Tigers focused on defeating unbeaten Greeneville
After gutting out a 29-22 come from behind win over Maplewood last week in the Class 4-A quarterfinals, the Marshall County Tigers take on an East Tennessee squad for the third year in a row with a spot in the BlueCross Bowl finals on the line.
Marshall County lost to Knoxville Catholic in 2015 on the road and at home last season to Knoxville Central.
Many pundits and predictors did not foresee this year’s team making it this far after the loss of many key players, but the Tigers have hung tough and that did not surprise Marshall County coach Thomas Osteen, who has a 9-3 playoff record at the helm.
“We are thrilled that we have made the semifinal round for the third consecutive year. Many people around the Mid-State felt that we would experience a drop off with all the talent that we lost,” Osteen stated. “Hopefully that speaks to the standard that has been set for the program in that no matter who the faces, striving for excellence will always be the goal.”
“Needless to say our kids want to get over this hump extremely bad and play for all the marbles.”
It’s a tough week to play semifinal contests with Thanksgiving the day before the big game at undefeated Greeneville (13-0), but Osteen is well aware of the challenges ahead and feels his team has the experience to overcome the pitfalls.
“We will try and have a very specific plan in place for game prep and travel this week with school being out on Wednesday,” Osteen said. “It will be a balance of getting ready for the game, recovering from the previous weeks, and spending some quality family time during the week as well.”
Both teams come in to the semifinal game winning in come from behind fashion as the Tigers erased a 14-0 deficit in their win versus Maplewood, while the Greene Devils trailed 31-21 at halftime before pitching a second half shutout in their 35-31 win over previously unbeaten Anderson County.
“I am so proud of the way we fought as a team Friday in the face of some big adversity,” Osteen said. “We by no means played our best game of the year, but we never gave up and scratched and clawed our way to a win. We had a bunch of guys who were banged up who sacrificed for the team the entire night.”
Greenville’s win was its closest margin of victory of the season, which was previously 14 points at rival Elizabethton on October 13.
The Greene Devils hold a 601-to-150 edge in scoring on the year with a 218-to-35 advantage in the all-important first quarter.
The game features one Mr. Football finalist in Greeneville quarterback Cade Ballard and one who should be in MCHS senior running back Kamron Liggett, who was mysteriously slighted after being named a semifinalist.
Ballard has completed 161-of-196 pass attempts for 2,772 yards with 33 touchdowns and just five interceptions on the season. Ballard also leads the Green Devils in rushing with 762 yards and 14 TD.
Liggett, Marshall County’s all-time leading rusher with 4,054 career yards has put up huge numbers this season, running for 1,753 yards and 33 touchdowns. Liggett also has 18 receptions for 152 yards out of the backfield and one score.
Four other players to watch for the Greene Devils are WR/DB Seth Crawford, Greenville’s program record holder in TD receptions in a season (12), career receiving yards, and interceptions in a season.
Running back/linebacker Ty Youngblood is the second leading rusher behind Ballard and the second leading tackler behind linebacker Kenny Kershaw, one of the few seniors who even play for the Greene Devils.
Taylor Gillespie is another player to watch as the defensive lineman leads the team in tackles for losses and sacks.
“Greeneville has been undefeated and number one in the state all year for a reason,” Osteen said. “They have no weaknesses physically at any spot on the field. They are big, physical, fast, and are coached extremely well. It will no doubt take our best game in all three phases to beat them.”
The Tigers fell behind Maplewood mainly because of some early turnovers and that is something Osteen and his squad will have to avoid this week if they want to come away with the big road win at Greeneville.
“I hate that the turnover bug bit us bad for the first time all year, but hopefully that's the sign of a very seasoned and tough football team, one that does not play its best and still finds a way to win in the playoffs,” Osteen stated.
After two tries and losses in the semifinal round, MCHS is poised to make their first state final appearance since the 1984 undefeated title season and Osteen and the Tigers need the support of the Big Blue nation this week at Burley Stadium.
“I expect there to be a ton of blue in East Tennessee this Friday night,” Osteen said. “Greeneville has one of the top three stadiums in the state and they pack it each week. It will be an electric atmosphere to play a game in!”
Tigers win 41-38.