Panthers stand in the way of Tigers’ semifinal appearance
For the second week in a row the Tigers will take on a Region 4/4A opponent for the chance to survive and advance for MCHS’ third semifinal appearance in as many years.
Marshall County hosts Maplewood (9-3), who beat a scrappy Nolensville (4-8) squad 26-21 to advance to its ninth quarterfinal appearance.
Maplewood is a perennial playoff contender with a 21-23 overall playoff record with three 4A state championship game appearances including two recent final losses to Maryville 28-13 (2007) and Greeneville 37-0 (2011)
The Panthers have a healthy record in both quarterfinal appearances (4-4) and semifinal appearances (3-1), but this will be the first time Maplewood and Marshall County meet in the postseason.
The Tigers (9-3) beat the Panthers 26-12 during week five of the regular season.
Marshall County knocked Spring Hill (6-6) out of the playoffs for the second year in a row last week and although the opponent is different this week, the game plan remains the same.
"We are gonna try our best and stick to the formula that we have used all year," Marshall County coach Thomas Osteen stated. “One, take great care of the football. Our goal is to always be at least plus three in the turnover margin. Two, be the most physical team in every aspect of the game. Three win every phase of special teams and create great field position for our offense all night."
The Panthers are a well-balanced offense with 175.8 receiving yards per game and 179.1 rushing yards per game and post a 6-2 record at home in 2017.
The Tigers will have their hands full with quarterback Bobo Hodges, who has passed for 2,060 yards on 119-of-215 attempts for 21 touchdowns with just six interceptions and running for 572 yards on the ground on 95 carries for eight additional touchdowns.
The junior signal caller passed for 146 yards with a touchdown and a pick on 11-of-17 attempts while rushing for 83 yards on 12 attempts in the first go round with the Tigers.
Hodges go-to receivers are junior Markell Smith (41 rec., 839 yards, 8TDs) and junior Tavares Springer (26 rec., 587 yards, 8 TDs).
Smith totaled two catches for 40 yards and Springer chipped in three receptions for 36 yards during the Panthers regular season loss to Marshall County.
Smith is also the go-to man on returns with 424 combined punt and kick return yards for 1,322 all-purpose yards on the year.
David Southerland is a name that has been turning heads around Metro circles as the freshman ball carrier finished the season with 767 yards on 120 carries for eight scores to go along with 319 punt return yards to finish with 1,243 all-purpose in his first year of high school football.
Southerland came up huge against the Tigers in week five with 92 yards on the ground on 15 carries for a touchdown and three receptions for 34 yards and another score.
Southerland will get help on the ground from seniors Donald Brown (41 carries, 259 yards, 22 receptions, 193 yards) and Malachi French (20 carries, 173 yards, four TDs).
The Panthers have not attempted a single field goal all season, but junior Rashawn Dalton has proved to be a steady kicker with five of six makes on point after touchdown kicks.
The Panthers kicked just six extra points on 40 touchdown scores in 12 games.
On the defensive side, French leads the team with 101 tackles, 14 tackles for a loss, and an interception while senior defensive back Zarian London finished with 76 tackles, a whopping 19 tackles for a loss to go along with nine sacks and nine quarterback hurries.
Sophomore defensive back James Mason adds 84 tackles, eight tackles for a loss, three sacks, and four quarterback hurries.
Graham leads the Panthers with three interceptions and three fumble recoveries and Springer adds eight passes defended and an interception.
Four different Maplewood players each registered three sacks.
Junior Ricky Harvell was the main defensive antagonist in the first matchup, finishing with a season-high 12 tackles and Mason posted 10 tackles and two tackles for a loss.
The Panthers are 0-3 all-time versus the Tigers in this budding rivalry, but the games have been close including a triple overtime thriller win at Maplewood in 2015.
Marshall County coach Thomas Osteen has his Tigers resembling a well-oiled machine the past three years with only five regular season losses with two semifinal appearances during that time period.
And despite multiple key injuries occurring towards the end of the season, Osteen has called upon little used reserves to step into huge roles with great results.
Junior Mason Warner has 13 carries for 71 yards and a score in the last four games of the season and sophomore Javarria Rucker added 56 yards on the ground and a score in the past three games since injuries to Hunter Cummings and Miciah Greer.
Cummings had 233 all-purpose yards on offense and 52 tackles, seven tackles for a loss, two tackles, and two interceptions on defense while Greer added 140 all-purpose yards on offense and 45 tackles and three tackles for a loss on defense.
Those are big numbers to fill.
Fortunately, Billy Cheek (58 tackles, TFL, five QB hurries, INT), junior Antonio Warren (53 tackles, four TFL) and Devon Wilson (24 tackles, two INTs) have all stepped up big to fill those holes.
"We have had a lot of guys roles increase in the last few weeks for our football team," Osteen pointed out. "Maybe some of those guys were not quite ready at the start of the year, but have developed into quality varsity players by game thirteen.
“Despite some very tough injuries to key personnel I believe our actual team depth has increased as the season has gone on."
The Tigers are 3-2 on the road this season, but two of the losses came against 6A Brentwood (10-2) and 3A favorite Pearl-Cohn.
The Tigers lost by just four points and put up 24 points on the Firebirds, who have given up just eight points in the past four weeks.
Pearl-Cohn has yet to give up a single score in the first two weeks of the playoffs.
The Tigers uncharacteristically passed just three times in last week’s win over Spring Hill, but all three passes were good, including a 38-yard reception to Wilson to put the ball game away.
Junior signal caller Bryce Wallace has thrown just three interceptions on 203 passes while tossing 17 touchdowns.
"(Wallace) has played extremely efficient and smart football all year," Osteen said. "He has accounted for 23 total TDs on the year with only four turnovers. He continues to get us in the right play on a consistent basis. He has played at an extremely high level in the playoffs."
The Tigers have relied heavily on Mr. Football semifinalist Kamron Liggett, who rushed for 222 yards on 25 carries against Spring Hill and 114 yards on 21 runs for two touchdowns against Maplewood during week five.
The do-it-all senior has ran for over 100 yards in eight of the 12 games in 2017 and 15 in his career.
Liggett has 3,904 yards and 70 touchdowns over the past four seasons.
Liggett ran for 242 yards and three scores on 57 rushes all-time versus the Panthers and will go over the 4,000 yard career mark with 96 yards on Friday.
"Kamron no doubt the last five or six weeks has raised his game to another level," Osteen said. "Part of that was having to play his way back into shape during the first half of the season after being limited in the off season recovering from another shoulder surgery."
"He has so much experience in big games over the last four years that his vision and feel for what we are trying to do as an offense is off the charts right now."
Both Wilson (682 all-purpose yards) and Brandon Rowan (674 yards) have become big play targets as the year has progressed with Dagon Stacey emerging as the go-to receiver with 403 yards on 12 receptions.
Kicker Caleb Estes, nearly automatic on PAT attempts, is 4-8 on field goals, but has not attempted a field goal since October 13 against Spring Hill.
Estes has not made a field goal since the Maplewood game, in which the senior kicker was 2-for-2 including a career long 45-yarder.
On defense, Tavi McLean continues his stellar career year with 87 tackles, 11 tackles for a loss, six sacks, 16 quarterback hurries, five passes defended, and two fumble recoveries.
Grant Agnew adds 75 tackles, Andrew Gold has tallied 64 tackles and an interception, and Marcellus Campbell leads the squad with four interceptions, which includes his first of the season during the first match-up with Maplewood.
McLean teams with senior Josh Johnson (45 tackles, eight hurries, two sacks, and 2.5 TFL) and junior Jayshon Wilcox (45 tackles, 10 quarterback hurries, five TFL, and four sacks) to form one of the most feared defensive lines in all of 4A.
The Tigers are 3-5 all-time in the quarterfinal round of the TSSAA playoffs, but 2-0 under Osteen with wins over Spring Hill (53-13) in 2016 and at East Hamilton (17-7) in 2015.
The Tigers are looking to advance to its fourth all-time semifinal appearances including two the past two seasons.