got to win to get there," McNeal said. "What made that win so big was how we won it, coming back."
McNeal said the Commanders should be as healthy as possible for Friday's 7 p.m. kickoff.
"We'll have everybody we had last Friday," McNeal said. "We've got some banged-up people, some people who haven't practiced much this week. But they should be able to play."
Friday's winner will host the Hampton-Coalfield survivor in next week's semifinal.
Doak a Coutras Award finalist
Friendship senior cornerback John Doak is one of 10 finalists for the third annual Nick Coutras Award, given in memory of the longtime Nashville prep coach who revived football at Cumberland University in 1990.
Doak leads the Midstate with nine interceptions. He also caught a touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter last week as the Commanders began their comeback, a score set up by his 28-yard punt return to the Gordonsville 16-yard line.
"He's been a part of us since junior high and he's had a good career," McNeal said of Doak. "He's had a couple of big catches for us this year. Defensively, he's gotten better every year.
"We put him back catching punts. He's got good hands, very smart player."
The banquet will be held at 6 p.m. Dec. 6 at LP Field in Nashville.
Doak is the second Friendship to be a finalist for the Coutras Award. Ryan Gaines also made the trip to what was then called The Coliseum in the award's inaugural banquet two years ago.
Sports Editor Andy Reed can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 17 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.