In his final magical bag of tricks of the football season, Coach Daniel McGugin is hoping to spring one more surprise out of the hat.
This trick may be the hardest of all to execute as McGugin and his Montgomery Bell Academy team (9-4) take on top-ranked, undefeated Memphis University School (12-0) in the DII-AA final at 7 Thursday night at Cookeville’s Tennessee Tech.
How has MBA played so well in November?
Mainly by rallying around sophomore QB Aaron Simonis, who was third on the depth chart in preseason.
After a watching a season-ending neck injury to starter Lukc Colbert and taking over for Van East, Simonis has come into his own during the postseason. The transition has been smoother, thanks mainly to a seasoned MBA line, anchored by senior Jordan Herring.
“When Aaron came in, we got together as a team and rallied around him,’’ said the 6-2, 220-pound Herring who plays offensive left tackle. “It was a rough situation. But regardless of who the quarterback was, we were going to give him every bit of support and the blocking we needed to help him succeed.’’
Mission accomplished with one target to go.
“We have relied on our strong senior leadership to bond together and get the job done,’’ Herring said.
Asked how MBA had been able to avenge the three earlier losses with playoff wins, Herring said, “when we watched the films, we saw the mistakes we made, and we were able to go out the next time and correct them.’’
About MUS, he said, “they have a great team, and they beat us last year. It will take a total team effort and our leadership to win the game. If we do that, we’ll be successful.’’
MBA is trying to avenge a 35-7 semifinal loss to the Owls last year. They return nearly all of their offensive starters, including Mr. Football winner quarterback Barry Brunetti.
“Last year, we battled them tough for 1½ quarters,’’ McGugin said. “Then we turned the ball over five times, and the situation just snowballed on us.
“They (MUS) have a great football team again this year,’’ he said. “They have a quarterback in Brunetti (a West Virginia signee) who can beat you with his legs and with his arm. He keeps them out of bad plays,’’
Noting what has worked in playoff wins over BGA, Ensworth and Brentwood Academy – all teams MBA lost to in the regular season — McGugin has kept it simple. He said, “our motto has been ‘Play fast, place loose, have fun.’ ’’
McGugin and staff have a strong motivational ploy for their team.
When players enter the Big Red dressing room, they see the five TSSAA state championship trophies the team has won since 1998, all placed together, left to right, on a table. In the final space, there is a paper with the lettering: “This Place Reserved for the 2009 State Championship Trophy.’’
That quest begins Thursday.