MT. JULIET -- With temperatures near freezing, the Mt. Juliet Bears relied on a ground attack to beat the Riverdale Warriors 20-14 in the first round of the TSSAA football playoffs Friday night at Elzie Patton Stadium/Mel Brown Athletic Complex.
The Bears entered the game without the services of head coach Trey Perry, who sat out following his ejection last week in the final regular-season game in Hendersonville. Offensive coordinator Zac White, defensive coordinator Greg Abner and acting head coach Curtis Grah took the reins to lead Mt. Juliet to the victory behind freshman quarterback Griffin Throneberry.
"We're proud of the maturity that young man's shown, being thrown into a though situation," White said. "We didn't want to put too much on his plate. We knew we could lean on our defense."
Throneberry came out hot on the very first series. He carried the ball on a 30-yard scamper while completing three passes for 40 yards and a touchdown to Jamari Sowell at the 10:20 mark to give the Bears an early lead. The extra point attempt was blocked and the Bears took a 6-0 advantage inside the first two minutes of the game. Throneberry finished the came completing 5 of 7 attempts for 39 yards and a score while also leading the Bears with 81 rushing yards on 15 carries.
Riverdale struck next when senior Drew Smith rumbled straight up the middle for 42 yards and a score with 4:12 remaining in the first quarter. Following the PAT Riverdale took the lead 7-6.
The Warriors would continue to put the ball in Smith's hand throughout the first half, with the bruising back rushing 12 times for 112 yards before halftime. At times the Bear defense couldn't find an answer.
"We just kept misaligning," said Abner. "When we got to where we were supposed to be, we were ready for him to stop him and slow him down."
As the game moved into the second quarter, neither team could sustain drives. Riverdale was plagued by turnovers as the game went on. Warrior quarterback Taylor Yancey had a particularly poor performance on the night, fumbling the ball three times and giving
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the Bears the break they needed with 4:31 left in the half when he threw an interception to Sowell on Riverdale's 16-yard line.
Six plays later Throneberry scored on a quarterback sneak from the 1-yard line with under two minutes remaining in the half. Following the extra point the Bears took a 13-7 lead into the locker room at the half.
Turnovers crippled the Warriors in the early minutes of the second half as Yancey fumbled on two consecutive drives, the second at his own 25-yard line. This, along with a pass interference call in the end zone, set up a 1-yard run by Sowell with 3:32 remaining in the third quarter. After the extra point, Mt. Juliet held a 20-7 lead.
Riverdale struck back quickly. Yancey left the game following his previous fumble with an injury to his non-throwing arm and sophomore Jameson Holcomb stepped in and stepped up in a big way. After his first pass sailed out of bounds, Holcomb settled down and connected on his next four attempts, including a 67-yard catch and run by CJ Johnson with 51 seconds remaining in the third quarter. Following the point-after, the Warriors had cut the lead to 20-13 headed into the final 12 minutes.
The Bear defense showed its might in the final period, holding the Warriors' Smith to only 11 yards (he would finish with 136 yards on 21 carries) and the entire Riverdale offense to only 13 yards total in the fourth. Mt. Juliet took the ball over on downs with just over a minute remaining, kneeling twice on their way to the second round of the playoffs.
Mt. Juliet, with Perry back on the sideline, will travel to Murfreesboro this coming Friday to take on the undefeated Oakland Patriots at Ray Hughes Stadium. Oakland advanced following a 34-0 shutout of the visiting Lebanon Blue Devils. Game time will be at 7 p.m.