BY CORY WOODROOF | PHOTO BY ANDY COLLIGNON
The Battle Ground Academy Wildcats will be facing a familiar foe once Friday’s state game in Cookeville rolls around.
After drubbing a division foe in Franklin Road Academy in the semis, they’ll get a chance to even the score with unbeaten Christ Presbyterian Academy at Tennessee Tech’s Tucker Stadium for the D-II AA crown. Kickoff’s at 3:00 p.m.
The Lions bested the Wildcats 31-20 earlier in the season, though BGA was a bit of a different team then. They lost another after that game, a tough road match with Evangelical Christian. Since then, the team has won seven-straight.
The offense has averaged about 39 points per game in that stretch, and the defense is allowing roughly a touchdown per team.
The newly-unstoppable force off Mack Hatcher will meet the immovable object from Old Hickory Boulevard to determine who gets to bring home the hardware.
Finding the turning point
“Obviously, we have to play much better than we did the first time around, but we’re really focusing on us, and how can we execute our offensive and defensive game plans at a high level,” BGA head coach Roc Batten said of the team’s preparation process for CPA.
He said he feels his team didn’t quite get to four fully-played quarters in that first meeting, which could make things even closer in the rematch if they do.
“We played two really good teams in the middle of our schedule, CPA and ECS, both really talented,” Batten said. “Alittle bit after that, I feel like we had a shift in terms of how we operate in practice, and the way we practice, and the efficiency in practice…It wasn’t about buying in or any of those things; it was about being consistent in the things that we do.”
Batten says this helped spark the team’s recent run, and commended his coaching staff and junior and senior leadership in helping propel the team to its ferocious second wind.
“It was a good turning point for us, and got us into the position we’re in now.”
For senior offensive tackle Eli Maybery, the two-game losing streak sparked something within the Wildcats.
“I really think, between those two losses, we started a bonding between the team,” he said. “We really got everybody on the team towards this common goal of winning a state championship, and there was a full 180-degree turn. We started taking practice more seriously, started listening to coaches more…we bonded.”
Senior defensive end Wyatt Greenewalt echoes Mayberry’s sentiment, saying that selfish play turned into selflessness.
“Now, we’re all playing for each other, as a team,” he said. “We feel like, if we play like that, there’s nobody that can beat us anywhere.”
Recognizing the moment
For Mayberry, evening the tide with CPA is motivation, but he says there’s so much more to look for.
“Obviously, you want another shot at them; unfinished business,” he said. “No matter who we were going to play, we were going to be excited. I mean, it’s the state championship. A lot of the guys have been dreaming about this since [they were] five years old.
“I had an older brother who came through this program. He and I were talking the other day about how great an opportunity the state championship is. We’re all just very excited.”
He’s a lifer for the school and realizes the potential spectrum of accomplishments a win Friday would mean for the school, considering who they’re playing against.
“It would mean everything,” he said of the idea of bringing a state title back to his school. “It would mean so much to me.”
This is BGA’s first appearance in the game since their 2015 loss to Knoxville-Webb, a team they bested on the road in the playoffs this season.
Prepping for a team known well
Batten spoke to the afternoon’s heavyweight battle, CPA’s explosive offense going up against BGA’s wall of a defense, and what the latter will need to do to outpace the former.
“They have so many weapons offensively,” Batten said. “What we have to do is limit the big plays. They’ve had a lot of big plays in running and throwing the football. Obviously, they’re like us. They do tempo, and we’ve got to make sure we can get lined up, and be efficient in getting lined up and being set, and we’ve got to do a great job tackling.”
He name-checked the team’s prolific trio of runners (Kane Patterson, Sam West, Andrew Madden) and mentioned the need to slow the running game down.
“We’ve got to do our job and get guys to the football…not let them break tackles and make big plays on us in the back row.”
He’s got his own rich group of offensive weapons to choose from: Tiy Reed (WR), Antonio Stevens (WR) dangerous threats Chico Bennett (WR), Garnett Hollis Jr. (WR), Kaleb Seay (RB), Briston Bennett (RB) and Jaylen Frierson (RB).
“I think that’s the plus of our offense,” Batten said of the options at hand. “We have several guys who can touch the ball and make things happen for us. It’s really based on what the defense gives us.”
For Reed, it’s about riding the hot hand.
“That’s one thing we’re great at,” Reed said of making sure everyone has an opportunity to handle the ball. “Whatever the attack is for the drive, the game plan, whatever it is, we hit it hard. So if we’re driving the ball down the field, the receiver’s hot? Give them the ball. If the running back’s hot? Give them the ball.”
Batten credits offensive coordinator Zach Schneider in his effort to try and find the options that will work best for the moment, and also mentioned an important component of the team’s plan.
“What’s going to be key also is our offensive line,” Batten added. “We’ve got a veteran group up there.”
Reed was also complimentary of the big guys up front who help establish the run game, of his quarterback, junior Nick Semptimphelter, and of the receiving game.
He also said he knows Patterson well from his play at linebacker.
“He’s very impactful on the defensive side of the ball,” Reed said. “He’s very quick-lateral, and he’s also very good downhill. He’s a great player overall.”
Greenewalt says that, in the last go-around with the Lions, the Wildcats felt that the rushing attack did them in.
This time around, they know exactly where to look.
“We feel like, if we stop the run, we make them throw, and that’ll be good for us,” he said. “So we’re focused on stopping that, but we’re trying to hold them to as little [as we can].”