BY CORY WOODROOF | PHOTO BY ANDY COLLIGNON
As bizarre as it is to say, the Brentwood Academy Eagles faced long odds to reach Friday’s D-II Class AAA state game in Coookeville.
The typical class juggernaut entered 2018 with the same standard of excellence that had won them championships before, but then adversity hit like a buzzsaw.
Two straight losses to region foe McCallie and archrival Montgomery Bell Academy on a two-point play by the Big Red (the same way BA once beat them in a state contest) left the team in a tough spot when thinking about the postseason.
The Eagles had the fun of topping their biggest foe on the big stage in 2015, 2016 and 2017, but it was MBA who got in the driver’s seat for state out of their region after that mid-October loss.
Since then, the Eagles have done a little soul searching, and that’s exactly how the typical favorite roared back with a vengeance get a road win in Memphis over Christian Brothers and blast Big Red at his house.
They’ve now made it to Tennessee Tech to play Memphis University for a fourth-consecutive state title.
“For us, sometimes, I think being humbled a little bit is probably good,” Eagles head coach Cody White said of the two-game skid. “It lends some credence when you tell them that you guys have a lot to do to improve, to get to the point where you win a state championship.
“If you keep winning, sometimes, they don’t hear that. I think, from a focus standpoint, [the losses] probably helped us.”
“We really didn’t know how to go through adversity yet,” senior two-way lineman Nathan Clifton, who has offers from Cincinnati and Central Michigan, said of how the losses aided BA. “After going through that, we became a better team, tighter closer to each teammate, and just came together, and now, we’re in state.”
The semifinals win over MBA was particularly one that showed just how much the team had learned and had to prove.
“I think we had a little chip on our shoulder from the first game,” senior center Will Collins, who has offers from Butler and Air Force said. “We didn’t want that to be how we ended our season, especially for our seniors.”
Senior outside linebacker Jack Victory echoed the above sentiment.
“With that [MBA] loss, initially, I think it helped us improve,” he said. “We realized we weren’t where we needed to be. We had to build on that and learn that we’re not invincible. We’ve got to come out, we’ve got to practice harder, we’ve got to get better, and that’s something Coach White preaches, getting better throughout the year.”
For Victory, the team’s 17-0 road win over rival Ensworth was a moment where he felt the team took a turn for the best.
“I think we had to prove to ourselves that we can still win a football game,” he said. “After losing two times in a row, and having a bye week in between there, it felt like we hadn’t won in forever compared to what we’ve been doing.”
Victory said that once the first touchdown was on the board, it gave them the confidence to push ahead as themselves.
From a coaching standpoint of what helped BA sail through the semis rematch, White credits the coaching staff for correcting previous errors and player improvement from the previous MBA game.
“It was just a few little tweaks [to fix for the game],” he said. “I think we have a lot of pride. [The Eagles] didn’t appreciate getting beat on their own field, and, I think, for our kids, when it matters, they play pretty well, and they’ve done that for the last few years, for sure.”
Looking at the opponent
It’s about to matter a whole lot for the Eagles with Memphis University waiting in the wings for Friday’s 7:00 p.m. kickoff at Tucker Stadium.
The Owls are a perfect 11-0 on the season, and dispatched of MBA in the regular season 22-13 on the road back at the top of September.
Senior defensive end Thomas Gore, who has offers from Georgia State and UTC, mentioned the Maurice Hampton factor for MUS, a Mr. Football winner for D-II 3A and cornerback commit for LSU.
“He’s probably going to be a game-changer for their team,” he said.
White compliments the completeness of the Owls and mentioned their ability to utilize the explosive players on the roster.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us, and you should at this point in the year; it should be the best two teams,” White said.
“Our guys understand how good MUS is, and have a lot of respect for what they’ve done. [We’re] making sure we’re playing at our highest level, and then seeing what happens from there.”
BA contemplates potential history with win
Indeed, BA has a chance for a fourth-straight state win, which would leave this senior class in the spot to walk away with each high school year ending in free hats and a group picture.
“The feeling would be tremendous,” Gore said about completing the cycle. “To be able to bring that back to our school…for the alums who put so much work into getting us a first state championship, a second one. It would feel great to bring a fourth one back to BA.”
For White, you don’t want to let the moment get bigger than the planning process, but history’s glow will always be visible and alluring.
“We try to focus on this particular team, and not really get wrapped up with what’s going down, but let’s be honest, it’s a neat deal,” White said of a potential fourth-straight championship. “These seniors have never lost a playoff game. It’d be something, I don’t think, but a few teams in the state have ever done.”
The school has a history of four-peats, just on a different stage. Former Eagles basketball greats Brandan Wright and Darius Garland both led their programs to four titles in a row, with White’s 2018 squad the first football team in the school’s history to be able to match that mark.
“It’s honestly crazy just to have so much success,” Victory said of his school’s penchant for bringing home state trophies. “Winning doesn’t get mundane, but it’s crazy to see how winning as a mindset is normal now [at BA].”
For Collins, though they’ve been to state before, the feeling of being there stays new.
“It doesn’t get anonymous because we’ve been there,” he said. “We just kind of know what needs to be done. It can’t get old. Playing for state, it just doesn’t get old.”
For Victory, there’s excitement for what the win could mean, but it carries with a hope his teammates have.
“I think there’s definitely a little bit of added pressure,” he said. “This senior class just wanted to have that legacy. We’d be the first senior class to do that at our school, to win four in a row.”
Clifton experienced a four-peat in March when the Garland Eagles won their last ring, so he knows exactly what it’s like to experience such an exact moment.
“It would be an amazing feeling,” he said of having this happen once more.
Perhaps it’ll be so for BA once the Eagles take the field Friday, where four straight quarters could lead to four straight titles.