Ready and waiting
Tigers kick off playoff run as Cumberland County invades
Marshall County won its first Region title in 13 years and in doing so will have home field advantage for at least the first two rounds of the TSSAA Class 4A state playoffs starting tonight in Lewisburg.
First up is a Cumberland County (5-5, 3-3) team that finished fourth in a tough Region 3-4A. The Jets' break-even record might be a bit deceiving as the team from Crossville played tough in losses to the top three seeds from its region during the regular season.
Cumberland County lost just 25-12 against region runner-up and potential Marshall County opponent Livingston Academy, and 24-7 against a East Hamilton squad that finished third and 35-6 against undefeated Stone Memorial 10-0 and ranked fifth in the final Associated Press poll.
On the other hand the Jets beat a winless Chattanooga Central team just 20-14 to end the season and two-win Hixson only 26-21 in a region matchup midway through the season. In other words, Cumberland County is a tough team to pin down.
"The matchups are so different in the playoffs because they don't know you and we don't know them," Tigers coach Thomas Osteen said. "We're not going to change what we do and we'll try our best to put together a good game plan for Cumberland County. Our players will have their utmost respect for them."
Jets fly higher
The playoff bound Jets are experiencing a bit of resurgence in 2015 following a 2014 season that saw them go winless for the fourth time in the past 10 years (2006, 2007, 2012, 2014) and a 3-37 record over the past four seasons.
"Cumberland County is a downhill, physical football team," Osteen said. "They're going to be happy with getting two and three yards a play and running the play clock down every time. We must play great short yardage defense this week. Offensively, we must maximize the possessions that we have because they'll be at a premium."
The Tigers are arguably coming off their biggest win of the year, a region title battle of the 4-4A undefeated against Page in a game which Marshall County won convincingly 42-24 but committed just enough mistakes to allow a quality Page squad to hang around.
"We definitely need to do something about the turnover margin," said senior linebacker Iendi Biggers, who's sixth on the team with 56 tackles and an interception. "We've been turning the ball over a lot the past two weeks. Turnovers are a big part of football, turnovers usually lose football games. We've just lucked out."
While Marshall County has qualified for the playoffs each of the past five seasons, it has managed to get past the first round just once, in 2011 when the Tigers made it all the way to the quarterfinals before falling to rival Giles County 28-0.
The Bobcats played spoiler again last year, upsetting the Tigers at home 38-35 just a week after Marshall County had defeated them handily to end the regular season.
"We have a bunch of guys that still have a very sour taste in their mouth from what happened last year in the playoffs," Osteen said. "No player on this team has ever won a playoff game before. We have had a tremendous sense of urgency at practice all week and a razor like attention to detail.
" I believe that our confidence as a team is at a very high level right now, but I believe our hunger to prove ourselves is even higher."
Wide receiver Tre Crutcher says this year's team is a bit different because of the focus the players have displayed throughout the season.
"Our focus is what sets us apart," Crutcher said. "This week we come in hard, practice every day busting our tails. We just dialed in it and it showed on the scoreboard (against Page.)
"If we play like that for the rest of the season, we'll go ahead and turn it into a championship."
The Tigers finished 9-1 this season and were one point away from an undefeated season as a 42-41 loss in the second game at playoff-bound Class 6A John Overton, which finished 6-4 with three of the losses coming by a total of 11 points.
All eyes in Marshall County will be on Lewisburg tonight since Forrest High, 9-1 and ranked fifth in Class 2A, had its first-round playoff game against Bledsoe County on Thursday night.
"From the administration to the community, how much our players have bought in, and how hard our coaches have worked we're ready for this," Osteen said. "And just to be able to push the pile and build such a great foundation this quickly is very gratifying as a coach."
Osteen, who has a 17-4 record at Marshall County, thinks the players will have an added advantage as a No. 1 seed and playing at Preston Hopkins Field.
"Home field advantage is huge," Osteen emphasized. "Our kids have fed off the home crowd all year."