SPRING HILL -- Though a pick-six kept winless Spring Hill in the game early on, a dominating defense and a rounding-into-form offense propelled Mt. Juliet to a 43-6 rout of the Raiders at Buford Gladney Stadium/Charlie Seaton Field on Thursday night.
Early on it was defense doing as much scoring as offense. After Brice Messenger's 2-yard quarterback sneak staked Mt. Juliet to a 6-0 lead, a high snap in punt formation sailed out of Spring Hill's end zone for an 8-0 score.
Outside linebacker Landen Secrest intercepted a pass in the flat and returned it 65 yards to bring the home team within 8-6 late in the first quarter.
But the Bears righted their ship as special teams kept the game in Spring Hill's end of the field most of the night, staring with Tyler Johnson's punt which was downed at the Raiders' 1-yard line.
Mt. Juliet tipped Spring Hills' ensuing punt and got the ball at the Raider 25. After a 1-yard loss, Messenger found a double-covered Malik Bowen in the end zone for a 26-yard touchdown pass and a 15-6 lead.
Then the running game got going as Conlin Baggott, who finished with 114 yards on 21 carries, ran the ball to the Spring Hill 30, from where Devin Palmer took over for the next two plays, the latter a 7-yard scamper which saw the pile move the final couple of yards. An earlier extra point was a fake by design which didn't work. This time, Bowen, the holder, sensed Johnson's kick would be blocked and ran the ball into the end zone for two points and a 23-6 lead.
Another short field set up another Mt. Juliet score, though a ticking clock prompted coach Trey Perry to send in Johnson for a 27-yard field goal as time expired for a 26-6 halftime lead.
Mt. Juliet dominance continued in the second half as Baggott ran in a 1-yard score. Johnson's 34-yard field goal with 19 seconds left in the third quarter made it 36-3 as the Golden Bear second unit came in, followed by the thirds and fourths.
Tanner Cocke's 12-yard scamper capped the scoring with less than five minutes to play as Mt. Juliet improved to 5-2 for the season pending a visit by East Tennessee power Oak Ridge to Elzie Patton Stadium/Mel Brown Athletic Complex at 7 p.m. next Friday.
"If you're in our program, you work hard, there's no exception to that rule," Perry said. "We've had a lot of tight football games this year and those guys haven't gotten out here under the lights and gotten that kind of experience, and tonight they got to. I know I echo a lot of our seniors and juniors who were glad to see that happen."
While Mt. Juliet's offense was compiling 357 yards, Spring Hill was held to a net-gain of 12, including minus-30 on the ground.
"Our defense played a solid game," Perry said. "They had a shutout tonight. Offensively, we made a boneheaded play to keep that from happening, but still a lot of good things offensively, too. Tyler Johnson continues to be a weapon for us on special teams.
"Our punt block team works hard, too. We've had some success this year, they've been close some. But tonight they executed. We really worked on that phase this week ... As the games get bigger, special teams decide the difference in those kind of games, so it's good that we're getting there. I hope we haven't peaked yet. We need to continue to get better at it."
Mt. Juliet 43, Spring Hill 6
Mt. Juliet 8 18 10 7--43
Spring Hill 6 0 0 0--6
Mt. Juliet--Brice Messenger 2 run (pass failed), 5:17.
Mt. Juliet--Safety, ball snapped out of end zone.
Spring Hill--Landen Secrest 65 interception return (kick failed), 2:45.
Mt. Juliet--Malik Bowen 26 pass from Messenger (Tyler Johnson kick), 9:39.
Mt. Juliet--Devin Palmer 7 run (Bowen run), 5:19.
Mt. Juliet--Johnson 27 FG, 0:00.
Mt. Juliet--Conlin Baggott 1 run (Johnson kick), 7:57.
Mt. Juliet--Johnson 34 FG, :19.
Mt. Juliet--Tanner Cocke 12 run (Karson Huss kick), 4:39.
see bears/page b4
First downs 18 4
--Rushing 14 1
--Passing 3 1
--Penalty 1 2
Rushes-yards 49-272 20-(-30)
Passing yards 85 42
-Comp.-Att.-Int. 5-8-1 7-18-0
Punts-avg. 2-34.5 6-31.7
Penalties-yards 6-45 6-33
Fumbles lost 1 4
RUSHING--Mt. Juliet: Conlin Baggott 21-114, Brice Messenger 6-28, Devin Palmer 6-41, Tayshaun Thompson 1-4, Derek Miller 2-17, Joshua Jackson 6-46, Tanner Cocke 3-14, Mario Caruso 4-8. Spring Hill: Luka Boylan 6-(-31), Landen Secrest 6-12, Sebastion McCartney 2-(-5), Team 1-(-12), Dante Prowell 2-(-5), Kaiden Martin 1-9, Scott Carter 1-3, Remon Kelley 1-(-1).
PASSING--Mt. Juliet: Brice Messenger 5-8-1--85. Spring Hill: Luka Boylan 5-16-0--40, Scott Carter 2-2-0--2.
RECEIVING--Mt. Juliet: Malik Bowen 3-52, Tayshaun Thompson 1-5, Matt Delfendahl 1-25. Spring Hill: Remone Kelley 3-33, Landen Secrest 2-0, Sean Waters 1-6, Jaylan Rucker 1-3.