By JOE CANNON
Having to once again make a long trek for a TSSAA second round playoff contest, Bradley Central knows there is much more than just the football game to deal with Friday.“We have to handle the whole …
Having to once again make a long trek for a TSSAA second round playoff contest, Bradley Central knows there is much more than just the football game to deal with Friday.
“We have to handle the whole day,” declared Bear head coach Damon Floyd. “We’ve got several things going before we get to the game itself.”
Last year it was a two-hour trip to Blackman in Murfreesboro, this time around is a three-plus hour trek to the Virginia state line to face Dobyns-Bennett.
“We’ll have a brunch at the school about 10:30 before we leave around 11. We’re going to stop at Carson-Newman (Jefferson City) for a ‘walk through’ and then we’ll eat lunch once we get to Kingsport, before we go over to the stadium,” Floyd related.
“It’ll be a long day, but we’re glad to be doing it because it means we’re still playing.”
As the Region 2 runners-up, the ninth-ranked Bears (9-2) had to hit the road to the Region 1 champion Indians (8-3), after the hosts were able to easily dispose of Ooltewah 30-7 in last week’s opening round.
Bradley defeated the Owls 42-35 during the regular season and earned their third trip to the second playoff round since 2010 with a 41-34 win over Science Hill, which had handed D-B a 35-14 defeat, back in Week 3.
Both teams also played sixth-ranked Farragut during the campaign with the Bears falling 27-21 in a season-opening overtime battle, while the Indians sank the Admirals 42-34 in early October.
“We’ve had some common opponents so we can get an idea of what they’ve done when they faced teams we’ve played,” commented Floyd.
While Friday’s combatants have battled 19 times in the last 90 years, the two most recent games have gone to the Bears.
Playing in the same Super 32 region the last two seasons, the teams combined to put 172 points on the scoreboards.
Bradley got 10 catches for 243 yards and a trio of scores from all-state receiver Lameric Tucker in 41-33 shootout at Bear Stadium last fall.
The last time the Black-and-Gold went to Kingsport’s impressive facilities with its five-story pressbox and supersized Jumbotron, Cole Copeland and Tyler Carpenter connected for the second-best outing in Bradley history.
Copeland completed 31 passes for 474 yards and five TDs, plus rushed for another 115 and three more scores.
Carpenter hauled in 17 of those receptions for 303 yards and two scores, while Anthony White set a program record with eight extra points in the 56-42 explosion. It was the most points given up by the Indians in 53 years.
“We’ve had some exciting games the last two years and expect nothing less Friday night,” declared Floyd.
The last time the teams met in the playoffs was in 1976, when the Bears claimed a 24-18 victory in a state semifinal game played in Sevierville.
Bradley went on to claim the state championship the following week over Jackson Central-Merry in a 50-48 triple overtime classic.
This time around the stakes are high again as the winner advances to take on the Maryville-Farragut victor in the state quarterfinals on Nov. 17, while the loser packs away the equipment until next summer.
“We’ve been going at it hard since January (offseason conditioning) and our guys want to keep playing,” proclaimed Floyd, who said his team is in good shape injury wise, but has been dealing with some sickness this week.
“This time of year we’ve seen enough film that both teams know what the other likes to do, so it comes down to communication and execution.
“We have to make the fewer mistakes, not turn the ball over and cut down our penalties,” the veteran mentor stated.
“Like all the teams at this point, they (D-B) are big, fast and strong. Like last week, our defensive line will be outweighed by about 100 pounds per man.
“They like to establish the run first and are a RPO (run-pass option) team, so you have to defend the whole field at all times,” Floyd explained.
The Indians’ leading rusher is Ian Hicks, a 5-foot-11, 198-pound junior who has gained 1,474 yards on 214 carries (6.9 ypc), with 15 reaching the end zone, plus caught 13 passes for 142 yards and a score.
Sophomore Keno Taylor goes 5-foot-11, 230 pounds and has piled up 380 yards on 65 carries and found paydirt 11 times this season.
While Hicks and Taylor provide the muscle, junior Nick Bristol (5-foot-9, 160) has the speed, racing for 454 yards on 76 tries with a half dozen TDs.
While they’ve gained 2,250 yards on the ground this season, D-B can also go to the air, having posted a more than 2,000-yard aerial attack.
“They have multiple guys (seven of their nine pass catchers have gain at least 100 yards during the regular season) who can catch and run well with the ball.
“No. 5 (senior Deonta Williams) is their main target (34 receptions, 550 yards, six TDs),” the Bear coach related.
Senior Matt Diminick has pulled in 34 passes for 481 yards and a pair of scores, while Caleb Whetsell has 279 yards on 21 receptions with a TD.
Junior quarterback Lendon Redwine is a 6-foot-4, 200-pound gunslinger who completed 133-of-233 (57 percent) for 2,001 yards and 10 scores during the first 10 games this season.
The Indians have a strong kicking game as well with senior Drew Miller having connected on 33-of-35 extra points and 5-for-6 on field goal attempts, with a long kick of 38 yards.
Defensively, D-B “is a bend, don’t break” type squad according to the Bear coaches.
“They have a big defensive line that gets in your face and holds things up, plus some really good linebackers that really get to the ball,” related Bradley OC Keith Freeman. “They will load the box to stop the run and they have a couple of shut down corners.”
“Field position is going to be key,” declared Floyd.
“They won probably the toughest Class 6A region up and down. Their losses are to Greeneville and Alcoa, who are both ranked No. 1 (in 4A and 3A respectively), plus Science Hill. They beat Oak Ridge (ranked fifth in 5A) and Farragut (the 2015 Class 5A champion). They’ve played a really tough schedule.”
The Indians have outscored their opponents 338-243 so far this season, while the Bears have posted a 376-237 advantage.
Tied with Maryville for the most victories (782) in Tennessee high school history, D-B has been in the playoffs 29 straight years, including each of head coach Graham Clark’s 25 seasons. The Indians are 251-67 (.789 winning percentage) since Clark took over in 1993.
The Indians were voted state champs six times between 1945-60, but since the playoff system began in 1969, the best they’ve done is reach the semifinals four times (1976, 1998, 2000, 2002).
Bradley, with a state title in 1961 and ’76, is believed to be third in state history among public schools with 594 victories and is playing in its 22nd postseason.
After taking over a program that went 9-41 in its previous five years (including 1-19 the two seasons prior to him being hired), Floyd has posted a 70-51 record in a dozen campaigns, including making the playoff each of the last eight seasons.
This year’s Bear offense has gained 4,500 yards — 2,810 through the air and 1,690 on the ground.
Junior signal caller Dylan Standifer still has one top completion percentages at .705 (163-of-231) in the state. He has thrown for 2,729 yards and has a 25-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Tucker is averaging 21.1 yards on 67 receptions for 1.388 yards and 11 scores. The UTC commit has added 128 rushing yards and four more TDs.
Senior Nick Howell has also been a dual-threat with 452 yards on 29 catches and another 411 on 78 carries, scoring a total of 13 times.
Senior running back Adam Mullis is second in the area with 776 yards on 129 carries (6.0 ypc) and crossed the goal line four times.
Appalachian State commit Jay Person leads the “Black Hole Defense” with 94 total tackles, including 48 solos, 21 tackles for loss, a dozen sacks and five takeaways.
With kickoff slated for 7 Friday evening and having to deal with Knoxville traffic during the 180-mile trip, Bear Nation may have to take a half day off work for the journey, but the time and effort will be well worth it.
Bear fans should also be prepared to bundle up with an expected game-time temperature of 38 degrees.
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