Unbeaten Bears advance , barely/Oakland puts score in MJ before falling 35-27
Survive and advance.
The Mt. Juliet Golden Bears rallied in the fourth quarter and held on to defeat Murfreesboro Oakland, 35-27, in the first round of the Class 6A TSSAA state playoffs last Friday night.
It was perhaps the type of game the Golden Bears, who finished the regular season 10-0 and earned a No. 1 seed in their quadrant, needed in that it was the first time all season that Mt. Juliet had trailed or been tied for a good portion of the game. Before Friday night, the closest any team had come to the Golden Bears was a 15-point loss by LaVergne in September.
“I wouldn't say we hadn't been tested, because we play in District 9-AAA, and we scrimmaged this team early in preseason, so we knew tonight would be a battle,” Mt. Juliet coach Roger Perry said. “We talked about this with our guys because of our other opponents, there has been such a spread in the points. And it turned out to be that type of football game. I'm just glad our guys fought hard in the second half."
The Bears did not take their first lead in the game until 7:43 left in the fourth quarter when Contrez McCathern scored from 19 yards out to finally put Mt. Juliet ahead for good 28-21.
The visiting Patriots finished their season 6-5, but not before throwing a scare into the Golden Bears for three-plus quarters.
The victory has the Bears at home again next week for a second-round game against another Rutherford County opponent in Siegel, which defeated Overton, 31-21.
After the Golden Bears came up a yard short on a fake punt on their first possession, the Patriots began to march, using the rushing of Devonte Swader and Travon Willis to march downfield. That's when, facing third-and-1, a simple quarterback sneak by Jahaad Lyons turned into a 12-yard touchdown run and a 7-0 Oakland lead.
The Patriots were loading up to stop the run, and doing a good job of it early on. So the Golden Bears took to the air. They picked up a first down on a pass interference call on the ensuing series. And then, with the Patriots stacking the box against the run, quarterback Caleb Chowbay dropped back and hit a wide open Kaceem Harris, who had slipped behind the defense. Some 63 yards later, Harris was in the end zone and the game was tied after Ryan Jenkins' extra point.
Oakland answered back in the second quarter with a touchdown drive to retake the lead, moving almost exclusively on the ground and going 65 yards in 10 plays with Willis' 3-yard run putting the Patriots back on top, 14-7 with 9:54 to play in the half.
That lead stood up through the first half, and Perry gave his team some advice at halftime.
“We knew we'd have a tough battle tonight. Oakland is a very sound football team,” Perry said. “We fell behind early, and we talked to them at halftime and told them that if we would just keep battling that we had the football team to win this game, and we came out and did it in the second half.”
Toward the end of the third quarter, the offensive fireworks began, as Mt. Juliet tied the game at 14-all when Chowbay fired his second TD pass of the game, this one a 28-yarder to Jalen Graham with 1:40 to play in the third.
No sooner had the Bears pulled even than the Patriots took the lead again. In fact, the deadlock lasted only through the ensuing kickoff. On the first play from scrimmage, Swader broke through the middle of the Mt. Juliet line and raced virtually untouched to put Oakland back on top 21-14.
At that point, the Patriots looked on the verge of their second upset in three seasons at MJ, but Perry was proud of the way his squad battled back and would not be denied. Caleb Hopkins brought Mt. Juliet back even as time expired in the quarter, romping 61 yards for the tying touchdown.
On Mt. Juliet's next possession, the Bears finally took their first lead of the night. When Oakland punter Alex VanSenus slipped while trying to kick the ball, the punt traveled only six yards, putting the Bears in business at the Oakland 45. McCathern capped the four-play drive with his 19-yard run for the go-ahead score at the 7:43 mark.
The Bears then put the game away when Hopkins scored from 41 yards out with 2:11 to play.
Oakland still had a faint pulse, scoring a touchdown with 28 seconds left to get within 35-27 with the point after being blocked by Josh Shelton. The Patriots attempted an onside kick, but the ball rolled out of bounds, and the Bears had their first-round win in hand.
“Our defense stepped up in the second half, and our offense put the points on the board that were needed,” Perry said. “There were so many momentum shifts in the football game, and what's special about this group is they could have gotten their heads down on the long touchdown run after they scored. But our guys, I could hear them on the sidelines, we just answered the call, and that's what we did. … It was a battle tonight, but it was a battle we won. We're thankful to get back to the practice field on Monday.”