Title run has good taste for FCS players
Posted: Friday, December 2, 2011 6:28 am
The football players at Friendship Christian School have tasted plenty of success in recent years.
Many of the players on head coach John McNeal’s squad played baseball for him back in the spring when the Commanders finished as the state runner-up in the Class 1A tournament.
The school’s volleyball team, meanwhile, won the 1A state championship a month ago.
So, with that recent history on their side, the 2011 football players are ready for a feast Saturday in Cookeville.
“Most of these guys have had success,” McNeal said. “A lot of them play baseball for me and were on our state finals team in the spring. They got a little taste of what that’s like, and now they want that for football, too.”
The Commanders will get their chance in the BlueCross Bowl 2A championship game at noon Saturday at Tucker Stadium on the Tennessee Tech campus.
“The kids are excited,” McNeal said. “The ones who played baseball for me know what that excitement is about, and they like that excitement.”
Perhaps adding to the excitement is the fact that the Commanders might have been counted out of the championship race early in the season after a couple of losses in the first weeks of the season.
FCS was 1-2 following losses to DCA and Gordonsville that sandwiched a 21-7 win over White House Heritage. After three consecutive wins, the Commanders were shut out 17-0 at Trousdale County.
That loss — as Trousdale and Boyd Buchanan continued to win and keep the top spots in the 2A rankings — pushed Friendship Christian down to a fourth seed in the same quad with those two highly-touted teams.
Counted out by most observers, McNeal and his players always believed a short trip to Cookeville was possible.
“I think early on, we had some thoughts we might could make a run,” McNeal said. “Of course, we knew the people, like Trousdale, we’d have to play to get there. We lost some games early, games we had just as much of a chance as winning. We still had some spots we needed to fill, and those early games helped us do that. And, losing early kind of took the heat off us because people took us off their lists.”
McNeal said the loss to Trousdale County — the Commanders have not tasted defeat since, running off seven straight wins — might have been a blessing in disguise.
The coaches changed their game plan in preparation for a possible rematch in the playoffs. FCS began running the ball more, getting Dekolas Reeves in good situations to make plays. He has responded with 1,288 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns in the team’s run-first philosophy.
“It’s been pretty good,” Reeves said of the offensive tweaks. “Since we’ve been in the power-I, we’ve been a better team, and I’ve benefited from that. The O-line has been a big part of that.”
FCS have averaged 43 points a game since that shutout loss, scoring over 40 points four times, more than 50 twice and eclipsing 60 once.
Friendship Christian did that to the tune of a 24-14 win in the second round and followed that with a 21-20 win over Boyd Buchanan in the quarterfinals, a game where FCS might have benefited from a referee’s call on a touchdown to win.
The Commanders then put away Oliver Springs, the third seed out of the bracket’s top quad, with a 39-6 win.
“We had a tough road early (in the playoffs),” McNeal said. “The kids have been resilient, and last week was one of the more complete games we’ve played.”
Behind Reeves in the team’s ground-oriented offensive attack are two players who share time at quarterback. Tallon Mehloff has 619 yards, and Brennan Swindoll has rushed for 566 yards this season.
Swindoll is the passing QB, when FCS decides to go airborne. He has completed 28-of-59 passes for 421 yards. Dalton Patterson is his main target with 23 catches for 471 yards and seven scores.
The Commanders are interested more in quality than quantity in its passing game, evidenced by last week’s win. Swindoll threw just five times, but completed all five with three going for scores.
Kyle Wood, a 6-0, 210-pound linebacker, is one of the leaders of a defense that has been consistent all season. FCS has allowed just 151 points with three shutouts and five other games with only one TD allowed.
“We’ve been consistent on defense, even in the games we’ve lost,” Wood said. “And, our offense has really turned it on lately and has started to hold the ball longer.”
The Commanders like to strike quickly, having outscored opponents 162-20 in the first quarter and 180-16 in the second. Published in The WCP 12.1.11