By Jake Kreulen, sports writer
LEBANON – The Coffee County Middle School Raiders opened up the 2014 football season with a dominating performance Tuesday night, punishing the Aviators of Winfree Bryant with a 46-0 shutout.
“We played really well tonight, and I’m very proud of them,” said CCMS coach Brock Freeze. “We’ve worked really hard and our conditioning was much better than theirs; not knocking them, but we’ve worked really hard on conditioning. I think we could probably play another quarter or two and been fine.”
The Raiders were able to move the ball at will, and utilized speed and strength to gash the Winfree Bryant defense for big plays all night.
“We tried to mix things up,” Freeze said. “I thought we had a really good balance of the inside and outside game. We got most of our success outside, but it was set up by the inside game. When we transitioned from shotgun to under center, we didn’t make a lot of mistakes there, which I was happy with that because that is hard to do in middle school.
“I wish we could have thrown a little more, but once the game got a little out of hand we weren’t going to do that.”
Josh Sanders capped the Raiders’ initial possession with a touchdown run with 2:18 to play in the first quarter, and Andrew Mehaffey’s 2-point conversion run boosted the lead to 8-0.
On the ensuing kickoff, Clayton Lowell laid out the Winfree Bryant ball carrier and announced that the Raiders had come to play.
“That hit set the tone of the whole game,” said Freeze. “It was a clean hit, and not only did the kid that got hit feel it, but I think it had a ripple effect across the team and you could tell it. From that point on, they looked a little timid to me.”
The Raiders were not stopped all night as a 17-yard scoring run by Robert Brandon on 4th-and-11 with 6:32 left in the second was the closest they came to turning the ball over on downs. Brown rushed for the conversion and a 16-0 CCMS advantage.
“We scored on every possession,” Freeze said. “We blocked really well for the most part. We made some mistakes in the middle as (Winfree Byrant’s defense) had an inside rush that gave us a few problems for our first drive, but we made some adjustments and picked it up okay, but not as good as I would have liked.
“They were lining up a linebacker over the nose and shooting the gaps, and we were having a hard time picking him up. But we changed our snap count a little, and that helped.”
Just over two minutes later, Brown scored from 44 yards out and Mahaffey converted the points after to push the Raiders out in front, 24-0.
The Aviators moved the ball a little on their next possession, but Coffee County’s Nathaniel Horne pressured the quarterback into throwing a pass that was picked off by Mahaffey and returned 38 yards to the Winfree Bryant 22. Two plays later, Brandon galloped 20 yards for his second scoring jaunt of the first half. The 2-point run by Weston Hargrove gave the Raiders a 32-0 lead at the half.
Coffee County worked on ball control and running out the clock in the second half, scoring just two times after the break. Mahaffey’s quarterback keeper with 2:12 left in the third and Tanner Hulvey’s 5-yard run – followed by Clayton Lowell’s 2-point conversion run with 5:05 to play – set the final score.
About the only negative to be found for CCMS happened on the final Aviator possession as the Raiders jumped offside a couple of times. However, the penalties proved harmless as Coffee County’s reserves preserved the shutout.
“We put our young guys in – but that’s no excuse – and they got a couple of penalties,” Freeze said. “I don’t care if you are a young guy who has never played or an old guy who plays every snap, you’ve got to watch the football and go when the ball is snapped. But we will correct that because we’ve got high expectations whether you are first string or third string. We expect you to play.”
I was proud of the way they came out and played because the mistakes they made were mostly mental,” Freeze said of his second stringers. “They didn’t go out there and avoid tackles and play week. That’s what we want them to do. If you make mistakes, you make mistakes, but you’ve got to play hard and they did.”
The Raiders have a couple of weeks off until they travel to Whitwell on July 19, in what was originally scheduled as a CCMS home contest.