Wilson teams prep for wing-Ts in bitter cold

Andy Reed • The Lebanon Democrat

Watertown defensive back Jordan Cason (3) grabs the leg of Tellico Plains quarterback Landon Hollinghead while linebacker Jayden Jobe (1) moves in up high during the first quarter last week.

The wing-T is an offense common to high school football, and most of Wilson County's schools have run it at one time or another through the years.

It's not the base offense for any school here this year, but the defensive units for the three remaining playoff teams -- Watertown, Friendship Christian and Mt. Juliet (the Golden Bears began the season in the wing-T but switched to the spread in Week 3) -- have been working on it this week in preparation for their Round 2 games as Bledsoe County, Columbia Academy and Oakland use the venerable set as their primary attack.

And they've been preparing either in bitter cold or inside as an Arctic blast more common during the NFL playoffs in January has hit during the height of Tennessee's playoffs. Watertown, which was working in 90-plus-degree heat just over a month ago, spent Tuesday practicing inside.

"We've had some cold days, but I can't remember ever being this cold," said Watertown coach Gavin Webster, who added when he was a Gordonsville senior in 1984, the Tigers practiced indoors the week of the Clinic Bowl in early December because of snow on the ground.

Friendship coach John McNeal, who played in the late '70s and has been coaching since the early '80s, said he has never encountered weather this cold during the high school season and wasn't sure how he would conduct practice Tuesday. He was considering going outside on the Pirtle Field turf for a short while. He did say the turf enabled them to go outside in the rain Monday.

Mt. Juliet coach Trey Perry said before last year's quarterfinal it was around 20 degrees during the week, but that the Golden Bears would practice some outside and some inside.

"We did some things (Monday) in preparation for today," Perry said before Tuesday's practice. "Anything that's standing around is indoors.

"Anytime we've got to move around, we'll go outside. We'll use tempo. There's no downtime. Keep it brief but get in what we need to get in."

Bledsoe County at Watertown

This is a rematch of last year's first-round game won by Watertown 57-15. This is a more mature Warriors team returning to Robinson Stadium as they've gone from finishing 3-8 and a No. 4 seed a year ago to 8-3 and a No. 2 this time around.

"They have several players back from last year," Webster said of the Warriors. "They were a pretty young team last year.

"They're a bigger team. They have more size in the offensive and defensive lines. Their backs are bigger than last year. What we've seen on film, they are a physical football team."

Bledsoe runs a 4-3 defense. The Warriors' offense is a traditional wing-T.

"They have different sets, but it's old wing-T -- power, buck sweep, iso," Webster said.

Watertown is 9-2 and will either travel to Chattanooga to take on Tyner or play host to Trousdale County at Robinson Stadium in next week's quarterfinal round. Webster said the Purple Tigers will have to execute the basics to return to the round of eight.

"We got to protect the football," Webster said. "We got to make plays, block and tackle, control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball."

Columbia Academy at Friendship Christian

It's been a tale of two seasons for Columbia Academy. The Bulldogs lost their first five games before reeling off five straight over the back half to finish fourth in the West Region, followed by a 69-20 triumph over Mt. Juliet Christian in last week's first round.

"They ... played Shelbyville, Marshall County," McNeal said of Columbia Academy's first-half schedule which also included the top two teams in the West, defending II-A state champion Davidson Academy and undefeated Nashville Christian. "They had it rough, but since then, they've turned it on, played really well."

As for the wing-T, Columbia Academy will run the old favorites, but blend it in with a passing attack out of the spread and some unbalanced formations.

"They have good speed in the backfield," McNeal said. "Very well coached.

"They play hard."

Friendship is 8-2 and coming off a first-round bye by way of winning the East Region. The Commanders would play host to either Donelson Christian or Davidson Academy while Columbia Academy would travel for next week's semifinals.

To reach next week, the Commanders will need to "control the ball, control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball," McNeal said. "They have good returners, make sure we control them, the little things people overlook sometimes."

Mt. Juliet at Oakland

The fact the Golden Bears have so much experience with the wing-T should help in preparation, at least from a tactical standpoint.

"Stopping it is a different thing," Perry said. "But I'm confident in how we'll align and make the checks.

"So much of what Coach (Kevin) Creasy does is get an extra hat with motion and treys. Our formations board is filled up. We've got 50-plus formations that are unique."

Oakland is 11-0 this year and the defending state champion Patriots have won 24 straight games dating to Week 2 of last season.

"They're the highest-scoring offense in the state, the fewest points allowed in the state, and I'm not sure either one of them is their best phase," Perry said. "They're incredible on special teams.

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"They play their best people on special teams. If they give someone a break, they do it on offense or defense."

Mt. Juliet is 7-4 following a 20-14 win over Riverdale which was accomplished without Perry on the premises. Perry was serving a one-game suspension following his ejection from the Week 11 game at Hendersonville.

"I didn't enjoy that very much," Perry said of his exile. "Enjoyed the win. Think I'll go back to my usual spot."

The Riverdale win was a payback of sorts for the Mt. Juliet seniors, whose undefeated sophomore season was terminated in the first round by the Warriors. That game provides these underdog Bears a glimmer of hope at Ray Hughes Stadium.

"The important thing for us is to get the game into the fourth quarter," Perry said. "Two years ago, the first time we had a four-quarter game, the lack of experience hurt us."

History is full of teams, at all levels of the sport, which looked unbeatable but were defeated in the championship game, semifinals or an earlier round.

"That's the interesting thing about the playoffs is it's 48 minutes," Perry said. "You don't have to be the better team, you just have to be the better team for 48 minutes."

And Perry brought up a basic fact about football -- turnovers can be terminal.

"When we don't turn the ball over, we win," Perry said. "We're 7-0 against opponents and 0-4 against us. Everytime we've won the turnover battle, we've won the game."

This winner will face either Blackman or Hendersonville. Mt. Juliet would host the Blaze but travel to take on the Commandos. Oakland would be at home.

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