Tigers, Raiders meet in playoff rematch
Perhaps nobody was overly surprised that Region 4 swept Region 3 in the first round of the 4A playoffs, but the most surprising was the overall dominance of the Middle Tennessee region which won all four games by a total score of 129-28.
The biggest upset was the 21-14 Nolensville win over Region 3 champion Livingston Academy.
Spring Hill (6-5), Maplewood (8-3), and Marshall County (8-3) took care of business by a whopping combined score of 108-14 with the Tigers’ 42-0 win over DeKalb County being the biggest margin of victory.
Those wins resulted in familiar matchups in the second round with Marshall County taking on longtime foe Spring Hill for the fourth time in as many years.
The Tigers took home the win over the Raiders in Week 9 by a slim 34-27 final and Marshall County also ended Spring Hill's surprising quarterfinal run in 2016 by a runaway score of 53-13.
The Tigers have beaten the Raiders by a combined score of 136-52 over the last three meetings, but as everyone who follow sports knows that beating the same team two times in the same season is a tough feat.
"As the old saying goes, it's extremely tough to beat a good team twice," Tiger coach Thomas Osteen, who sports a 7-3 playoff record at Marshall County, pointed out. "That is never truer with our game with Spring Hill this Friday. They are no doubt the most athletic team in our region and have playmakers all across the field."
"I don't think playing them twice gives either team an advantage," Osteen added. "We have confidence that we can because we have done it earlier in the year. They have extra motivation to get better and put everything on the table to try and one up us. That's why these rematch games all around the state are so intriguing."
The one aspect of the rematch everyone will be paying attention to will be the matchup of 4A Mr. Football semifinalists Kam Liggett and Donate Smith.
Smith, who is committed to Georgia Tech over offers from Memphis, Temple, Tulane, and UAB among others, has rushed for over 1,500 yards and 20 TDs with 231 receiving yards on 19 receptions.
"I don't know that there is any way you can shut a player like Dontae Smith down." Osteen said. "He has had success versus pretty much everyone that he has faced for the last three years. Our goal is to slow him down enough that he does not beat us by himself.’
“We know he is going to get some yards on us, but we need to make him earn every one and limit his big plays."
The Raiders also have a highly skilled wide receiver in Justin Oden, a three-star prospect with 11 major DI offers which he has narrowed down to Louisville, Memphis, and Ole Miss.
Oden comes into the game with just 16 catches for 195 yards in a limited Raider passing attack, but the Spring Hill receiver also carries the ball on a regular basis with 13 runs for 228 yards.
The Raiders also line up with an experienced quarterback under center, senior T.J. Ennis, who has passed for 79-of-138 attempts for 1,108 yards but has thrown just five scores to his four picks.
Darrin Johnson, another talented senior, does a little bit of everything for the Raiders, with 678 all-purpose yards.
Spring Hill averages 257 rushing yards per contest to just 75 passing yards per game.
On the defensive side of the ball the Raiders look to junior linebacker Jacquise Oglesby, who leads the squad with 38 tackles and chips in four tackles for a loss and three sacks.
Hadarian Phillips adds 28 tackles on defense to go along with three tackles for a loss and a sack.
In the Raiders’ six wins the defense has given up a paltry 12.5 points per game, but 34.4 points during its five losses.
"We must have the best tackling game that we have had all year," Osteen stated. "We must be the most physical team at the point of attack on both sides of the ball. And we must take care of the ball on offense and take the ball away on defense."
The Tigers moved the ball in their runaway win over DeKalb County last Friday.
Liggett, who has rushed for 1381 yards and 27 scores on the season, finished with 71 yards on just 12 carries in limited action.
Sophomore receiver Devon Wilson doubled his previous career high in receiving yards with 120 yards on two scores.
Giles County transfer Brandon Rowan also had a standout performance with a season-high two touchdown catches and 64 yards, the second best receiving total on the year.
Bryce Wallace also saved his best performance for the playoffs by throwing for season bests of 221 yards, four touchdowns, and a season long 63-yard reception.
Wallace has thrown for 16 scores to just three interceptions on the season.
Marcellus Campbell picked up a team-high fourth interception on the year while Billy Cheek added a pick that was returned for a score late in the game.
The winner of this match-up will go on the road next for the quarterfinals to face the winner of the Maplewood versus Nolensville matchup.
The Tigers won a close 26-20 contest at Maplewood in week four and have never played at Nolensville, who is playing in its first season of varsity football.
Expect the Tigers to win this contest going away.