It's time for playoff openers

Friday, November 5, 2010
Cornersville's prolific quarterback Joe Stocstill and the Bulldogs travel to Murfreesboro Friday night to take on the MTCS Cougars in the first round of the Class A playoffs. Tribune photos by Anthony S. Puca

At this time of year, prep football teams are thrilled to be playing and all three Marshall County squads made the big dance and will be in action, but the trio will be on the road for the first round of the TSSAA playoffs tonight.

It could have been a much sweeter scenario for the Forrest Rockets, but a dismal 1-4 road record and losses in three out of their last five ballgames sends the 6-4 Rockets west to Dresden where they will face off with the 8-2 Lions.

Asked about what kind of road fan support he expects at Dresden, Forrest head coach Kyle Stacey said, "We had good support and a good following all year. I feel like there is no better place to be than at a football game on Friday night and when your home team is playing, you need to be there. That's the way it was when I was in school in Lewisburg when I was playing in the eighties. It didn't matter if we were at Preston Hopkins Field or if we were on the road, we had a good following. That is the way it has been here at Chapel Hill too, so we are looking to carry quite a bit of people."

Forrest fullback Ritchie Smith (41) and the Rocket offensive line has played well this year in the run game, opening enough holes to allow junior tailback Zach Ray (10) the opportunity to break the Forrest single season rushing record. Ray and the Rockets hope to keep the land assault going Friday night at Dresden.

The Lions come into the contest as the number four-ranked team in the final AP Class AA Prep poll with their only two losses coming to District 13A opponents McKenzie (9-1 and ranked No. 3) on the road and at home versus Huntingdon (4-6 and at South Fulton in the Class A playoffs).

Dresden averages 26.8 points per game and the offense revolves around dual threat quarterback Dale Hutcherson, who has thrown for 1,579 yards on the season, ran for 542 yards and has 25 combined touchdowns.

Stacey said about defending Hutcherson, "We are going to try to mix it up and keep him guessing and not show him the same thing too many times in row. The main thing is to not let him get up there and pre-read you and then pick you apart."

The Rockets have 2,999 total yards from scrimmage this season and over two thirds of that yardage has come on the ground, thanks to their all-time single season rushing leader Zach Ray, who broke the Rocket record last week.

Ray has rushed for 1,633 yards and has scored 20 touchdowns on the season.

Forrest quarterback Dane Leonard has had a solid senior season, throwing for 698 yards and six touchdowns and Leonard has rushed the ball for 159 yards and has found the endzone 5 times.

The Rockets do not have a big problem scoring points, averaging 27.6 points per game, but unlike last year, the Rockets defense is shaky, especially in pass defense where they have allowed big swaths of yardage this season.

The Rockets must limit the Lions' aerial yardage, take care of the football when they have it, stay away from dumb penalties, and make some holes for Ray.

"We are obviously the underdogs in this situation, which doesn't bother me at all," said Stacey. "We have nothing to lose so we just have to go out and play aggressive, but most of all play four quarters and not wait until the second half to get started."

Last year, a 6-4 Marion County team came to a 9-1 Forrest team's home turf and won and this year the Rockets turn the tables with a 27-21 win over the Lions.

The Cornersville Bulldogs (4-6) were the last team included in the Class A bracket, but do have a good match-up with MTCS (6-4) as Stacey said.

The main question down in Frog Bottom is whether Cornersville can shake off a season ending four game losing streak and the key injuries that have plagued them all year.

Granted, all four losses were to current playoff teams and when the Bulldogs were healthy, they were extremely dangerous.

Quarterback Joe Stocstill has to have a good night if the Dawgs want to advance to the next round and he is capable of lighting up the scoreboard in Murfreesboro.

The Cougars will test Cornersville's top eleven players on both sides of the ball and if they can withstand the early pressures of the playoffs, Stocstill could lead the Dawgs to a big 30-10 upset win.

If the Dawgs get behind early, they will lose.

The MCHS Tigers (4-6) were the next to last team invited to the big dance in 4A as a number eight seed with the prize being a battle with the top seeded and No. 2 ranked Maplewood Panthers (9-1).

Marshall County could have easily been 6-4 instead of 4-6 as two of their losses came by six points or less.

Head coach Tom Turchetta had a late start, taking on the job just a couple of weeks before the season started and after a slow transitional period in Lewisburg, the Tigers came on strong as the campaign progressed.

The Tigers went 1-4 to start the year and then Turchetta's system started to click as his young squad reeled off three straight wins to even their record at 4-4, sticking their paws in the thick of the playoff chase.

A six-point loss to Page dampened their spirits and they did not play well at all in the regular season finale at Giles County, losing 44-0.

Whatever happens Friday night will not put a damper on a great, comeback season for Marshall County, where the future looks brighter than ever.