Hanging onto a fragile psyche at midseason, Franklin Road Academy suddenly looks like it is moving in the right direction heading into the postseason.
In early October, FRA stood at 1-5 and floundering with several key injuries, most notably to leading rusher senior Scott Looney. But after three wins in their last four games, including a 42-8 romp over Mt. Juliet Christian last Friday on Senior Night, the Panthers (4-6) suddenly are looking toward the DII-A playoffs with some optimism.
“I’m really proud of our team for fighting through adversity and not using the injuries and mishaps as an excuse to quit late in the season,” coach David Pack said.
The win clinched a home playoff opening game Friday against Evangelical Christian School (7-3).
One constant light through the storm has been the play of quarterback Matt Hissong, who has thrown for nearly 1,000 yards.
The left-hander almost assuredly would have hit the mark Friday if he had thrown more than five passes. He completed four for 56 yards, which put him at 962 for the year. He likely will cross the barrier in the Panthers’ game Friday.
“We lost out first game to St. George’s and we went downhill for about a month after that, Hissong, a 6-foot-2, 175-pound junior, said. “We’ve won three of our last four, and the one we lost was to DCA, a game we almost won. We’ve been playing very well recently, and I think that has enabled us to build some confidence as we go into the playoffs. I have tried to be a leader, both on the field and in the classroom.”
Said Pack: “Matt is a guy who has grown up a lot as the season has gone along and has improved each week. We are really going to need him to play well in the playoffs.”
Lots of players had a hand in the latest victory, though.
Sophomore Taylor Maitland got the Panthers rolling when he scored on 64 and 47-yard touchdown runs the first two times he touched the ball. He finished with 129 yards on five runs.
Ethan Jackson, one of six seniors, scored his first touchdown of the season on a 32-yard reverse. Sophomore back Ethan Daniels also scored his first touchdown on a 46-yard bolt.
Hissong plowed into the end zone from the 3 on the final play of the first half for a 35-0 lead.
Defensively, giant tackle Joe Irby (6-4, 295 pounds) had seven tackles, one of which he knocked down three players, including the quarterback, on a second-half play.
“Joe is one of the best lineman I’ve ever coached,” Pack said. “He is going to be highly sought after by DI colleges. He’ll be as good as he wants to be.”
• Playoff chatter: Pearl-Cohn will face a familiar foe in the Class 3A playoffs.
For the third straight year, the Firebirds (5-5) will meet Smith County (10-0), this time in the first round at Carthage.
Last year in the second round, Pearl-Cohn beat the Owls 40-0, one of the most shocking scores in the playoffs. In 2009, Smith County beat the Firebirds 36-18 in the first round.
Also in 3A, Christ Presbyterian Academy (9-1) gets a home game against Cheatham County, while Goodpasture (7-3) hosts Grundy County.
If CPA and Goodpasture win, they would have a second-round rematch of their season-opening game, which CPA won.
In Class 4A, David Lipscomb (4-6) saw its 18-year streak of playoff appearances end. The Mustangs started the weekend as the first team out of the playoffs and had their hopes dashed in a 21-14 loss at Stratford, a game decided on a touchdown pass in the final 10 seconds.
The victory didn’t get Stratford (5-5) in either. Both the Spartans and Whites Creek (4-6), which lost to East Lit 7-6, missed out.
Maplewood (7-3), which reached the semifinals last year, makes its seventh straight playoff appearance. The Panthers host Creekwood in their 4A opener.
In Class 6A, Overton (7-3) secured a home game against Siegel (7-3), and Brentwood High (6-4) got a second chance at Independence, which won a regular-season encounter 13-7 back on Sept. 2.
Smyrna (6-4) visits Franklin (7-3) in a rematch of their Sept. 23 game, which Smyrna won 20-17.
A 34-0 romp over winless Hunters Lane propelled Glencliff (6-4) into the Class 5A playoffs, where the Colts will visit powerful Gallatin on Friday. Also in 5-A, Antioch (6-4) will host Station Camp, and Centennial (6-4) will go to Tullahoma.
Nashville Christian School (4-6) made the 1A playoffs for the second straight year, but the Eagles ended up with a tough road opener at Moore County (7-3).
In Division II-A, Baylor, Ensworth and Brentwood Academy all finished 6-1 in the Middle/East Region. Baylor and Ensworth got the tiebreakers, finished first and second, respectively, and received first-round byes.
BA will host Pope John Paul II. Father Ryan (4-6) must travel to St. Benedict.
Battle Ground Academy and Montgomery Bell Acdemy secured home field first-round openers Friday against Briarcrest and McCallie, respectively.
In DII-A, despite finishing 3-7, Davidson Academy secured a home opener against Jackson Christian (5-5). Ezell-Harding (4-6) must travel to play St. George’s.
• Soccer: District rivals Hume-Fogg and CPA advanced to the Class A/AA state tournament with sectional wins Saturday. CPA blanked Fairview 2-0, and Hume-Fogg edged Page 2-1.
Franklin and Ravenwood advanced in AAA.
Both BGA and Father Ryan reached the DII-AA final four with sectional wins Saturday, while FRA was the only team from Nashville to reach state in DII-A.
The state soccer tournament opens Thursday in Chattanooga.
• Volleyball: Ensworth won its second straight DII-AA state championship behind MVP ReJean Rouse Friday at MTSU. Guided by coach Eva Lea, the Tigers swept Baylor in three straight games in the finals.
In the AAA finals, Ravenwood beat district rival Independence in three tough games and won a second straight title. It was Ravenwood’s sixth win over the Eagles this season.
Page beat Goodpasture 15-11 in the fifth game to win the AA crown, even though the Cougars (46-4) had their best season.
St. Cecilia came up just short in the DII-A final, falling to St. George’s.
• BGA court dedication: Battle Ground Academy announced it would dedicate the Gary Smith basketball court Nov. 21 to honor the 35-year coach whose career at BGA ended last year.
The ceremony will be held at halftime of the boys 8 p.m. game vs. FRA. Barry Booker, a member of the 1985 state tournament team, will be part of the ceremony.