Although its been 23 years since Bradley Central and Hixson have met on the gridiron, the coaches are very familiar with the other team’s style of play.
Three of Hixson’s coaches, including head man Jason Fitzgerald, were at Rhea County until a couple of years ago and have turned the Wildcat program around.
“Although Hixson is a new team for us, (Jason) Fitzgerald and Walt (Cameron), plus they have one other former Rhea assistant, are very familiar with what we do,” explained Bear head coach Damon Floyd. “They have done a good job of turning that program into a playoff team last year, plus they are predicted to win their district (6-AA) this year.”
After going 7-4 last season, including 6-1 in 6-AA play, the Wildcats are off to a 2-1 start to the young season, having won back-to-back games against state-ranked South Pittsburg (29-6) and Tyner (48-35). Hixson’s season-opening loss came when it gave up four touchdowns in the final quarter of a 24-7 defeat to Soddy-Daisy.
“They are not the biggest team we’ll face up front, but they are good at what they do and they have two of the best (running) backs we’ll see all season,” remarked coach Floyd.
Isaiah Robinson has gained 340 yards and scored four TDs on 43 carries in the last two games, while Kendrick Bradley has helped out with 248 yards of total offense in those same Wildcat victories, finding the end zone twice in 33 carries and four receptions.
After rushing 48 times for 283 yards (5.89 average per carry) against South Pittsburg, Hixson went for 327 yards on 57 tries (5.73 average per carry) last week in the shootout with Tyner. The Wildcats were down by a touchdown at the end of the third quarter against the Rams before rallying for 20 unanswered points in the final 12 minutes.
“They are playing with a lot of confidence,” added Bradley offensive coordinator Keith Freeman, who served as Fitzgerald’s defensive coordinator at Rhea in 2000. “Jason is a riverboat gambler. He’ll try some risky things that you have to deal with, especially on special teams.”
In the only two meetings between the Fitzgerald-coached Eagles and the Bears, Bradley prevailed 28-24 in 2010 and 39-29 in 2009.
After bouncing back from an opening-season loss themselves, the Bears (1-1) stunned perennial Middle Tennessee powerhouse Riverdale in their last game, but that was two weeks ago.
“I hate bye weeks,” proclaimed coach Floyd. “They take you out of your rhythm. It seems like so long ago since we’ve played, and the guys are tired of going against each other (in practice) and want to hit somebody new. It’s easy to get into a lull when you have a week off during the season.
“I’m not happy with our first three weeks (of the season),” the Bear mentor added. “We still have a lot to learn about trusting out teammates and staying with our assignments. We are still making too many mistakes.”
While Bradley has put up 612 yards off offense and scored 66 points in its first two outings, the Black-and-Gold have also surrendered 725 yards and 64 points.
Bear senior quarterback Brett Standifer has completed 25-of-40 passes for 417 yards and seven touchdowns, with classmate Cal Pickel being the main target with nine catches for 171 yards and a pair of scores. Senior Dee Crisp is averaging more than 23 yards per catches with five receptions for 116 yards and three TDs, while junior Daniel Clark has 101 yards on five catches and a score.
While the Bear defense is still without senior linebacker Eduardo Trevino, who has been released for conditioning but not contact, leading tacklers Warren Crisp (22 tackles, 2 for loss) and Jordan Timmons (21, 3) are expected to play, although they are “a little banged up.”
The Bradley coaches are also expecting the return of sophomore linebacker Colby Alford, who missed the last game, plus long snapper James Peck will be making his first appearance in the lineup after a preseason injury.
“We need to shake off the bye week and come out ready to play, because Fitzgerald will have his team ready to go,” commented coach Floyd.
“We have to execute our game plan and our assignments, plus eliminate mistakes. Going into their place is going to be tough, so we don’t need to help them with turnovers or penalties.”
Friday evening’s clash will be just the fifth meeting between the two schools with the Bears holding a 3-1 edge in the series.
The teams played from 1987-90, while the late Bill “Chief” Robertson was directing the Bradley teams.
The Bears won the first three meetings, while the Wildcats managed a 22-21 win in the last meeting in 1990.