Knoxville Central presents challenge in semifinals
For the second time in as many seasons, the Tigers are moving on to the state semi-finals with a shot at the ultimate prize--a berth in the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association's state finals and a chance to bring the gold ball back to Lewisburg for the first time since 1984.
Last season, Marshall County came up one game short of the finals appearance after falling 54-35 to eventual state champion Knoxville Catholic, but this time the Tigers have the advantage of taking on surprise semifinalist Knoxville Central (11-2) in front of a rowdy home crowd at Preston Hopkins Field in Lewisburg Friday night.
"I think home field advantage will be a big help for us," Marshall County coach Thomas Osteen said. "I feel that we usually always play our best at home. Our kids know how hard it is to travel from the experience that we had last year traveling to Knoxville."
The matchup pits two coaches with similar trajectories against one another as both Tiger's coach Osteen and Bobcats coach Bryson Rosser are in the third year at each respective program.
Rosser now 25-11 in his three years at Central has revitalized the once proud East Tennessee program, leading the Bobcats to three out of its four winning seasons in the past decade.
The Bobcats are led by senior quarterback Trey Mitchell, who has passed for over 2,500 yards and 31 touchdowns to just 11 interceptions. Mitchell, who stands at 6-4 and 205 pounds, has collected offers from Cornell and Lindsey Wilson. The running game is led by fellow senior Jadarius Sackie, who has rushed for over 1,100 yards and 13 touchdowns and finished second on the team with 81 tackles.
The defensive secondary is paced by Rondrow Peebles, who has picked off 11 passes and has 64 tackles.
But the star of the defense is Isaac Buell a three-star defensive end who ranks as the 73rd strong side defensive end in the country and the 36th overall player in the state of Tennessee.
Buell holds 21 offers, including ACC participant Virginia on Sunday to go along with NCAA Division I Football Championship offers from Air Force, Appalachian State, Army, Navy, Toledo, Tulane, and five Ivy League offers. Buell leads the Bobcats with 96 tackles, nine tackles for a loss and four sacks.
The Bobcats have made the playoffs three consecutive times under Rosser for the first time in since 2004-06 and knocked off number one seed Greeneville in the second round on a Hail Mary pass on fourth down with seven seconds left for the 16-14 win before knocking off Fulton for the second time in 2016.
The Bobcats held the potent Falcon offense to just 150 yards and rushed for over 268 yards on its region rival. The Falcons were held under 100 yards until the fourth quarter and allowing Falcon quarterback Xavier Malone to just 104 yards in the air, the third lowest total in 2016.
Sackie led the Bobcats on the ground in the win with 189 yards and two touchdowns on 39 attempts.
"They are extremely fast and physical," Osteen noted. "They pride themselves on playing great defense and running the football. Their running back is a 220 pound bowling ball. Their defense has held teams to low scoring all year."
Better and better
The Tigers, also in its third year under Osteen, have climbed to new heights in each of his three seasons with a first round appearance in 2014, a semi-final appearance in 2015, and a nearly perfect season (12-1) in 2016.
The lone loss, a 28-21 loss at 3A Stratford, allowed the Tigers to tighten up its weaknesses and since the loss have won seven in a row by an average margin of 48 points to six points given up including four shutouts with three in a row coming in the last game of the season and the first two playoff contests.
The Tigers beat the Raiders with ease in the quarterfinals, 53-13 by piling up 461 yards of total offense led by Kamron Liggett, who produced a monstrous game, scoring five touchdowns, while racking up 202 yards on the ground. Quarterback Bryce Wallace continued his mistake free play at the helm, misfiring on just five passes, while throwing his 31 touchdown of the year and produced another game without an interception.
Tre Crutcher led the potent Tiger receiving corps with 145 yards on seven receptions and Jay Howard added 58 yards.
Cain McWilliams produced another dominant game with 10 tackles and a sack, D'Andre Brown added eight, while Jayshon Wilcox, Tavi McLean, and Trent Richardson each notched seven take downs.
The Tigers held do-everything back Dontae Smith to a playoff-low 158 yards on 22 attempts and senior quarterback Blake Lovell passed for just 96 yards on 10-of-21 effort.
The Tigers have held seven opponents on the year to seven or less points and have scored 40 or over on 10 of its 13 games and will need another dominant performance from both sides of the ball to take down the upstart Knoxville Central Bulldogs on Friday night with a state championship berth on the line.
"The tough part is that we do not really know much about them, but hopefully that's the same for them as well," Osteen said. "It will take a bunch of extra film work to get a feel for what they are doing."