Tigers successful in final tune up
Every coach in high school football reaches for the same goal towards the end of the summer through preseason scrimmages and jamborees.
With the first game of the regular season just around the corner, Tiger coach Thomas Osteen, along with every other coach in America, just wants to see steady improvement from their teams before the opener.
And with a 23-0 win in just two quarters over visiting Lipscomb Academy at Preston Hopkins Field on Friday night, the Tigers did just that.
"I feel just from our three preseason scrimmages that we have gotten better each week," Osteen said. "Two weeks ago at Fairview we struggled and got better at Ooltewah and I think we definitely got better this week."
"Lipscomb's a well-coached team and it's no secret they're not as good as they've been in the past but I think we did a bunch of good things on both sides of the ball," Osteen continued. "Anytime you can end the night with not letting a varsity team score that makes you field good."
The Mustangs, who finished the 2016 season at 7-3 and made the 4A playoffs, experienced some heavy growing pains moving from the 4A public division to Division II AA private division.
Lipscomb finished last season 1-10 but lost to 2A semifinalist Columbia Academy (12-2) and DII AA semi-finalist Battle Ground Academy (11-2) by just 10 points each and second round qualifier Franklin Road Academy (D-II AA) by just three points.
The two teams battled neck and neck with a scoreless first quarter before the Tigers scored 23 unanswered in the second quarter for the final preseason win.
"I feel like we started off killing ourselves, shooting ourselves in the foot with penalties," senior quarterback Mailk Thomison offered. "But we came around and started playing our game and everything turned out the way we needed it to."
The offense finally started picking up major yards in the final minutes of the first quarter with running back Javarria Rucker breaking off two long runs to put the Tigers on the Mustangs 40-yard line.
Thomison hit Carson Stacey out of the backfield for another first down at the Lipscomb 27-yard line before the drive stalled.
But with 11:02 left in the second quarter, untested kicker Jon Estes booted a 34-yard field goal on his first ever attempt to give the Tigers the 3-0 edge.
Rucker continued to put the Tigers on his back as the junior gained 40-plus yards on a run to put the home team back to within striking distance.
"Last year we had a beast (Kamron Liggett) in the backfield," Rucker said. "Coach has been telling me, wait on my time, wait on my time. My time has finally came this year and I'm just trying to make the best of it."
Rucker's backfield partner Elijah Taylor finished the drive off by running over Mustang safety Tad Greer on the way into the end zone for an 11-yard touchdown and the 10-0 lead after the Estes extra point.
The next scoring play belonged to senior Dagon Stacey, who drifted out of the backfield to catch a tipped pass from Thomison for the first Tiger score through the air with 1:36 remaining.
"We ran the play earlier in the drive, we saw it was open but didn't get to it so we ran it again," Stacey recalled. "I lined up at fullback and I ran around the end, Malik threw a good pass but it got tipped a little bit but I came back and made the grab. I made the first guy miss and knew I had to get to the end zone.
The game looked to be all but over before the defense was able to get on the board when junior Kel Greer jumped a Mustang pass and took the pick to the house to end the contest in a 23-0 Tiger shutout.
"The whole game they tried me a couple times," Greer said. "The first couple times I was just jumping for it but the third time I was watching the quarterback and he threw the ball right to me."
And just like Tiger fans and coaches expected with so much turnover from the 2017 season, some new faces made big impressions in the final contest before the regular season takes off.
"I definitely think there was (some new standouts)," Osteen said. "Jon Estes, our kicker, you can tell that he's not his brother yet but he has a very promising career ahead of him. He doesn't have a very strong leg yet but we mentioned earlier we probably wouldn't try a field goal over 25 yards and he made a 34 yarder and with kickoffs, he did a great jib with those too. I'm really happy with the progress he made."
"Definitely, a huge play by Kel Greer," Osteen added. "Kel Greer is a name that hasn't played much varsity football yet but he's going to be a big football player for us. He's just a junior, he's physical and he's got some ball skills too."
"Another guy, I can't say enough about is Elijah Taylor," Osteen added. "Last year, knock on wood, tore his ACL. He would have been a good player for us last year but it just wasn't meant to be. If we're gonna compete against bigger teams, he's got to have a big year. He had a big night for us tonight.
Now the Tigers look forward to the opener in southern Davidson County on Friday night at Cane Ridge.
The Ravens, who upset 2015 6A State Champion Ravenwood 21-18 in the quarterfinals, 2016 6A State Champion Whitehaven 14-7 in the semifinals before get trounced by 16-time state champion Maryville in the 6A title game, are looking to prove that 2017 was not a fluke.
Cane Ridge started off 2017 with a last minute 27-20 win over the Tigers.
With so many gone from that 2017 Marshall County squad, Cane Ridge is once again the popular pick by the local sports writers.
"Bottom line, the pressure is on them," Osteen, who is 3-1 overall in season openers, pointed out. "They're supposed to be a 6A deep playoff contending team and they're a heavy favorite to beat us so all the pressure is on them so we can play loose and play our game and really try and frustrate them for a long time, slow the game down and hopefully get the game into the fourth quarter with a shot to win."