By JOE CANNON
When the TSSAA reconfigured the football regions last fall, Bradley Central welcomed back some old familiar foes, plus a couple of others they have played the last few years, but there was a new …
When the TSSAA reconfigured the football regions last fall, Bradley Central welcomed back some old familiar foes, plus a couple of others they have played the last few years, but there was a new addition the Bears aren’t as well acquainted with.
“We really don’t know much about Heritage,” remarked veteran Bradley head coach Damon Floyd about Friday’s opponent.
“We haven’t played them since 2008 and they had a different coach back then.”
The Bears and Mountaineers were in the same region from 2001-08, but haven’t faced each other since.
Bradley holds a 5-3 series edge, including winning two of the last three meetings, but that means nothing going into this week’s renewal.
“Our kids have no history or connection with them, so it’s going to be a new experience,” related Coach Floyd.
Friday’s game is the first of three straight for the Bears against Blount County opponents in key Region 2-6A battles.
Tied for seventh with Farragut in this week’s AP state poll, Bradley comes into the contest with a six-game winning streak and tied atop the region race with second-ranked Maryville. Both the Bears and Rebels are 6-1 overall and 3-0 in conference play.
Although it is 3-4 overall, Heritage is tied with Ooltewah (4-3) for third place with 2-1 region records.
“It’s an important game for both teams as we are trying to get into the best playoff position possible,” commented Coach Floyd.
“They are really well coached. Coach (Tim) Hammontree has been around a long time and won a state championship (1998) and was the state runner-up (1997) while at Maryville, plus he coached Rhea County for a couple of years (2004-05).”
The Mountaineer mentor is 10-7 overall in TSSAA playoff games, including leading Heritage back to the postseason the last two seasons after a 15-year drought.
“Offensively, they (Heritage) like to run a two-back set, but they will spread it out some,” Floyd explained. “They are a RPO (run/pass option) team, so the quarterback makes a read on almost every play to decide whether it will be a run or a pass.
“That means our front seven (on defense) will have to expect a run, while the secondary can’t be fooled by what it sees in the backfield.”
Mountaineer signal caller DJ Cooper is a dual threat, having thrown for 989 yards and nine TDs so far this season and is also the team’s second-leading rusher with 448 yards and seven scores on 74 carries.
The 6-foot-3 senior has had a pair of five-touchdown games. He ran for 114 yards and three scores, plus completed 12 passes for 226 yards and a pair TDs against William Blount.
Cooper also threw for 270 yards and a trio of touchdowns as well as scoring twice on 56 rushing yards against Cleveland in their last game two weeks ago.
Despite missing a game, James Ambargis (5-foot-10, 210) is Heritage’s top runner with 552 yards and a trio of scores on 105 rushes. He has had three 100-yard rushing game, plus a 99-yarder, this season.
Injuries have plagued the Mountaineer receiving corps with each of their top three pass catchers missing at least two games and their top guy possibly out for this Friday.
Senior Kameron Johnson (6-0, 150) scored three times on five catches for 143 yards against Cleveland to push his season numbers to 16 receptions for 389 yards, finding the end zone a half dozen times in just four games.
Junior Max Bowers (6-3, 175) has been the main target, hauling in 23 aerials for 326 yards and a pair of scores.
Senior Tim Schultz (6-0, 170) has also found paydirt twice in 15 catches for 185 yards. Both Bowers and Schultz have only played in five games.
The Bradley offense continued its deadly assault in last week’s second-half rally for a 38-28 win at Soddy-Daisy for its sixth straight win.
All-stater Lameric Tucker continued adding to his Bradley records with the third-best single game in program history as he pulled in eight passes for 192 yards and a pair of scores.
The UT-Chattanooga commit owns five of the Top 9 single-game receiving yardage marks in Bear history, including games of 176 (Walker Valley) and 165 (Ooltewah) yards earlier this season.
The 6-foot speedster with a 43-inch veritical leap owns the century old program marks for most career receptions (181), yardage (2,961) and TDs (28), adding to them each time out.
As a team, the Bears have gained 2,906 yards and put 250 points on the scoreboard in the first seven games.
The “Black Hole Defense” has given up only 139 points and just over 1,900 yards during the same span.
The Bear secondary will be without senior safety Jake Presley this week after he injured his shoulder during the first half of last Thursday’s victory.
“JP will be out at least this week and we’ll just have to see if he’s able to go the following week,” related Coach Floyd.
“Nick Howell (who just returned from an injury) also broke a finger last week, but continued to play and will be ready to go Friday.”
This week Bradley will face a 4-3 defense that “mixes its coverages well and brings some stunts from the outside,” according to Bear offensive coordinator Keith Freeman.
“They are big up front and are a read-and-react-style defense.”
The Bears and Mountaineers have two common opponents this season, with both having defeated McMinn County (49-14 and 35-28 respectively), while Bradley defeated Cleveland (27-21), but despite a quick 14-0 lead, Heritage fell to the Blue Raiders 47-34.
“They are going to come in here and give us all they’ve got, so we need to be ready,” declared Coach Floyd. “Everybody seems to play us a little differently than what they show on tape, so we will have to make adjustments when we see exactly what they are doing.”
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