Intense Tigers hungry for win
Team confident going into battle with state-tested Livingston Academy
Top-seeded Marshall County is now the lone survivor representing Region 4-4A following a convincing 54-7 win over the Region 3 fourth seed Cumberland County with second-seeded Livingston Academy, which beat a sub-par Lawrence County squad 42-13 next in line for the Tigers in the TSSAA state playoffs.
"I honestly didn't really care which one of those teams won or who we play," senior defensive back Steven Dangerfield said. "Who ever gets in our path we need to do what we can to take them out."
The level of competition jumps drastically in the second round when Livingston Academy (7-4) makes the journey to Lewisburg from the Cumberland Plateau for today's 7 p.m. game. Unlike last week's opponent, Livingston Academy has a long, rich playoff history, including quarterfinal appearances last season and in 2012.
"LA is an extremely dangerous football team," Coach Thomas Osteen said. "They have been explosive on the offensive side of the football all year. They've won six ball games in a row. They went to the quarterfinals last year so they're an experienced football team that's been in this position before."
The 2005 Livingston Academy squad was the definition of a team coming together at the right time. The Wildcats finished the season limping to a 5-5 record, but strung together five straight victories to win the 3A State Championship 28-13 over perennial power Lipscomb Academy.
Following the championship, the program fell on hard times going 1-9 three straight seasons before Coach Bruce Lamb led the team back to respectability with a 4-4 playoff record over the next four seasons despite the Wildcats moving up to 4A.
The 2015 version of the Wildcats is one with a deceiving record, starting out the season 1-4. Closer examination, however, shows the combined record of the teams who defeated the Wildcats in the season's first half is 33-7.
Three of the losses came to 6A Cookeville, undefeated Stone Memorial, and 9-1 Christian Academy of Knoxville. Livingston has now reeled off six straight wins, scoring at least 38 points in four of the games.
"It all starts with their running back, Dylan Linder," Osteen explained. "He's one of the best in the state and had over 5,000 yards in the last two years. He's a threat to score everytime he has the ball.
"They have a big offensive line in front of him. They also have a 6-foot-3 receiver on the outside who was an All-State player last year as well. We must have our best tackling night of the year if we want to have a chance to win in the second half."
The Tigers (10-1) enter the game on nine-game winning streak after performing on all cylinders against a Cumberland County team that lost 25-12 to Livingston Academy, which the Wildcats pulled away late.
The Tigers, led by Mr. Football semifinalist Ashton Posey's 2,593 passing yards and 25 touchdowns against five interceptions, look to advance to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2011 and just the fifth time since its state championship year of 1984. MCHS entered the playoffs with its best regular season record since the 2002 state quarterfinalist team that finished the regular season 9-1.
The Tigers have practiced all season with a business-like attitude and this week has been no different.
"I know we have a tough region to match up with," said Jay Howard, who leads the Tigers with 1,291 all-purpose yards. "Region three is always a tough opponent. We just have to keep practicing hard, take it one game at a time and we've got it."
The Tigers continue to be a tough team to prepare for as opponents have multiple playmakers to try and account. Following Howard are dual threat Kamron Liggett with 771 rushing yards and 225 receiving, Josh Franklin with 906 all-purpose yards and Tre Crutcher with an eye-popping 970 receiving yards in just eight games.
The second wave of playmakers includes Darius McKenzie with 229 receiving yards, Montrell Harris with 180 receiving yards, and Zach Johnson with 295 all-purpose yards.
"Offensively, we've worked on execution and ball security," Osteen said. "We must be the most physical team on the field this week.
"Our players have approached this week like there is no next week. Our guys believe that we have something to prove against a team that's had so much playoff success and a state championship in the last decade."
The Tigers main advantage all season has been a suffocating defense that allowed just five first downs against Cumberland County. Led by a senior-heavy starting 11, Tanner Clark tops the team with 70 tackles followed by J.Q. Haislip with 69, Zach Johnson with 68 and Curtis Keiler with 66.
"We've focused all week on staying in our gaps and gang tacking the football," Osteen said. "Linder loves to cutback and reverse field."