MURFREESBORO -- The Mt. Juliet Bears traveled to Ray Hughes Stadium on the campus of Oakland High School looking to extend their season against an undefeated Patriots team during the second round of the TSSAA football playoff last Friday night.
Despite their best effort, the Golden Bears fell to Oakland 24-14 to finish the season 7-5.
"We weren't coming here for a consolation prize," said Bear head coach Trey Perry after the game. "We were coming here to win this football game."
The first half of the game was played mainly on the ground by both teams, with only four passes (all by Oakland) being thrown in a scoreless first quarter. However, following a 31-yard scamper by the Patriots' Jordan Brown which took the ball inside the Bears' 10-yard line on the first play of the second quarter, Oakland was poised to grab the lead. The Bears held strong and Oakland had to settle for a 22-yard field goal by Michael Turk at the 10:17 mark to take a 3-0 lead.
Mt. Juliet took the ball into Oakland territory on it's next two possessions, but the Patriots forced punts both times. Oakland then pinned the Bears inside their own 8-yard line in the final minutes of the half. Mt. Juliet attempted a quick kick by freshman quarterback Griffin Throneberry, but the ball only travelled to the 23-yard line, giving the Patriots the opportunity to put more points on the board before halftime.
Following a defensive stand by the Bears, the Patriots attempted a 25-yard field goal that was missed wide left as the first half came to a close.
After both teams had a possession in the third quarter, Mt. Juliet took over on its own 25 before Throneberry broke off a 68-yard touchdown run around the right side with 5:13 left in the third. After the point after attempt, the Bears led the favored Patriots 7-3.
"Griffin played his tail off tonight," said Perry. "He made great decisions and did exactly what we asked him to do."
Throneberry led the Bears with 78 yards on 12 carries and a touchdown while completing seven of 14 passes for 59 yards and a score.
Oakland wasted little time in regaining the lead. Oakland, behind Brown and backup quarterback Victor Stephenson, marched the ball 67 yards to the end zone as Stephenson scored on a 1-yard run with only 27 seconds remaining in the quarter. Following the extra point, Oakland was back in the lead 10-7. Stephenson ended the night with 54 yards on nine carries and two touchdowns.
It didn't take long for Oakland to strike again. Following a three and out by the Bears, Brown ripped off a 51-yard touchdown run on the Patrtiots' first play from scrimmage with 10:18 left in the game. After the point after, the Patriots lead was stretched to 17-7. Brown had a busy night with 177 years on 19 carries with one score while hauling in one catch for 35 yards.
As the crowd began to get more into the game, the Bears' struggles continued, with two consecutive three and outs.
Oakland's final drive of the night shut the door on the Bears' hopes of a comeback when Stephenson scored from eight yards out with 2:20 remaining in the game. Following the PAT Oakland took a 24-7 lead.
Mt. Juliet showed its resiliency by marching on its longest drive of the game in the final two minutes. Throneberry completed five passes, including the Bears' second score of the night on a 10-yard touchdown pass to Tayshaun Thompson with two seconds remaining for the final score of 24-14.
Mt. Juliet entered the season full of hopes in a quest for a state title, but with injuries and other team issues hampering its production, the team fell short of its goal.
"The adversity that this team went through this year and the ability for them to fight through it played a big part in tonight and I couldn't be more proud of this football team," said Perry. "Our senior leadership rallied around that kid (Throneberry) and (freshman) Osize (Daniyan) earlier in the season when we had to stick him out there, and I can't say enough about the senior class."
Oakland moves into the next round of the playoffs as they will play host to Blackman High School at Ray Hughes Stadium this coming Friday.