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Dec 05, 2012 12:00 am
Friendship again Commanders to 2A football
By ANDY REED
COOKEVILLE — Friendship Christian is leaving Class 2A on top after the Commanders repeated as state champions in the classification with a 44-7 pounding of Adamsville on a sunny Saturday at Tennessee Tech's Tucker Stadium.
There will be no threepeat in this class as Friendship, which has now won five state titles in just over 13 months in three different sports, is moving its athletic program to Division II next year. Athletic Director John McNeal has been the head coach for both football titles, was an assistant as boys' basketball took the title last March and has a stepdaughter who played on two volleyball champs.
It hasn't gotten old, yet.
"It doesn't ever get satisfying. It does get addictive," McNeal said after his Commanders concluded a 13-1 campaign, capping a two-year 25-4 run. "A lot of people don't ever get a chance to even play in one. We went a lot of years trying to win a few games, not try to play in the playoffs or play for a state championship. You got people like [Defensive Coordinator Duane] Lowe, who was a part of us getting beat a lot and now, a lot of the past people I saw here today were part of the building program to get it where it has been over the last few years."
"To win one is a dream come true," said sophomore running back Austin Taylor, who ran for three touchdowns on five carries and now has four scores on just six rushes in two BlueCross Bowls. "To win two is unbelievable. It's something you never think of. When you're little, you hope to win one. To win two is incredible."
"We knew we had a chance to come back and win it again," said Mr. Football finalist and Defensive Most Valuable Player Tanner Martin. "We knew we had the players to do it."
Offensive MVP Hollis leads strong ground game
With a strong southerly breeze whipping across Overall Field for the second straight BlueCross Bowl, the Commanders compiled 321 rushing yards against a big Adamsville defense. Steven Hollis had 169 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries to earn Offensive Most Valuable Player honors. Taylor totaled 87 yards Saturday after scoring on his only touch late in last year's victory over Dresden.
"A.T. and Hollis both give us a lot of dimension," McNeal said. "A.T. is faster than what you think... You got two young running backs who can do a lot. They're also hard runners, power runners.
"We were trying some things early, and then we lined up and decided to let the backs go and then we were able to do some play-action stuff."
Long gives Friendship new offensive dimension
A year after the Commanders brutalized opponents with a bruising running game and rock-hard defense, Pennsylvania All-State quarterback A.J. Long moved to Lebanon in June and enrolled at Friendship where his abilities as a runner and passer, available for all to see on YouTube, have made him a major-college prospect and enabled McNeal to open his offense back up. The coach wasn't worried about passing in the windy conditions as Long, who plans visits to Vanderbilt and Tennessee during the upcoming basketball season and Oregon and UCLA further down the road, completed 8 of 14 passes for 84 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
"A.J. has got a strong enough arm, he's just got to make adjustments whether he's throwing into the wind or with it," McNeal said.
"He's a great athlete," Martin said. "I can't wait to watch him go to college and do great things. I'm just really lucky to play with him. He's a great player and he helped us win another state championship."
"It's an amazing feeling," said Long, who will likely open the basketball season tonight at Westmoreland as the shooting guard. "Coming in and being able to share with this group of guys is amazing. There is no other group that I've come across that made me feel welcome like these guys. I came in the first day and I felt like I had been here forever. I told them, from the time I got here until now, we were going to win a state championship at any cost. It didn't matter what it was.
"They backed me up, I backed them up and we got it done."
Long, a junior, said he has been offered by UCLA, Syracuse and Arizona, with Duke set to visit next summer to evaluate his passing. He said there' s no deal-breaker as far as what position he might play.
"I want to play quarterback in college, but at the same time I want to play," Long said. "I'm going to do whatever's best for my team to win at any cost. If that means I have to go wide receiver, I'll do it. If it means I have to play defensive back, I'll do it.
"Whatever school I go to and it feels like it's the best fit for me, whether it be an elite school, or it be just under that or it be one of the worst teams in Division I, I'm going to go where I feel comfortable and I'm going to get the best coaching. Because at the end of the day, it doesn't matter where you go, if you're happy there, you're not going to tell other people to go there."
Second straight fake punt sets up first score
For the second straight season, punter Cale Mitchell was an X factor. A year ago, his punts into the wind helped keep Dresden at bay. This time, with Cardinal rushers approaching, he twice took off for the ball out of punt formation. He came up short the first time. The second time, he picked up 32 yards to set up Taylor's 8-yard touchdown for a 6-0 lead.
"The one that work was called by me," McNeal said before breaking out in laughter. "I was upset at halftime. We just didn't block them. Until I see the film, I can't explain why. It wasn't like they tried to bring [pressure]. I think they were shocked themselves because they weren't trying to rush to block it."
Adamsville immediately made a move to take the lead after Jacob Terry reversed field to return the kickoff 55 yards to the Friendship 42-yard line. But inside linebacker Cody Walker stopped running back Zak Neary on fourth down at the 12.
After four straight runs by Hollis took the ball to just past midfield, a penalty backed the Commanders up. But Taylor got outside for 55 yards and a touchdown. Hollis muscled his way into the end zone for the two-point conversion and a 14-0 lead.
The Cardinals, who finished with 245 total yards to Friendship's 405, moved to the Commander 28 before a fourth-down delay-of-game penalty backed them up. Free safety Hunter Watts broke up Dalton Plunk's pass and FCS took over at the 33.
Friendship drove to the 15 where the Commanders faced fourth down. McNeal elected to go for us. Long bounced a lateral to Mitchell and a whistle was blown. The whistle was ruled to be inadverdent and the play was re-run.
This time, McNeal sent Stefan Remus in for a 32-yard field goal, which sailed through the uprights for a 17-0 lead going into halftime.
Commanders carry 17-0 lead into second half
With the lead, McNeal was content to play the field-position game and punted from Adamsville territory. But the Cardinals went into a Wildcat and John Reed Odom, listed as a backup quarterback, took the snap, eluded Commanders in the backfield and got outside for a 73-yard touchdown run down the Friendship sideline to bring the West Tennesseans within 17-7.
Then Adamsville coach Brandon Gray rolled the dice and came up snake eyes, going for it on fourth and less than a yard from the Cardinal 13. Plunk's sneak was stuffed and Friendship took over on the 12.
After Hollis was thrown for a loss, Long whistled a 15-yard touchdown strike to Dillon Hodges up the middle for a 24-7 lead.
"That was huge," McNeal said of Gray's gamble. "As a coach, I never second-guess anybody because I second-guess myself enough. Fourth and inches. I told [Lowe] we need to get our two big boys on the center and at least make them not go in the A gap. They did and we got a good push backwards. That was huge. But scoring made it even better. If we hadn't scored, all it would have done was eaten some clock."
But now it was time for Friendship to feast on some Cardinal. Remus came around to block Steven Searcy's punt, which rolled all the way to the 5, from where Long rolled out and flipped a scoring toss to tight end Parker Pinnell three plays into the fourth quarter.
Then, Gray had no choice but to go on fourth down near midfield, where Friendship held. Taylor converted the ensuing series into a 9-yard touchdown run.
Inside linebacker Martin, who had seven solo tackles and a pass breakup, may have sealed his Defensive MVP award by recovering a fumble on the Adamsville 34. Hollis carried the ball on three of the next four plays, taking the final rush into the end zone from 3 yards out for the final nail.
Sports Editor Andy Reed can be reached at 444-3952, ext. 17; or by email at email@example.com