Tiger defense stops Panthers in region triumph
Marshall defensive coordinator Jerry Cobb spoke volumes with just one sentence following the Tigers (3-1, 2-0) contest with Maplewood on Friday night.
"We got our first shutout of the season tonight," Cobb said. "It may have been just one half, but we'll take it."
After giving up more points in the first three games of the season (89) than the Tigers allowed during the entire 2016 regular season (79), the blue and white defense that opponents have come to know and fear made a big comeback against Maplewood (3-2, 1-1) on Friday, holding the Panthers scoreless in the second half en route to a huge 26-12 region 4/4A win.
"We didn't get into a great rhythm on offense in the first half, but defensively we probably played our best game of the year," Tiger coach Thomas Osteen stated. "We didn't get off the field on a couple third downs there in the first half that hurt us, but anytime you hold a team with that much speed to 12 points, your defense has played a great game. Hats off to Coach Cobb."
The Marshall County offensive machine was running on overdrive against the Panthers as the offense helped a great defense effort with two rushing touchdowns and a passing score, while the special teams helped the cause with two Caleb Estes field goals and six touchbacks.
The special teams also added a crucial blocked punt and a Marcellus Campbell second half interception helped seal the deal in the fourth quarter,
"We went behind the buses (at halftime) and our coaches told us to bring back that swagger we had back in 7-on-7’s in the summer," Campbell commented. "So we just did what we do best."
The win was the definition of a total team effort as a multitude of players contributed big on both sides of the ball.
"Number one, we played a good football team and beat a good football team," Osteen pointed out. "It wasn't perfect tonight, but I feel our conditioning and our physicality as a team showed itself in the second half."
"The reason we come in at 7 o'clock all summer was for nights like tonight," Osteen added. "Athlete for athlete they're probably better than us tonight, but our team as a unit showed in the second half."
Kamron Liggett once again led the ground attack with 114 yards on 21 attempts plus two scores and Dagon Stacy led a deep receiving corps with four receptions for 51 yards and a touchdown.
Brandon Rowan added four catches, Devon Wilson three, and Liggett with two receptions.
Veteran quarterback Bryce Wallace led the steady, mistake-free offensive attack with 128 yards and a touchdown on 13-of-21 attempts.
"I think the offseason program, the work we put in was huge tonight," Wallace said. "I feel like they had a lot of players going both ways and the second half we kind of just took it to them and out powered them. Our strength and our desire was the key tonight."
The Tiger defense offered plenty of leaders as Miciah Greer and Tavi McLean both turned in standout performances, each with eight tackles and two tackles for a loss, and McLean adding a sack.
Hunter Cummings also contributed eight tackles with one for a loss, while Grant Agnew turned in eight tackles and sophomore Andrew Gold pitched in seven.
The two squads went back-and-forth for the majority of the first quarter before the Panthers finally broke through with a touchdown on the ground with 3:47 remaining in the first quarter.
The Tigers countered with a healthy dose of Liggett as the senior workhorse broke off a 44-yard scamper to set up a 3-yard touchdown run to give Marshall County the 7-6 edge following an Estes extra point kick.
After forcing a Panther three-and-out, the Tigers turned back to Liggett who broke off eight yards on a fourth-and-inches before Wallace hit Stacy for 12 yards, Wilson for 12 yards and Cummings followed with two rushes for 10 yards.
The Tigers luck ran out on the following play as a bad snap sailed over Wallace's arms and a false start stopped the drive dead in its tracks, but Estes saved the day by tying a career long 44-yard field goal for a 10-6 blue and white advantage.
Marshall County seemed poised to go into the break with a 10-6 lead, but on fourth-and-eight with under two minutes to go before the half, Maplewood quarterback Bobo Hodges scrambled around before firing a wild pass to Travares Springer, who made an acrobatic catch, breaking four tackles and breaking free for a 40-yard score to reclaim the lead at 12-10 after two quarters.
The Tigers came into the third quarter with a workmanlike attitude, grinding out the first series after the break for seven minutes before Wallace fired a pass to Stacy into the back of the end zone to retake the lead at 16-12 after a failed 2-point conversion.
Marcellus Campbell made the defensive play of the night as the Panthers were driving into Tiger territory on the following series.
With the Panthers threatening to retake the lead, a Hodges pass was tipped high into the air and a quick thinking Campbell found the ball and skied for the Tiger interception to end the Maplewood threat.
"We were playing lock, which is a two-man under basically and coach told me 'just don't let him get behind you'," Campbell recalled. "I didn't think he was going to throw it, but he did and it got tipped straight up in the air.”
“I had to track the ball and I just went up and got it. It was a big play for the team."
The Tigers offense turned up empty, but once again the special teams came up big as Bennett Fleming recovered a Donald Graham fumble on the Estes punt giving Marshall County a chance to add to the lead.
The Tigers moved the ball to the Panther 35-yard line, but the drive stalled and Estes jumped at the chance to put the Tigers ahead by knocking down a new career-long 45-yard field goal.
"We were talking about punting it and trying to down it really deep," Estes remembered. "Somebody in the huddle said 'let's just kick a field goal'. It was only three yards further than the exact same spot as the field goal against Maplewood two years ago that sent the game into overtime. Really, you don't think when you're on the field, you just react."
The Tigers went on to hold the Panthers one last time before regaining possession and adding the final score of the night on a 3-yard Liggett run with 3:43 remaining to put the game away and remain undefeated in the region.
The Marshall County schedule offers little time to enjoy wins as the Tigers travel back to Nashville next Friday for the third of four straight road contests against traditional Tennessee powerhouse Pearl-Cohn (3-2).
"Number one, we're going to enjoy this win tonight," Osteen said. "Wins are hard to come by, it's a region win, so we're gonna enjoy it. Next week, Pearl-Cohn, there's not much else that needs to be said, they're a state power."
"It's not a region game but I've told the guys about Cane Ridge--they're not a 4A team, but they're good enough to win the 4A state championship and we lost by seven," Osteen continued.
Marshall County 0 10 6 10-26
Maplewood 6 6 0 0-12
Total offense-Rushing 142, Passing 128
Rushing-Kamron Liggett 21-114-2TD, Bryce Wallace 15-33, Hunter Cummings 2-10, Miciah Greer 2-5, Brandon Rowan 1-(-6), Caleb Estes 1-(-14)
Passing-Bryce Wallace 13-21-128-TD
Receiving-Dagon Stacy 4-51, Brandon Rowan 4-39, Devon Wilson 3-34, Kamron Liggett 2-4
Kickoffs-Miciah Greer 2-54
Punts-Marcellus Campbell 1-0
Kickoffs-Caleb Estes 6-360-6TB
Punts-Caleb Estes 3-101
Tackles- Hunter Cummings 8, Miciah Greer 8, Grant Agnew 8, Tavi Mclean 8 (SACK), Andrew Gold 7 (FUM REC), Billy Cheek 6 (FUM REC), Josh Johnson 6, Hunter Lancaster 5, Dagon Stacy 3, Jayshon Wilcox 3 (SACK), Malik Thomison 2, Mason Warner 2, Antonio Warren 2, Keylin Talley 2, Marcellus Campbell 1 (INT), Bennett Flemming 1 (FUM REC).