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Three teams begin sprint to playoffs

Andy Reed • Oct 10, 2018 at 8:59 PM

The second week of the fall break cycle has Lebanon, Wilson Central and Mt. Juliet enjoying a break before a closing two-week run toward the playoffs.

Watertown, Friendship Christian and Mt. Juliet Christian enjoyed a break last week and are refreshed for a final three-game sprint (or two-game in FCS’ case) to the finish line.

Jackson County at Watertown

Refreshed following a week off, Watertown begins a three-game stretch run when Jackson County brings a 1-6 record to Robinson Stadium to take on the Purple Tigers, seeking their first region/district championship since 1985 and undefeated regular season since ’76.

The 7-0 Tigers are 3-0 in Region 4-2A, a game in front of East Robertson and Trousdale County. Watertown owns the tiebreaker over Trousdale and will (following a non-region visit from Smith County next week) travel to East Robertson to close out the regular season. East Robertson will visit Westmoreland this week while the Yellow Jackets visit Cascade.

Trying to figure out the scenarios over the next three weeks with so many moving parts can be maddening. Watertown coach Gavin Webster said the Purple Tigers just play and let the chips fall where they may.

“We’re not worried about it,” Webster said. “We play each game each week. We’re not looking ahead. We take care of ourselves each week, If we do  that, everything will fall into place. We try not to look too far down the road.

“Everybody knows what’s at stake. We talk about it a little bit. We have to take care of our part this week.”

Their part includes figuring out what Jackson County will throw at them, especially on offense where the Blue Devils run seemingly every formation there is, including double-tight, double wing, two-backs, etc.

“We’ve seen a lot of stuff,” Webster said. “They’re trying to find something that’ll work for them.

“We’re not sure what we’re going to see.”

Jackson County runs an odd-front defense, primarily a 50.

That’ll likely be the defense quarterback Bryce Webster will challenge in his first game back for the Tigers since breaking his collarbone in Week 3 at Trousdale County, his father, Coach Webster, said. Coming off the bye week, the Tigers are rested, refreshed and healthy for the stretch run, Gavin Webster said.

Friendship Christian at King’s Academy

The Commanders return from their break 5-2 for the season and in the East Region driver’s seat at 4-0 with two games to play. They’ll travel to Murfreesboro’s Middle Tennessee Christian, which is, and will be, 3-1 going into that game in second place as the Cougars play out of region this week.

“I don’t know (the magic number to clinch No. 1), but we need the two,” Commander coach John McNeal said. “If we can get the two, then we know we’ll be the one-seed with a bye and be here the rest of the way as long as we win.”

Should Friendship win the next two, or possibly even only split, the Commanders face the probability of back-to-back open dates. Week 11 was left vacant when Concord Christian dropped football for this years and efforts to find a substitute opponent have proven futile.

“We’ve got to secure a win and get a one or two seed to do that,” McNeal said of earning a first-round playoff bye. “If we do, we’ll have to cross that bridge when we get here. We’ve talked about it a little bit how we will handle that if that opportunity happens.”

King’s is winless through six games and underwent a coaching change a couple of weeks ago.

“They’ve kind of gone back to doing what they did over the last five years (under former coach Matt Lowe, not Friendship’s longtime defensive coordinator, who left TKA following last season), spreading,” McNeal said. “The quarterback (senior Drew Blair) is good, whether he runs or throws, so he’s a dual threat. They’ve got some good skill kids. Watching them Friday night (lose to Grace Baptist 35-20), they seem excited. Looks like the new coach has them playing with excitement. So they have some weapons that can hurt you.”

McNeal said the Commanders are recharged from last week’s open date for the stretch run.

“Everybody came back and nobody got hurt wherever they were,” said McNeal, who did not conduct any practices last week. “Some of them came in and lifted on their own. We had a good day (Monday). They should be fresh and ready to go. And this week they aren’t in school, so that should be even better.”

Mt. Juliet Christian at Ezell-Harding

When last seen, the Saints lost a chance to take the lead in the East Division with a home loss to Friendship Christian.

But following a bye week, Mt. Juliet Christian has much to play for over the final three weeks, starting with this week’s trip to an improved Ezell-Harding team looking to solidify a spot in the playoffs at 3-4 for the season and 1-3 in the region.

“They’re not bat at all,” Mt. Juliet Christian coach Dan Davis said of the Eagles, who run a split-back veer on offense and a 4-2-5 defense. “They definitely play hard.”

The Saints are one of three teams with one region loss (2-1) and is 4-2 overall. They own a tiebreaker over Middle Tennessee Christian, which will entertain Friendship next week, and will play host to Grace Baptist on Oct. 19. The top two finishers in the region will draw first-round playoff byes while the third- and fourth-place teams will play at home in the first round. Teams 5 and 6 will play on the road.

“The good thing about the bye week is it gave us a chance to work on things we needed to work on to get better for the second part of the season,” Davis said. “We’re all looking forward to taking it one game at a time every Friday night and making things happen.”

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