Thursday, March 31, 2016

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

A CHAMPIONSHIP GAME FOR THE AGES


In Epic 2-OT Title Game, MBA, BA Stake Claim to History
by Mark Smith, Class of 1980



In the October 9 game at Brentwood Academy, MBA had been demolished, 48 to 14. The Big Red started slowly and were behind by 17 points when the second quarter ended. Then, in the second half, the wheels came off completely. BA imposed its will and talk on the field among some of the Eagles turned to their fantasy football trades.


At the Quarterback Club lunch on October 20, MBA head coach Marty Euverard called the performance at BA “our worst game of the season.” The Big Red had entered the game believing that it could win, in spite of size and skill disparities at many positions. BA had three D-1 commitments, while MBA had none on its active roster; and BA would have 8 players named to the All-State team, compared to 4 for MBA. To be so completely dominated by an arch-rival hurt the Big Red players and coaches, “especially the way we lost.” But Coach Euverard was calm and unflinching as he discussed playoff scenarios with the gathering of MBA parents and fans:


Head Coach Marty Euverard
Hopefully we will get to see those guys again, and I would prefer in  the championship game. That’s the way it would happen as long as we can go down to Baylor and play well and get a win… I think that’s the way it’s going to happen.


If you are an MBA football outsider, you could be excused for viewing Coach Euverard’s remarks as the mere rhetoric of a coach trying to spin a bad loss or mollify anxious parents and alumni. Maybe, you thought, Euverard was just trying to motivate his team to test the bounds of futility – to push the boulder a few more yards up the hill.

But you would be wrong on all counts.


***


Entering the 2015 season, the MBA football squad faced a number of weighty questions. While star junior tailback Ty Chandler returned, other key positions were unsettled. How would MBA replace star quarterback Cole Euverard, who was awarded Mr. Football honors in 2014 and named the offensive MVP of last year’s title victory over Ensworth? Would the Big Red’s kicking game suffer a setback with the graduation of Davis Luster? Could MBA develop the players to support and complement Chandler, and perhaps even win a second consecutive state title for the first time in more than a decade? What rising juniors and seniors would step up to fill the leadership void left by Euverard, T.J. Jefferson, Austin Rolfe, Michael Lacey and the other outstanding seniors from Team 116?


The answers to these questions began to emerge at the Big Red’s summer camp at Bell Buckle. The July training camp is where starting positions are won, team bonds are forged and chemistry is developed. Sometimes players ask, or are asked, to try new positions.
Brett Starr, after competing for quarterback, was moved to linebacker. J.C. Fogg went from linebacker to fullback, where his role was to block his opponent just long enough for Ty Chandler to get through, “then Ty is gone.” Dean Cheevers, whose previous football experience had been as manager for the 8th-grade team, was the No. 1 kicker.  Glenn Coleman was tabbed as the starting quarterback.  Coleman, the fourth-string QB on the MBA freshman team, had played sparingly and had not thrown a single pass in 2014 as the back-up for Cole Euverard. He was untested and unproven. “It’s definitely different,” Coleman said, “going from a nobody to a starting QB.” That changed in the first  game on August 21 at Hewitt-Trussville. Coleman connected on a 69-yard TD pass to Montgomery Owen before halftime. He then hit Clint Blackwell for a 48-yard completion as MBA trailed in the 4th quarter, to set up the winning TD run by Ty Chandler.”From that point on,” Fogg said, “he was definitely the quarterback for us.”
QB Glenn Coleman '16

The Bid Red saw adversity early in the season. Jordan Wilson, the 6’5” starting tight end and MBA’s only D-1 commitment (UCLA), injured his foot and was out for the season. Safety Gabe Mendoza was also hurt and lost for the year. Then Blackwell was severely injured and hospitalized for leg surgery. Although only a sophomore, Blackwell had been MBA’s best post route receiver, according to Coach Euverard. As they continued to cope with such challenges, the Big Red players would be reminded, more than once, of Proverbs 24:10: “If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small.”

MBA won the next 6 games in convincing fashion, torching 3 opponents by more than 40 points. The closest tests were a home victory by 11 points against Pearl Cohn, and a road win by 6 against McCallie. The latter win was marred by a severe ankle injury to Owen, a dynamic two-way player known for his big plays.

When MBA took the field on October 9 at BA, MBA was 7 and 0. BA had lost only once, against national powerhouse Louisville Trinity. Whether suffering from too much confidence, or not enough, MBA was inefficient and had to punt on its first three possessions. BA’s offense, led by star quarterback Jeremiah Oatsvall, was nearly unstoppable. In the second half, an interception as MBA was driving deep in BA territory quickly led to a BA touchdown. The Big Red never recovered.

The final score: BA 48, MBA 14. Afterwards, Coach Euverard told his shell-shocked, disheartened players “to look at the scoreboard and just take a snapshot in your mind … I wanted it to burn in them a little bit, make them hungry and have a sense of urgency.”
***
"I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."
- Michael Jordan


***
During the two-week bye period following the BA debacle, there were no major overhauls of the playbook or coaching strategy, and certainly no panic. The Big Red channeled the frustration of their failures into a higher intensity during tough, physical practices as they prepared for Baylor – the game that Coach Euverard had flagged as the key to another MBA title.

Although missing left guard John Kelly to injury, the Big Red responded with a huge, 35-21 victory against Baylor in a game that was not as close as the final score. At the time, team members felt that it was their best, most complete and most fun game of the season. In a hostile road environment, the Big Red were spurred on by three classmates who blasted “Thunderstruck,” “Pipe it Up,” and “Everytime We Touch” from Mackie PA system speakers. The only bad news was a severe knee injury to all-state linebacker David Gaw as he forced a Baylor fumble. After being unable to play in the Christian Brothers game, Gaw would spend the rest of the season helping to train his replacement, junior Connor Mulloy. The 2015 season proved to be “one of the most injury prone years I’ve ever been a part of,” Euverard said.  “And the fill-ins did a good job. It’s remarkable.”


LB David Gaw '16
In the final regular season game, MBA narrowly prevailed over Ensworth (which BA had demolished 49 to 7 on October 2). Owen saw brief action in his return from injury, even kicking off in place of the sidelined Cheevers. MBA began its playoff quest with a home win over McCallie, followed by a semi-final road victory over Christian Brothers.  Both opponents are former state champions and by no means push-overs. But MBA had improved with each game and was playing its best football now, when it mattered the most.
The Big Red had earned a championship game rematch with BA, just as Coach Euverard had predicted. In 2014, MBA had avenged each of its regular season losses and hoped to do so again.  The week before the final, Euverard encouraged his players, “If we play our best, we’re going to win.” Or, as Sam Sullivan recalls the coach’s words, “Your best will be enough.”

Murphy Fair, the well-known guru of high school football who has covered the Tennessee prep gridiron for nearly 25 years, picked BA to win the championship. But having covered Coach Euverard for many years including his two state championships, Fair knew never to count MBA out. In his pre-season football guide, he had presciently ranked BA and MBA in a tie for first place. While the October 9 game had been lopsided, a gut instinct told Fair that MBA would prevail on December 3. What he did not know was that as the sideline TV reporter, Fair would be witness to one of the most exhilarating championships in state history, in which three D II-AA records were set.

“I think it has to be among the top 3 or 4 games I’ve ever seen in person, regardless of what level, college, pro, high school,” Fair said. “And obviously I’ve seen hundreds of high school football games. I think everyone that followed high school football on a regular basis, walked away saying, ‘I got to see a game they’ll be talking about 20 years from now.’”


***
When MBA travels to an away game, the decibel level on the varsity bus is always low. Players listen to music on their earbuds to try to relax and focus on the task at hand. There is little conversation. On December 3, after an afternoon dinner and walk-through in Cookeville, the trip to Tennessee Tech was particularly quiet. Motorcycle police and state trooper patrols led the Big Red convoy to Tucker Stadium. As they saw the stadium lights cut into the cold and overcast sky, the team tried to keep its swirling emotions in check.


“We had a lot of built-up emotions from the last game,” Chandler recalled. “We knew it was the last game for the seniors and we wanted to come out and end it on a good note.” The Big Red seniors included Jesse Turner, who had wrestled as a sophomore and junior just so he’d have a chance to start football as a senior; and linebacker Gaw.  As Gaw walked on crutches to midfield along with the other 3 Big Red captains, the lights, fans and scene were surreal. “You’re here, you’re at the state championship,” Gaw said. “I’ll remember that moment for the rest of my life.”


With the game’s first possession, MBA left no doubt that it was ready. Montgomery Owen fielded a difficult, bouncing kick at the 5 yard line, then took off for a 29-yard return. The next play, Ty Chandler ran 14 yards, following blocks by K.P. Frazier and Parker Bryan. On 2nd and 9, MBA ran a play action targeting Owen, and BA was flagged for holding on the pass. 

Then, on 2nd and 7 at BA’s 38, Glenn Coleman dropped back and went for the end zone. The pass, a tight, soaring spiral, was perfectly measured. Owen, fully extended, dove to make the catch at the 1 yard line. (Martin: “A big-time catch by Montgomery Owen. He just seems to make play after play when the ball comes his way.”) Recalled Coleman, “Monty got separation and made a hecukva catch. I was definitely fired up. That gave me a ton of hope for the game.” The ball was thrown deep and even though Owen was held on the play, he told himself, “We’ve got to get this ball so I ended up catching it. It was very important and I knew I could get to it.”

Three plays later, Chandler dove for a touchdown, with less than 4 minutes gone in the first quarter. Did anyone need more evidence that tonight would be different?

Senior middle linebacker Sam Sullivan, who along with David Gaw played every defensive play in MBA’s title victory over Ensworth last year, can’t help but laugh when he recalls the intensity of the game’s start. As the defense met with its coaches for final instructions, the players expected to hear coach Chris Chauvin’s familiar final words: “Pride and Poise.” The defenders would always shout the refrain, “Knock Them Back.” But tonight, coach Chauvin yelled, “Knock Them Back,” paused and then repeated “Knock Them Back” when there was nothing but puzzled silence from his squad. After coach Sean Brock reminded him he’s supposed to say “Pride and Poise,” Coach Chauvin became even more excited, was playfully shoved by Coach Euverard and simply yelled, “Let’s go!”
LB Sam Sullivan '16
The exuberance extended to MBA’s first chance to stop BA’s potent offense. Captain Sam Sullivan was given the defensive signals from the sideline. He was able to relay those to his 10 guys, but “I was so worked up” that he momentarily blanked on what he was supposed to do. Fortunately, he got by on that series without missing his coverage, and then was refreshed on the signals during his first trip to the sidelines. Sullivan quickly recovered and went on to play his best game ever, and on the biggest stage, leading MBA with 9 solo tackles. Known by his teammates for his relentless work ethic, Sullivan was named the Defensive MVP of the Blue Cross Bowl.

After BA scored with the aid of long runs by Cameron Johnson and Oatvsvall for the score, MBA’s offensive series was boosted by a 21 yard run by Ty Chandler, aided by great blocks from Joseph Scowden and Jake Evans. Then, on 2nd and 8 from the MBA 44, MBA returned to play action with a long pass down the left sideline. Tight end Jake Evans – remember his name – and his defender leapt for the ball, both tipping it, but the ball floated into Evans’ hands as he went down. (Martin: “Big play by junior tight end Evans.” Merrick: “Glenn Coleman coming out firing tonight.”) A few plays later, Phelps Gambill, Frazier and Evans cleared a path for  Chandler to speed all the way to the 5 yard line, stopped short of the end zone only when Johnson grabbed his jersey and held on for dear life. Chandler then followed John Kelly and scored his second TD on a 3-yard run, giving him 90 yards on 12 carries (Merrick: “He’s already off to a monster start for the Big Red.”) And the first quarter was not yet over.

After Sam Sullivan dropped Prince Momodu for a 2-yard loss, BA faced 4th and 12 from deep in its own territory. A roughing the kicker penalty went against MBA for 15 yards rather than 5, giving BA fresh downs. A long completion by the elusive Oatsvall, then a 22 yard run by BA’s Johnson on a sweep, tied the score at 14. (Martin: “We may have ourselves a shootout here.”)


On the last play of the 1st quarter, MBA turned again to play action. Starting from the Big Red 20, Coleman dropped back and faked to Chandler. Then Montgomery Owen, lined up on the right slot and hesitated ever so briefly, before accelerating to the center of the field and catching the pass in full stride. And the fun was just beginning.


As Owen sprinted toward the left sideline, he was wrapped up by a BA safety but bucked him and kept running. Seeing a BA defender approach, Owen abruptly stopped, but just for a second. The BA defender flew by, and Owen took it all the way to the BA 9 for a 71-yard catch. On the next play, tipped by center Gambill, Coleman rolled right and leveraged the threat of a short pass to fullback Jack Benson into a QB keeper. Coleman knocked into a BA defender at the 5 but still found the end zone for a touchdown. (Merrick: “The crafty senior quarterback there with a little dipsy-do, dunkeroo for the touchdown!”)
DL D'On Coofer '16


With BA now trailing 21 to 14 early in the second quarter, Oatsvall connected on a long pass to Johnson, who was brought down by Owen and Charles West, who finished with 5 tackles and 3 assists. D’On Coofer, the 2014 state wrestling champion at 220 pounds, continued his stalwart play with a tackle of Oatsvall, en route to 7 solo tackles for the game. Then, BA struck for a 30-yard TD, culminating a 6-play, 78-yard drive, for a 21-21 tie.


The Big Red coaches knew that for Ty Chandler to be most effective, he could not be the only offensive threat. There were never any doubts about the arm of QB Glenn Coleman, but before the season he had lacked experience and the confidence that comes with it. He had to learn to make the right reads and stay in the pocket. Going back to the Bell Buckle camp, Coach Euverard, who coached the quarterbacks, had been tough on Coleman. When Coleman didn’t play well, he heard about it.  “He’d say he was hard on me because he loved me,” Coleman recalled. “He wanted the best for me and knew I could do it.”


Now, the intense work by coach and QB was paying off.  Coleman’s confidence had steadily risen over the course of the season, and he felt that Coach Euverard and his teammates “had my back.”  His passes on play action were connecting and were complementing Chandler’s rushing attack.  The passing attack was “very helpful in opening the run game,” Chandler said, “because they didn’t have the box stacked as much.” After a touchback, Chandler broke for a 24-yard gain, then another good run and suddenly MBA was in BA territory. “The holes were pretty much open all night,” Chandler said. “That gave me a lot of confidence to do my job.”   On a key 3rd and 1 play from the BA 47, Coleman got a strong block from Kelly for 2 yards and a first down.


The offensive line’s strength in the face of adversity was abundantly evident throughout this title game. Left guard Kelly was ill and playing with a high fever. “He’s probably the toughest guy on the team,” said linemate Jesse Turner. “He had his eyes closed in the huddle.” Left tackle Joseph Scowden was banged up. Center Phelps Gambill was preoccupied with the Eagles’ nose tackle, Brandon Adams (6’2,” 290)  a D-1 commit to Vanderbilt, as were other Big Red linemen.
LT Joseph Scowden '16

To offset BA’s size and ability, the offensive line had to focus on technique, skill and strategy to create lanes for Ty Chandler. “It’s very fulfilling to have a run call made time after time,” Scowden said, “because you know you are doing your job and having that much trust in you from the coaching staff.” With a lot of heart and great coaching, Scowden said, the offensive line achieved its potential: “We gelled more than I’ve ever seen any group gel in the short period that was our season.”


On the next play, Coleman threw for the end zone. But Chapman Malone was trapped between 2 defenders and had no chance for the catch. So, in a perfectly timed leap between the BA players, he extended his right arm, knocking the ball harmlessly into the end zone and preventing an interception. Thanks to Malone, who had played with Coleman since the 6th grade, there would be no momentum-changing picks of the Big Red, not tonight.


Chandler ran to the Eagles’ 36-yard line, but on 3rd and 3, was stopped for a 2-yard loss. With 4th and 5, MBA decided to go for it. The play call was for a pass to fullback Jack Benson. But during a timeout, Chandler and running back coach Joe Davis discussed another option. Chandler told Benson, “Jack, if they cut you, I’m going to finish your route for you.”  Chandler relayed the plan to Coleman as they jogged back onto the field. 

The result was a spectacular play on a night that was full of them. Coleman faked the handoff to Chandler. Seeing Benson felled at the scrimmage line,  Coleman took a deep drop, holding the ball for an agonizingly long time as he waited for Chandler to clear the BA line. Suddenly, Chandler – the original decoy – burst clear and made a leaping grab of Coleman’s pass at the 20-yard line, running past the startled Eagles for the score. ( Merrick: “Play action fake for Coleman, rolls out left, now comes back, has Ty open at the 20, to the 15, to the 10, to the 5, TOUCHDOWN TY CHANDLER! WOW, TY! WHO SAW THAT COMING?” Martin: “That could be the play of the game if MBA is able to hold on and win this ballgame.”) Chandler would finish with 258 rushing yards.  Coleman recalled later that the play “was kind of something we did on our own.”


Although MBA now led 28 to 21, BA’s offense would continue to roll. Oatsvall got loose for a big run before being tackled by Owen. Then, Oatsvall hit Johnson for a long reception that put BA on the Big Red’s 12 yard line, after a face mask penalty against BA. BA quickly converted on a 12-yard TD strike to Jack McDonald to even the score at 28.

On the next series by MBA, Chandler left the game after injuring his ankle. With Chandler on the sideline, MBA’s drive stalled and led to the game’s only punt. With 1:13 left in the half and BA starting from its 20, a long pass by Oatsvall got BA to its 40. A great tackle by MBA’s Karlton Bruton  prevented further damage and BA was held to a field goal.  

Halftime Score: BA 31, MBA 28.


The Tennessean would later call both teams’ first half offenses “nearly flawless”. The second half, though, would be truly sublime, on both sides of the ball.


As the 3rd quarter began, MBA’s defensive linemen had to find a way  to blunt the Eagles’ potent attack. Going into the game, the coaching staff knew that MBA’s defensive line was in a “total mismatch” against BA’s offensive line, which featured UT commit Ryan Johnson (6’5, 285 pounds) and Ole Miss commit Bryce Mathews (6-6, 280). By contrast, the heaviest defensive lineman for MBA weighed 220 pounds, and the Big Red linebackers were undersized as well.


Coaches Chauvin and Brock told their players to look at the BA championship game not as a mismatch, but as an opportunity – a chance for non-Division I players to be tested and measured against SEC-caliber athletes. The Big Red defenders embraced this challenge and, along with their teammates, stuck to a “a simple formula,” Coach Euverard said. “Our guys love each other and they play with their head and their heart.”


LB Brett Starr '17

In its first drive of the third quarter, BA convincingly moved the ball into MBA territory, although the Big Red slowed the advance with key tackles by Starr, West, Sullivan and Cameron Wade. Starr had been hurt in the first half but had been highly effective, getting 3 tackles in less than 12 plays. He returned in the third quarter wearing a borrowed shoulder brace, but had to leave for good with a torn labrum after he and Bruton tackled Oatsvall. Starr’s first-half replacement Nick Sartain, had also been hurt in the first half, so the coaches turned to reserve linebacker and MBA senior Jack King.
In his very first play, as Oatsvall made a deep drop on 2nd and 4 from the MBA 22, King went into stealth mode and cagily eyed Oatsvall, then made a catlike move to pick off the pass at the Big Red 10 yard line and return it for 13 yards. Starr, who had won the starting job at Bell Buckle, was not the only Big Red player to call King’s interception his favorite moment of the game. Afterwards, Coach Euverard told King, “That’s why you hang in there – that’s the way life’s going to be. All of a sudden your name is going to be called and you got to answer.” 

Then, however, MBA’s only turnover gave the Eagles the ball right back, on the MBA 5-yard line. With the Eagles threatening to break the game wide open, the Big Red D made a huge stand, with Sullivan, Charles West, Coofer and King tackling Oatsvall on the first two plays. Then, on 3rd and 6, as Coofer exhorted the crowd, Clarke Allen leapt high at the line of scrimmage as Oatsvall faked a pass. With Oatsvall out of options, Allen drew a bead on the Eagles’ deft QB and tackled him in the backfield, forcing the field goal. (Martin: That’s a win right there for the Big Red.”) The Big Red’s ability to hold BA to 3 points on this series – and just 6 points in the Eagles’ last 3 trips to the red zone -- “energized our defense and energized our whole team,” Coach Chauvin said.


WR Chapman Malone '16

After Owen returned a kickoff to the 28-yard line, Chapman Malone made a big catch on an out route, spinning off a tackler and taking the Big Red to the Eagles’ 44. (Martin: “There are not too many players who run a better out route than Chapman Malone.”)  Chandler, who had his ankle re-taped at halftime and was determined “to try to finish the game anyway I could,” got big blocks from Turner, Gambill, Bryan and Malone to advance the Big Red to the BA 8 in just 3 carries. ( Martin: This offensive line continuing to do an outstanding job against a monstrous BA line.”) When the drive stalled, Dean Cheevers coolly converted a 26-yard field goal, bringing MBA to within 3.
BA again moved the ball effectively down the field, but the Big Red again kept the Eagles out of the end zone. With key tackles made by multiple defenders, a critical play was Sullivan’s takedown of Momodu in the backfield for a 4-yard loss.  That set up 3rd and 10, with BA sending out 5 receivers. MBA’s Coofer was blocked at the line as Oatsvall ran past him, but spun around and caught the Eagles’ QB from behind to force a 42-yard-field goal.

Then, with BA up 37-31 with 10:04 left, lightning struck as Way made his only mistake of the night. Just before the kickoff, Chandler had asked the referee “if I was going to get a chance to return the ball, because they had been kicking away from me the whole game.” Suddenly, he had his answer. Way kicked it short and Chandler – who had burned the Eagles with an 80-yard run from scrimmage on October 9 – caught the ball at the MBA 1.
RB Ty Chandler '17

“I knew I had to take advantage of it,” Chandler said. “I just felt like if I got the ball, something big was going to happen.” As Chandler neared the 10-yard line, his first set of blockers included Owen, Sullivan, Harrison Graves, Allen and Gordon Pollock. Approaching midfield, the afterburners kicked in and Chandler ran untouched into the end zone to the delight of a large, boisterous, and, by now, delirious MBA crowd. (Merrick: “Touchdown, 98 yards. TY CHANDLER, SUPERMAN!”). Coleman watched from the sidelines in awe: “We saw him break it and knew no one was going to catch him.” Then Cheevers stepped up to nail the extra point and give MBA a 1-point lead, 38 to 37, with 9:49 left in the game. (Merrick: MBA has just shocked the Eagles.”)
With his adrenalin surging, Cheevers kicked the ball into the Eagles’ end zone for his first touchback. (Merrick: “High drama here in Cookeville.”) But BA’s potent offense continued to threaten. Oatsvall hit a receiver for a big gain, with a terrific tackle by Cameron Wade possibly averting a touchdown. Other key Big Red stops  were tallied by Gordon Pollock (5 tackles), King and Fenner Pollock. Then, on 2nd and long from the BA 29, linebacker Sam Sullivan sprung out of nowhere to tip an Oatsvall pass incomplete. After a penalty against MBA set up a 4th down and 2 for BA, Oatsvall threw incomplete, giving MBA the ball in Eagles territory. (Martin: “You can tell BA is starting to tighten up a little bit.”)

With only 7:59 to play, runs by Chandler earned a Big Red first down. (Merrick: Ty is getting stronger and stronger, BA defense is getting more and more tired, hands on hips.”)  After a timeout, MBA faced 3rd and 14 on the BA 36, with just 5:35 left on the clock (Merrick: This is the biggest play of the season for the Big Red.”)


This time, MBA called another play action. Coleman faked to Chandler and released a sideline pass before receiver Chapman Malone made his cut. The execution by the longtime teammates was perfect, as Malone hauled it in at the BA 19 for a critical first down (Merrick: “Chapman Malone, oh what a big time catch.”)  According to Coleman, it was “a trust play, you have to throw it. I just knew he’d be there.” Reflecting on the play call, Coach Euverard would later say of Malone: “He is a winner, and he is a technician.”

With a fresh set of downs, Ty Chandler got the ball on 3rd and 5. Despite drawing heavy contact from 3 BA defenders, Chandler willed his way to the 3-yard line for another first down. (Martin: “It’s just a matter of who wants it more. You can tell Ty Chandler wants this state championship again. He got hit at the line of scrimmage and kept fighting and fighting and fighting.” Merrick: And that, is a Mr. Football Run. Let’s see if he has another one.”)

On the very next play, Chandler burst into the end zone for his 5th touchdown of the night ( “Merrick: TY, END ZONE, TOUCHDOWN!  SUPERMAN STRIKES AGAIN IN THE SECOND HALF!”) The entire night, Coach Euverard said, Chandler “played fast, he played tough and he played smart.”  Cheevers’ extra point gave MBA an 8-point lead, 45-37. ( “Merrick: All that stands between the Big Red and a repeat state championship is 2 minutes and 41 seconds and the Brentwood Academy Eagles.”)


In a stadium that was now howling with energy and anticipation, BA set up its drive with a kickoff return to its 41, then needed seven plays to take the ball into the end zone with only 61 seconds left in the game. A two-point conversion tied the score at 45. After a Hail-Mary pass from Coleman to Owen was knocked away as time expired, the 2015 Blue Cross Bowl went to overtime.


K Dean Cheevers '17
BA chose offense on the first overtime possession, starting at the 10-yard line. But the Big Red’s defense stiffened, with Allen and Sullivan combining to stop Oatsvall on third down, forcing a BA field goal. After MBA was kept out of the end zone on three attempts, the Big Red turned to Dean Cheevers for a 27-yard field goal attempt to keep their championship hopes alive. Cheevers, who spent his first 8 years in Ireland, was a soccer player whom Davis Luster had trained and mentored.


Tonight, the place-kicking team of snapper Austin Streaty, holder Glenn Coleman and Cheevers had been flawless on 6 extra points and a field goal. But now the pressure was intense, the stakes enormous. Before the kick, coach Joe Davis had told Cheevers, “This is easy, just kick it.” Coleman admitted to being more nervous as he prepared to field the snap, than he had been at QB.

“As I was taking my steps, I peeked to the right, everyone [for MBA] was there,” Cheevers said. The Eagles’ fans “were all to the left, making all sorts of noise to distract me. BA was saying, “Block that kick.’ I love when they say that because it’s not getting blocked.” (Merrick: Let’s be honest, this is a lot of pressure for Dean Cheevers. Come on Dean, we need you buddy.”) Cheevers calmly knocked the kick through to send the game to a second overtime. Unknowingly, he played with a hairline hip fracture that had kept him out of the Ensworth game.


With possession reverting to MBA in the second overtime, the Big Red took a timeout to set up its first down play. Jake Evans had been a receiver in 2014,  but over the summer was asked to move to tight end. (“We needed a tight end,” Coach Euverard said of the switch. “There is a toughness about him – it means something to Jake.”) But Evans did not become a starter until the September 4 game against Memphis Melrose.

When he heard the play, Evans thought to himself, “that’s gutsy right there, to go to a first year player, first state championship, that was in my mind.” Evans was supposed to engage his defender, then run into the flat and look for the pass.


“Once I shucked the guy, as I was turning my head, I look up field and saw that nobody was there,” Evans recalled. “Glenn was rolling to me, the guy I shucked went for it and dove at him, I caught it and turned, the safety and cornerback were flying at me, a footrace to the pylon, and I was like, I’m getting into the end zone, I’m not getting down.” As Coleman recalled the play, Evans’ defender “took off for me, so I let him get a little closer to me, then dumped it to Jake.”  As he neared the end zone, Evans was launched into the air, landing on his back for an MBA touchdown. At the bottom of a dogpile, Evans’ mind was a blur, and he was oblivious to what had just happened. Cheevers converted the kick for his 13th point of the game.


TE Jake Evans '17
Ahead now by 7, the Big Red’s second straight championship seemed closer than ever.  With BA facing 3rd and goal from the 8, though, the Big Red chased Oatsvall nearly back to the 20-yard line before he completed an impossible, never-say-die scamper to the goal line, where the officials signaled touchdown. After faking an extra point, BA set up for a two-point conversion, with Oatsvall hitting a receiver for the game-winning score. (Had the situation been reversed, Coach Euverard’s plan was also that the Big Red would go for 2 to try to end the game.)


In the MBA student section, there was stunned silence. For a few quiet moments, there was a blank emptiness as the Big Red fans tried to grasp what had just occurred. Slowly, reality, along with the freezing cold, settled in. As the team headed to the locker room in disbelief, the sounds of the Big Red’s Alma Mater drifted out of the stands as the students locked arms and swayed in unison.


Scott Oatsvall, Jeremiah’s father, played football at San Diego State and has many friends at the college and NFL levels. One of them, the father of Maryland Terrapins’ quarterback Caleb Rowe, drove to Cookeville and told Oatsvall “it was the greatest football game that he’s ever seen.”  In the days that followed, Oatsvall said, “Everyone from the East Coast to the West Coast was calling me and texting me, obviously to congratulate me and Jeremiah on the game, but more importantly …the consensus by all of them was this was the greatest high school football game they have ever seen. These are people who are not novices to football, people I played football with in college, some have been in the NFL, some have played in championship games.”
“I so much appreciated what Marty did with those boys, particularly after the lopsided victory for us,” Oatsvall continued. “To watch those kids rebound from that … and have the confidence to compete to the very last play….I’ve got enough perspective that it will go down as the greatest game I’ve ever seen, and I’ve played in quite a few games myself.”
Afterwards, in the Tucker Stadium locker room, Euverard had the difficult task of speaking to his downtrodden players. Expressing his pride for the team’s intense effort, Coach Euverard knew that the greatest consolation would be the bond of brotherhood that he works hard to instill in every team. Already, that bond was making Team 117 strong at the broken places. The next day, center Gambill tweeted Chandler’s amazing season stats and called Ty “the most humble person I have ever met. Honored to have blocked for @Chandler _35.” Chandler tweeted back to Gambill, “thanks fam It was an honor having ya’ll to run behind.”

Chandler, Coleman, and the rest of the Big Red offense had played brilliantly. (Coach Euverard told Coleman in front of the team, “You played your guts out and you played the best game of your life.”)  But the MBA defense had also shined, consistently making gutsy stops against the Eagles to keep the game close. “There were momentum swings the whole game,” Coach Euverard observed later. “Our guys never flinched. They executed the game plan to perfection.” The goal of football, though, is to win – and the notion of a moral victory does not exist in Coach Euverard’s world. He will never, ever accept that over-used cliché as being applicable to a football game. 

So what was this championship contest for MBA and Team 117? It was one of the best high school playoff games ever in Tennessee – a pulsating, lights-out, edge-of-your-seat experience. It was a brilliant and riveting display of skill, athleticism and fortitude by a surging MBA squad that had overcome key injuries, had been impressively coached and was peaking at the ultimate time, and on the greatest stage.


To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield – that’s what it was.




Box Score (Final)
MBA Big Red vs Brentwood Academy (Dec 03, 2015 at Cookeville, Tenn.)
Score by Quarters 1    2  3  4  OT O1 O2 Total
MBA Big Red 14 14 3 14 10  3   7    55
Brentwood Academy 14 17 3 11 11  3   8    56


Qtr Time Scoring play
1st 08:12 MBA - Ty Chandler 1 yd run (Dean Cheevers kick), 7-66 3:48
06:30 BA - Oatsvall 10 yd run (Way kick), 6-65 1:42
03:48 MBA - Ty Chandler 3 yd run (Dean Cheevers kick), 9-80 2:42
00:10 BA - C. Johnson 22 yd run (Way kick), 9-85 3:38
2nd 11:52 MBA - Glenn Coleman 8 yd run (Dean Cheevers kick), 2-80 0:18
09:54 BA - D. Taylor 24 yd pass from Oatsvall (Way kick), 6-78 1:58
06:42 MBA - Ty Chandler 39 yd pass from Glenn Coleman (Dean Cheevers kick), 8-80 3:12
03:12 BA - McDonald 3 yd pass from Oatsvall (Way kick), 8-80 3:30
00:00 BA - Way 34 yd field goal, 6-63 1:13
3rd 05:33 BA - Way 24 yd field goal, 4--1 1:58
00:47 MBA - Dean Cheevers 26 yd field goal, 9-62 4:46
4th 10:04 BA - Way 42 yd field goal, 6-40 2:43
09:49 MBA - Ty Chandler 99 yd kickoff return (Dean Cheevers kick)
02:41 MBA - Ty Chandler 2 yd run (Dean Cheevers kick), 9-44 5:18
01:01 BA - Momodu 2 yd run (Momodu rush), 7-59 1:40
OT 12:00 BA - Way 22 yd field goal, 4-5 0:00
12:00 MBA - Dean Cheevers 27 yd field goal, 4-0 0:00
12:00 MBA - Jake Evans 10 yd pass from Glenn Coleman (Dean Cheevers kick), 1-10 0:00
12:00 BA - Oatsvall 8 yd run (C. Johnson pass from Oatsvall), 3-10 0:00
MBA BA
FIRST DOWNS 20 24
RUSHES-YARDS (NET) 45-272 41-274
PASSING YDS (NET) 221 280
Passes Att-Comp-Int 17-9-0 29-17-1
TOTAL OFFENSE PLAYS-YARDS 62-493 70-554
Fumble Returns-Yards 0-0 1-5
Punt Returns-Yards 0-0 0-0
Kickoff Returns-Yards 3-155 5-86
Interception Returns-Yards 1-13 0-0
Punts (Number-Avg) 1-24.0 0-0.0
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 0-0
Penalties-Yards 9-72 5-38
Possession Time 24:08 23:52
Third-Down Conversions 4 of 9 8 of 13
Fourth-Down Conversions 1 of 2 0 of 1
Red-Zone Scores-Chances 7-7 7-7
Sacks By: Number-Yards 0-0 0-0
RUSHING: MBA Big Red-Ty Chandler 41-258; Glenn Coleman 3-11; Harold Turks 1-3. Brentwood
Academy-Oatsvall 23-159; C. Johnson 3-63; Momodu 15-52.
PASSING: MBA Big Red-Glenn Coleman 9-16-0-221; TEAM 0-1-0-0. Brentwood Academy-Oatsvall 17-29-1-280.
RECEIVING: MBA Big Red-Jake Evans 3-30; Montgomery Owen 2-107; Chapman Malone 2-43; Ty Chandler
2-41. Brentwood Academy-C. Johnson 8-124; D. Taylor 6-137; Segree 1-14; McDonald 1-3; Momodu 1-2.
INTERCEPTIONS: MBA Big Red-Jack King 1-13. Brentwood Academy-None.
FUMBLES: MBA Big Red-Ty Chandler 1-1. Brentwood Academy-None.
MBA Big Red (11-2) vs. Brentwood Academy (12-1)
Date: Dec 03, 2015 • Site: Cookeville, Tenn. • Stadium: Tucker Stadium
Attendance:
Kickoff time: 7 PM • End of Game: 10:30 • Total elapsed time: 3:30
Officials: Referee: Gary Compton; Umpire: Andy Watterson; Linesman: Alan Dotson;
Line judge: Guy Evans; Back judge: Adam Knobloch; Field judge: HaroldPatterson;
Side judge: Scott Thornton; Scorer: Tyler Bowman EC;
Temperature: 37 • Wind: Calm • Weather: Clear and cold
Offensive MVP: Jeremiah Oatsvall (BA)
Defensive MVP: Sam Sullivan (MBA)


Scoring Summary (Final)
MBA Big Red vs Brentwood Academy (Dec 03, 2015 at Cookeville, Tenn.)
MBA Big Red (11-2) vs. Brentwood Academy (12-1)
Date: Dec 03, 2015 • Site: Cookeville, Tenn. • Stadium: Tucker Stadium


Qtr Time Scoring Play V-H
1st 08:12 MBA - Ty Chandler 1 yd run (Dean Cheevers kick), 7-66 3:48 7 - 0
06:30 BA - Oatsvall 10 yd run (Way kick), 6-65 1:42 7 - 7
03:48 MBA - Ty Chandler 3 yd run (Dean Cheevers kick), 9-80 2:42 14 - 7
00:10 BA - C. Johnson 22 yd run (Way kick), 9-85 3:38 14 - 14
2nd 11:52 MBA - Glenn Coleman 8 yd run (Dean Cheevers kick), 2-80 0:18 21 - 14
09:54 BA - D. Taylor 24 yd pass from Oatsvall (Way kick), 6-78 1:58 21 - 21
06:42 MBA - Ty Chandler 39 yd pass from Glenn Coleman (Dean Cheevers kick), 8-80 3:12 28 - 21
03:12 BA - McDonald 3 yd pass from Oatsvall (Way kick), 8-80 3:30 28 - 28
00:00 BA - Way 34 yd field goal, 6-63 1:13 28 - 31
3rd 05:33 BA - Way 24 yd field goal, 4--1 1:58 28 - 34
00:47 MBA - Dean Cheevers 26 yd field goal, 9-62 4:46 31 - 34
4th 10:04 BA - Way 42 yd field goal, 6-40 2:43 31 - 37
09:49 MBA - Ty Chandler 99 yd kickoff return (Dean Cheevers kick) 38 - 37
02:41 MBA - Ty Chandler 2 yd run (Dean Cheevers kick), 9-44 5:18 45 - 37
01:01 BA - Momodu 2 yd run (Momodu rush), 7-59 1:40 45 - 45
OT 12:00 BA - Way 22 yd field goal, 4-5 0:00 45 - 48
12:00 MBA - Dean Cheevers 27 yd field goal, 4-0 0:00 48 - 48
12:00 MBA - Jake Evans 10 yd pass from Glenn Coleman (Dean Cheevers kick), 1-10 0:00 55 - 48
12:00 BA - Oatsvall 8 yd run (C. Johnson pass from Oatsvall), 3-10 0:00 55 - 56
Kickoff time: 7 PM • End of Game: 10:30 • Total elapsed time: 3:30