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SPORTS - Stretch run for Prep football starts now
May 28, 2004 12:00 am
The term "must win" describes the situation all Wilson County high school football teams face either tomorrow night and/or in coming weeks as playoff races take shape.
Not many playoff positions will be clinched in the next week or two, but some teams will fall out of contention in that time. All of Wilson County's teams will face nothing but region games the rest of the way as the second half of the season begins this week.
Mt. Juliet and Mt. Juliet Christian are winless in their respective regions and could find themselves out of November contention shortly unless they reverse their fortunes.
Watertown visits Clay County in a game between teams where the loser won't be eliminated from the Region 4-1A race, but will be on the outside track. Friendship Christian hosts No. 8 and undefeated Monterey in a battle between two of the three teams with unbeaten league records.
Lebanon is a heavy favorite to defend its homecoming against LaVergne as the Blue Devils try to stay in the thick of the Region 4-5A race. Wilson Central is also in the hunt, but will be the underdog as No. 9 Smyrna comes in for the Wildcats' homecoming.
LaVergne at Lebanon
This is one of those danger games for the 3-2 Blue Devils (1-1 region), who face a 1-5 Wolverine team still seeking its first league win.
"It's definitely a game that you worry about because you do feel like you're a little bit better than them," Lebanon coach Bobby Brown said. "They don't have a great record. But if they put it all together and it's against you, they can explode."
Tailback/receiver Justin Johnson and fullback Cody Tribble led Lebanon's offense in a 34-6 win at Mt. Juliet last week. For the season, senior quarterback Todd Cross has completed half of his 60 passes for 499 yards and three touchdowns going into homecoming.
"A lot of room for distractions," Brown said of homecoming. "We just got to concentrate on the game at hand and play a good football game on Friday night."
LaVergne comes in with a big line and good skill players.
"They've got real good skill players and they got some big offensive linemen, big defensive linemen," Brown said. "Offensively, they've done several things. It's just been a week-to-week thing. But they want to run the ball and they have a real athletic quarterback (Scott Harvey) who can run the ball.
"Defensively, they run the 4-3."
Smyrna at Wilson Central
The following statement has never before been uttered: Wilson Central has the longest active winning streak among Wilson County football teams. The Wildcats' three-game run has them at 3-2 for the season and 1-1 in the region. They and Lebanon are two of the five teams tied for third in the league.
"We're in the hunt," Central coach Dewayne Alexander said. "We control our destiny to get in the playoffs. We're right now not depending on what other people do."
But the Wildcats will have their hands full with a Smyrna team second in the league at 2-1 and 5-1 overall. The Bulldogs' only loss is to top-ranked and region-leading Riverdale.
Smyrna is led by the one-two punch of senior quarterback Charles Orona and fellow senior running back Marcealous Johnson, who has committed to Tennessee. Orona is a threat running and passing while Johnson has rushed for 759 yards and five touchdowns on 112 carries.
"Both of those guys are very dangerous kick returners," Alexander sadi. "They both play defense. There are not many snaps on the field in which they are not involved."
Orona and Johnson are supported by a strong line and kicking game.
"They got a solid offensive and defensive line, excellent skill people to go with it and a good kicking game," Alexander said.
Senior Michael Hinson is the kicker, who averages over 40 yards per punt. He has also caught 13 passes for 272 yards and a touchdown.
"In the films I've watched, he's not hit it into the end zone only once," Alexander said. "You're going to have to move the football to change field position or cause a turnover.
"And when you're kicking, you don't want to kick it to those two guys."
So why is Smyrna the Wildcats' homecoming opponent?
"We didn't have a lot of choice in that," said Alexander, noting the Wildcats have just four home games this year, one of which is the season finale and another was against Mt. Juliet. "It was either Smyrna or Riverdale, pick your poison.
"We certainly did not pick Smyrna for any reason other than the schedule."
Alexander said the Wildcats are in pretty good shape, healthwise. Lineman Chris Gann could be back after missing two games with a dislocated kneecap.
Watertown at Clay County
Both teams are 2-3 for the season and 1-1 in the region, tied for fourth place. Only the top four teams will advance to the playoffs.
"It's a game we need to win awful big," Watertown coach Bill Robinson said. "They've had a struggle similar to what we've had. It's an important game for both of us.
"We're looking at it we have to win out to be where we want to be."
Clay County is a big team which likes to run the ball in offenses ranging from the wing-T to the I.
"Their offense has changed a whole lot from week to week," Robinson said. "They have some good athletes at their skill positions."
Watertown's leading skill athlete is senior quarterback Stephen Clark, who has completed 49 of 110 passes for 771 yards and six touchdowns.
The Purple Tigers will be taking their share of bumps and bruises to Celina.
"We're a little banged up, but we're getting ready to play," Robinson said.
Monterey at Friendship Christian
Both teams are 2-0 in the region, tied with Gordonsville for first place. Monterey is 5-0 while Friendship comes in 4-1.
"Every game will be (important) from here on out because they're all region games," Friendship coach John McNeal said. "The team we're facing this week happens to be undefeated.
"One of us is going to get a head start on the rest of the region."
Monterey has a new coach, but an old system and a veteran team.
"They got good size," Friendship coach John McNeal said of the Wildcats. "They got a new coach (Bill Heady). Their coach was their junior high coach. They've all had him so it's not like it's a new coach coming in."
Monterey runs a wing-T offense with senior fullback Derrick Welch, senior quarterback John Phillips and senior running back Dennis Kennedy.
"They pride themselves on (being physical)," McNeal said. "(The running game is) dangerous because the pass is one thing that can slip up on you."
Monterey runs a seven-diamond defense with seven down people and a linebacker. But McNeal doesn't expect to see that look at Pirtle Field.
"What they do is not what they're going to do against us," McNeal said. "Most people's base defense has to be adjusted against our wideouts."
Friendship quarterback Lee Sweeney is the Midstate's top passer with 989 yards on 75-of-117 and seven touchdowns. Ryan Gaines has 22 catches for 447 yards and five TDs and Luke Williams 19 grabs for 244 yards and a score.
Friendship sophomore Wade Mitchell is averaging 36.9 yards on nine punts. Senior linebacker Michael Wheeler leads the Commanders with 54 tackles while fellow 'backer Josh Morgan has 44 stops.
Mt. Juliet at Whites Creek
The Golden Bears appeared to have a pretty good team coming into the season and hopes were even higher after Mt. Juliet defeated Shelbyville in Week 0.
But an epidemic of injuries both on and off the field have reduced the Golden Bears to a shell of their former selves.
"We were excited about this team coming in," said Mt. Juliet coach David Crawford, whose Bears are 0-4 since Shelbyville and 0-2 in Region 6-4A. "We were better, without a doubt."
Tailback JaWaun Clemmons and receiver B.B. Bruce were hurt against Lebanon last week and were listed day-to-day for this week. Kicker Taylor Cisneros suffered a hip injury in a junior-varsity game Monday against Lebanon and was on crutches. Sophomore linebacker/running back Darrell Johnson, filling in because of some of the earlier injuries, is out for tomorrow night because of a sprained ankle and is also on crutches.
"We're a MASH unit right now," Crawford said. "Talking to some of my coaching buddies from across the state over the weekend, they said this must be our year to have injuries. That's one of those things you can't control.
"We feel we have our quota, plus every other team's quota."
The Golden Bears probably won't receive much sympathy from Whites Creek. The Cobras are 3-2 for the season and one of three unbeaten region teams at 2-0.
"Much improved over last year," Crawford said. "David Carter is the new coach. Good athletes, good speed, well disciplined. They're playing well right now.
"They're big and strong up front, good skill people. It's going to be a challenging game, but we look forward to the challenge, to getting back on the field and competing Friday night."
Whites Creek runs the I-formation on offense and an eight-man front on defense.
"They like to run typical I plays, fullback trap, tailback isolations and they have a triple-option package," Crawford said. "Defensively, they are an eight-man front and they like to pressure a lot."
Facing that defense will be an offense led by senior quarterback Levi Brown, who has completed 60 of 124 passes for 722 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Wesley Osborne, who has become a dependable runner the past two games, is the Bears' top receiver with 25 catches for 247 yards and a pair of scores.
Red Boiling Springs at Mt. Juliet Christian
Both teams are winless in region action, although Mt. Juliet Christian has two overall victories against three losses. Tomorrow's winner will still have a realistic chance of climbing into the playoff race.
"Every game's big from here on out," Mt. Juliet Christian coach Mike Hicks said. "We have five region games in a row. We need to get a region win."
Red Boiling Springs runs multiple offenses and defenses. The Bulldogs will line up in 6-2 and 4-4 defensive fronts
"They run a form of the wing-T, but they spread it out a little bit," Hicks said of the Bulldogs' offense. "They run a lot of trips.
"They look like they have some size in their offensive line and they have some running backs who can run the ball."
Keys to the game for Mt. Juliet Christian?
"Establishing the running game is the key," Hicks answered. "And stopping their running game and forcing them to pass."
Helping field position will be punter/place kicker Brandon McCaw, who is averaging 38.8 yards on 11 punts.
Like their public-school counterparts up Mt. Juliet Road, the Saints are struggling with injuries. Linebackers/offensive linemen Steven Braswell and Steven Hughes are considered doubtful with leg injuries, which would make it five starters out.
Sports Editor Andy Reed can be reached at 444-3952, ext. 17, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.