NEXT STOP: SEMIFINALS
Tigers outlast Hurricanes with a strong dose of defense
The Marshall County took to the road on Friday night to face the East Hamilton Hurricanes in Chattanooga and despite the two-hour drive the visitors brought a huge crowd to see the Tigers compete in their first semifinal appearance in 31 years.
The high powered Marshall County (12-1) offense would need a little help from the defense on this night and like so many games in this magical season, the defense refused to allow a second half score as the Tigers hung on in a nail bitter for the 17-7 win.
With the win over the Hurricanes (8-5), the Tigers earned a spot in the final four with a chance to take on Knoxville Catholic for a trip to the 4A Blue Cross Bowl on December 5 at Cookeville.
Our defense has been great all year," MCHS coach Thomas Osteen said. "Our offense has got a lot of headlines, but each game takes on a life of it's own. This was a grind it out, 2-3 yard per play game tonight and no doubt the best defense won."
The opening quarter had all the makings of another Tiger playoff rout as Josh Franklin broke free for a 71-yard gain and Kamron Liggett followed up with a five-yard touchdown run for an early 7-0 lead just four minutes into the game.
For the third playoff game in a row the opponents offense was able to score on its opening drive when defensive back J.Q. Haislip slipped in coverage and Jeffrey Coleman raced the length of the field to knot the game 7.
"He was my man all night, I knew I was going to have to step back up," Haislip said. "That one play wasn't going to make or break me, so I just kept my head in the game."
The Tiger scoring continued on the next possession, culminating with a one-yard Liggett score to put the visitors back up 14-7 after the Caleb Estes extra point.
The Hurricanes drove all the way to the Tiger one-yard line to end the half but East Hamilton was not able to capitalize on the field position as the half time buzzer sounded.
Tre Crutcher was able to grab a 19-yard reception on fourth-and- two to keep the first possession after halftime moving, but a 15- yard touchdown run by Liggett was called back due to a holding penalty and the Tigers had to settle for a field goal attempt.
Estes knocked in the 37-yarder by inches with six minutes left in the quarter in what would turn out to be the only score for either team for the rest of the game.
"I missed a big one in the preseason against Pope John Paul II and I remember how bad it felt," said Estes who has not missed a field goal this year (9-9). "We practice field goals a lot, we expect to get one field goal per game, so I'm really glad to get the chance. It feels great to make the difference tonight."
The Tiger defense dominated the Hurricanes for the rest of the game with Haislip redeeming himself time and time again coming up with a huge tackle on an East Hamilton fake punt to end a decisive offense possession for the Hurricanes.
The Hurricanes would try one last time to put together a drive but Tavi McLean sacked quarterback Nick Woods for a loss of 10 yards and Prentice Davis sacked Woods again for eight yards to all but end the contest.
"We figured that we shouldn't put all the pressure on the offense to win us this game," Davis said. "We needed to step up and stop the opponents offense so we can win the game and go further in the playoffs."
The Tiger defense sacked Woods six times for a loss of 49 yards and held the Hurricanes to just 102 yards of offense on the night, allowing negative one yard rushing and limited East Hamilton to just five first downs in the game.
"Hats off to these guys," defense coordinator Jerry Cobb said. "They've been getting better every day, they come to work everyday, we really put a lot of time into game planning and taking away what the other team wants to do. Tonight we executed besides just falling down one time in coverage. They've been doing a great job learning, executing and understanding how to win a football game."
Ashton Posey was limited to just 125 passing yards, but completed 14-out-of-18 attempts to put the Tigers into scoring position three times in the first half.
"It feels amazing," Posey said. "I'm glad I can be part of this and I'm glad my team is part of it. I love this team to death and wouldn't trade them for anything."
Franklin led the rushing attack with 103 yards on just seven attempts and Kamron Liggett was the workhorse for the Tiger attack with 29 carries for 93 yards.
Tre Crutcher caught five balls for 94 yards and Jay Howard added seven catches for the Tiger offense.
Tanner Clark added nine tackles for the Tigers while Haislip four tackles and provided excellent coverage the entire night.
Close game helps
Playing such a close game against East Hamilton might be beneficial according to Coach Osteen, "This time of year every team is really good. You're going to play close games. I felt like against Maplewood we got rattled when it was so close. Tonight we weren't rattled at all, we were confident. We knew if we played our game, we could win it in the end and that's what happened."
Marshall County will travel to Knoxville on Friday to take on tradition power Knoxville Catholic (9-4) at 7 pm ET.
Marshall County 7 7 3 0 -- 17
East Hamilton 7 0 0 0 -- 7
MC -- Kamron Liggett 3 run (Caleb Estes kick), 8:16.
EH -- Jeffrey Coleman 87 pass from Nick Woods (Jake McClure kick), 7:18.
MC -- Liggett 1 run (Estes kick), 11:02.
MC -- FG Estes 39, 5:55.