Well, hello to old acquaintances.
Once again, Goodpasture has reached the state football finals. And for the fourth time in the last five years, the Cougars will meet an old nemesis – top ranked Alcoa – for the BlueCross state Class 3A championship.
The showdown comes 3:30 p.m. Friday at Tennessee Tech in Cookeville – a town pretty much located at the halfway point for both schools.
The Cougars (13-1) are hitting their stride in the playoffs. The second-to-last chapter of this season came in a 35-27 semifinal win Friday over scrappy Milan, a team that knocked the Cougars out of the playoffs in the same round two years ago.
Under former Murfreesboro Riverdale coach Gary Rankin, powerful Alcoa (14-0) has won the state title six straight times. Three of those came at Goodpasture’s expense – 2005, 06 and 07. In those games, Alcoa outscored the Cougars121-19. But hardly any of the current Cougar players were on those teams.
The Tornadoes have beaten Milan in the last two finals. Will it be a lucky seventh in a row Friday?
Goodpasture is hoping to prevent that, but it will be a daunting task.
In the playoffs this month, Alcoa is averaging an astounding 40 points a game, which includes a 55-20 slaughter of Elizabethton in the semis Friday.. The Tornados have two Mr. Football finalists, Vanderbilt Hambrick (back) and Darrell Warren (line).
“We’re playing our best football of the season,’’ senior tackle Matt Ryman said. “We won’t go into that game intimidated, and we’re going to prepare hard all week. Our whole team is ready. We came out (against Milan) really focused, and struck first.”
Veteran Coach David Martin, who has won three state titles at Goodpasture, has been on the losing side of those three one-sided finals losses to Alcoa. Not many, outside of the Cougar locker room, think Goodpasture can tame the Tornadoes.
Will things be any different this time?
“I don’t know,” Martin said. “I do know we plan to have a great week of practice, we’ll show up on Friday, play our best and see what happens.”
Cougars strike early, then hold on
Like so many good teams, Goodpasture put a trick play into its arsenal for a big game and used one on the opening kickoff against Milan.
Senior John Thomas Lynn fielded the kickoff, started right and lateraled back to Mitchell Martin, who bolted the opposite way 50 yards to the Milan 39 where the Cougars opened shop. Seven plays later, Martin finished things off, catching a 22-yard touchdown strike from quarterback Keenan Reynolds.
“Our special teams coach put that in early last week,” Martin said. “We wanted to hit them with a big play right off the bat, it and worked.”
And on the touchdown pass on which Martin finished the drive after helping to start it, he said, “Keenan made a great throw, and it gave us the early lead.”
The first half of the opening quarter belonged to Martin. And the second half of the period went to alert junior linebacker Robert Walls, who scored two defensive touchdowns within 1:06 of each other.
Walls yanked the ball away from a receiver and raced 33 yards for a score. Only three plays after the ensuing kickoff, he picked up a Milan fumble and rambled 49 yards for another score, which made it19-0 before the first quarter was half over.
“I just played my position,” Walls said. “On the first one, I got there right as the receiver did, and I thought I would just make a tackle, but I wound up taking it away. On the second one, the ball was right there in front of me, and I just picked it up and ran.”
Perhaps cognizant of the fact Alabama held a 24-0 lead, then lost to Auburn in their big rivalry game earlier in the day, Goodpasture rose up and held down the fort. After a safety and a Reynolds touchdown early in the second quarter, Goodpasture’s lead was 28-0.
Milan spent the rest of the game trying to catch up. After the Bulldogs got within 35-21, they got the ball back, but Cody Jones made a diving interception at the Cougar 45 with 8:32 left.
After a 94-yard pass play pulled the Bulldogs to within 35-27, they never got the ball back. With 1:32 left, Reynolds made a key 12-yard run on third down for a first down to seal the deal.
“We had the big plays to get us started, we played very well for two and a half quarters, then we lost focus,” Martin said. “But we made the plays we needed to get the win.”
• Maplewood falls: A 14-point second quarter by top-ranked Greeneville doomed host Maplewood, which lost to the Devils 17-7 in the Class 4A semisfinals.
Ladarius Vanlier rushed for 116 yards and one touchdown for Maplewood, which reached the 2007 final. The defense limited the Devils to 198 yards total offense. But the Panthers threw three interceptions.
Maplewood finished 12-2 and had an 11-game winning streak snapped.
• Mr. Football winners announced Monday: The annual TSSAA Mr. Football awards luncheon will be held 11 a.m. Monday at Embassy Suites Hotel in Murfreesboro.
Among the finalists are two from Ensworth – Cornelius Elder (back) and Keenan Crenshaw (line), along with Woody Barren of Brentwood Academy (line) in DII-AA. For the second time, Justin Williams (back) is a finalist in DII-A.
Tennessee Titans play-by-play man Mike Keith is emcee.
• FRA boys, girls off to 4-0 hoop starts: Two of the hottest teams to start off the high school basketball season are the Franklin Road Academy boys and girls, who are both 4-0.
The Panthers have wins over Goodpasture, Cheatham County, BGA and DCA. On Tuesday, they are facing tough foes Harpeth Hall (girls) and MBA (boys).