By Chip Cirillo
Two storied programs will meet for the third straight year in the Division II-AAA final.
And two veteran coaches square off for a rematch in DII-A.
Nationally ranked Brentwood Academy (11-0) will be seeking its third consecutive state championship against Montgomery Bell Academy (10-2) in DII-AAA at Tennessee Tech in Cookeville on Saturday night.
Friendship Christian (12-0), which rallied to beat Donelson Christian (9-3) earlier in the season, needs another win over the Wildcats in DII-A Saturday morning to complete the first undefeated season in the 42-year history of the program.
“It’s crazy, but not surprising,” BA coach Cody White said. “You kind of could see this coming. We have a lot of respect for (MBA’s) program, but I feel like this is probably the way it should be.”
BA beat MBA 56-55 in a wild double overtime title game in 2015 before taking another 42-38 shootout in last season’s championship.
But before that, MBA defeated BA in the 1998, 2001, 2002 and 2007 state championships.
BA handed MBA its first shutout loss since 2006 with a 29-0 win over the Big Red on Oct. 20.
“We know they’ve gotten better and you have a chance to look at film, just like we do, and figure out some things you can do a little different,” White said.
BA, sixth in the USA Today Super 25 national rankings, will be seeking its 13th state title. MBA is trying for its 11th.
The Eagles are one win from their seventh unbeaten season after going undefeated in 1974, 1980, 1982, 1988, 1995 and 1996.
BA’s last three-peat was from 1980-82.
The Eagles’ opponents are averaging only 9.6 points.
“Arguably, it’s the best unit on our team,” White said of the Eagles’ 3-4 defense. “It’s a nice feeling to know that in most of our games if we score a couple touchdowns we would win. I think it’s a testament to David Norris, our defensive coordinator, and the staff on that side of the ball.”
Nose guard Airin Spell (6-2, 295) has been rock solid in the middle with 35.5 tackles and 5.5 sacks.
“Coach Norris always says we need runners and hitters and this year we’ve got both,” said Jackson Sirmon, a Washington commit who leads the team with 65 tackles. “The key is stopping (MBA’s) run game because they like doing that.”
Sirmon’s dad, Peter was a linebacker for the Titans from 2000-06 after playing for Oregon in college.
“He’s really helped me through the recruiting process because he knows it so well and he’s taught me you have to like to tackle people, you’ve got to be physical, you’ve got to be tough,” Sirmon said.
BA has 36 sacks, including a team-high 11.5 by defensive end Michael Hunt.
“We’ve got probably the best front seven that I’ve played with since I’ve been at BA and then we’ve got some guys on the back end that can run and cover,” said free safety Cam Johnson, a Vanderbilt commit and Mr. Football finalist. “We don’t even really get a lot of action when it comes to the games because our front seven are making so much so it’s a lot easier for us to cover when we know we’ve got them to stop the run.”
McCallie (24) is the only team to score more than 14 points against BA.
“Their defense is extremely fast, they’re physical, there aren’t a lot of weaknesses,” MBA coach Marty Euverard said. “They can cover you in man-to-man coverage or they can play zone and they fly around. They have a really good defense.”
Quarterback Gavin Schoenwald, a Vanderbilt commit as a tight end, has passed for 1,494 yards and 17 touchdowns with three interceptions.
His top three receivers are Johnson (43 catches, 693 yards, 8 TDs), Mike Archie (30 catches, 342 yards, 8 TDs) and Daniel Taylor (27 catches, 310 yards, 2 TDs).
Running back Tomario Pleasant leads the Eagles in rushing with 1,308 yards and 16 TDs.
The Eagles boast a strong kicking game with Toby Wilson (10 of 16 on field goals) and punter Harrison Smith (35.4).
BA is known for its quick starts, outscoring opponents 113-17 in the first quarter.
MBA won its first seven before dropping consecutive games to Ensworth and BA.
But the Big Red rebounded with two straight wins over Baylor before giving second-ranked Christian Brothers (11-1) its only loss in the semifinals.
“This has been a remarkable year for our team: just the fight, the spirit and the love that they’ve shown for each other,” Euverard said. “I’ve got 18 seniors and just tremendous leadership.”
MBA lost seven starters to injuries, including the top two senior running backs.
Euverard said a 35-23 win over McCallie in the third game helped MBA find its identity after losing star running back Ty Chandler, now a freshman at Tennessee.
The Big Red can’t afford another slow start against BA.
“It was 14-0 before you could blink and we didn’t play very well,” Euverard said. “Hopefully, we can win some time of possession and get some drives and keep their offense and Schoenwald off the field. We need to get some good mojo going for us.”
Defense has also carried Friendship, a veteran team with 12 seniors.
Middle linebacker Taylor Carman leads Friendship in tackles out of a stack 5-3 defense.
“We’ve done very well defensively throughout the whole year,” said John McNeal, a 29th-year coach. ‘We swarm to the football and our guys will hit. They’re physical.”
Friendship won two straight state titles in 2011 and 2012 and has a runner-up finish under McNeal.
The Commanders rallied from a seven-point first quarter deficit in a 47-27 win over DCA on Sept. 15.
“They’ve been our rival for a long time,” McNeal said. “We had three fumbles the last time early in the first quarter and we had penalties that kept their drives alive. Our running back, Jajuan Foutch, played with a brace on his elbow so he struggled trying to get used to it, but he had a big second half.”
Foutch has lived up to his Speedy nickname with 1,377 rushing yards and 23 TDs.
Friendship earned a trip to the final with a 27-23 semifinal win over Nashville Christian.
DCA shut out its first three opponents before losing three of its next four.
But the Wildcats won their next five, including a 27-21 semifinal victory over previously unbeaten Davidson Academy (11-1). Houston Troup rushed for 222 yards and two TDs against the Bears.
“It’s really one of the greatest finishes in DCA history as far as where we were and where we ended up,” said Dennis Goodwin, a 25th-year coach who won state titles 1996 and 2004. “So it’s been a great run the last five, six weeks.”
DCA’s 13 seniors rallied the team after a 60-35 loss at Middle Tennessee Christian on Sept. 29.
Avenging the Friendship loss will be a difficult task.
“We’re going to have to play the best game of the year to try to contain their offense,” Goodwin said. “Their offensive and defensive lines are huge. They’ve got speed and power.”