The excitement of another high school football season starting has everyone across the Volunteer state excited and the Victory Formation returns weekly for its sixth year.
Before I get to what happened on the field in week one, I want to lead off the first Victory Formation with a feel good story.
As I was winding down on Wednesday night, August 9, I went on Facebook to catch up with friends and to see the latest photos from family and I came across a story from News Channel 11 WJHL.
The story said that Unaka’s football program was in need of football equipment because of the spike of players coming out for the team.
Here’s a recap of the state of the Unaka program as last season, Unaka had a tumultuous year as the Rangers finished 1-10 and had to forfeit their first round Class 1A playoff game against Greenback.
The last two regular seasons games saw Unaka get outscored 117-0 in losses to Hancock County and Midway and players quit putting the total number of players into single digits.
Because they were forced to forfeit the playoff game, the Ranger program received a two year postseason ban in 2017 and 2018 and in early December, coach Steve McKinney resigned after eight seasons as head coach and the program needed the next coach to fix the program and get the community excited again.
Enter 34 year old O’Brien Bennett.
Bennett played his high school football at nearby Dobyns Bennett before spending six years coaching at Carter (2007-12) and the last four years at Knoxville Halls (2013-16).
Since his hire in January at Unaka, Bennett has done all the right things, recruiting the halls and getting the community excited about the season.
The program saw a tremendous spike in players coming out for the team as the number went from 8 to 43 in the Rangers 26-14 Friday night loss to North Greene.
Because of being a rural 1A program with limited funds, the Rangers had limited equipment (four players were without helmets and couldn’t participate in contact drills) and the upswing in players gave Bennett a unique problem.
In order to raise money for the additional helmets, Bennett institutioned for his players to perform community service for local businesses in exchange for donations.
The players landscaped local businesses, prepared, packaged and delivered meals in the community with the TLC Children’s food program, teamed with the Make a Wish foundation to build a play area, helped with the Daniel Boone Challenger Baseball league and did a trail day at Roan Mountain state park.
“The players performed 258 hours of community service and I’m proud of the kids for doing all the projects and doing the right thing for the good of the program.”
Five minutes after posting the Facebook story on August 9, I received a Facebook message from Trinity Christian head coach Blake Butler.
“Hey man, I saw the story on Unaka and their need for helmets and I want to help. I have helmets that I’m getting rid of that are still in date and good shape. They are black with black face masks. It would be cheaper than buying new ones to get them repainted. I will give them to Unaka if they want them. They just need to pay for shipping or figure a way to get them.”
“I also have some shoulder pads that are in decent shape, but just need a strap or something small replaced. We have bought a lot of new equipment and have equipment that’s just taking up space that I need to get rid of.”
I put Bennett in touch with Butler and on August 10, Butler sent 10 helmets with a value of $1,800.00, 431 miles from Jackson to Elizabethton and all it costed was $270 for shipping and handling.
On August 15, the helmets got to Bennett and the Unaka program and he can’t thank Butler and the Trinity Christian program enough.
Photo Credit O’Brien Bennett
“Coach Butler is a coach who understands the mission of high school sports. However, he understands it in the broader sense that his impact does not have to be limited to the players on his team and he had some helmets available that his team was not going to use this year and he did not want to see kids unable to participate and grow from high school sports due to a lack of available resources,” Bennett said.
“That’s a very selfless act from a godly man that gets the big picture and I can’t thank him for his generosity enough.”
Butler doesn’t see himself as a savior to the Unaka program, he just saw the need to help a fellow coach and program in need and knew he could help.
“I saw you post the story about them needing helmets so they wouldn’t have to turn away any kids. I instantly knew I could help them out if they wanted it. Sometimes God puts things together when and from where we least expect it,” Butler said.
Tennessee High School also has helped the Ranger program as the Vikings donated extra girdles and pants while Dobyns Bennett and Sullivan Central offered extra shoulder pads (although the Rangers didn’t need the shoulder pads it was the thought that counts.)
I’m pleased to be able to start the Victory Formation with such a feel good story and now let’s talk about what happened on the field in Week One.
Losing Streaks Be Gone
Four teams shredded lengthy losing streaks as Tullahoma, West Creek, Columbia and White House all ended double digits losing streaks that have frustrated coaches, players and fans for the last year and a half.
Tullahoma 37, Shelbyville 29– The last 21 games have been frustrating for coach John Olive and the Wildcats but thanks to brothers Amauri and Kobe Burks, Tullahoma built a 37-7 halftime lead and hold on for the win. Amauri, a senior (137 total yards, one touchdown, eight tackles on defense) and Kobe, a junior (37 yard touchdown catch, seven tackles, one interception) both made their presence known as they will give the Wildcats a boost since transferring from Blackman.
A Closer look at the Tullahoma losing streak– Tullahoma was outscored 961-285 as opponents averaged 45.8 points a game as they scored over 40 or more points eight times, 50 or more six times and 60 or more once while Tullahoma averaged only 13.6 points a game during the streak.
“The players have worked extremely hard all summer to achieve this goal. We now are trying to focus on moving from an average team (competitive team) to a good team as we have shown in our preseason scrimmages and our first game that we are competitive. We still have a ways to go, but I like our players attitudes even before last Thursday. Last Thursday evening was just a really nice feeling to be in a game and our players making enough plays to hang on to get a win. The elephant is no longer in the room,” Tullahoma head coach John Olive
West Creek 25, White House Heritage 13– Coyote second year head coach James Figueroa was able to gain his first career coaching win after taking over the program last season as linebacker DeMarcus Washington was the star as he made 14 tackles and forced a fumble in the West Creek win after losing the last 17 games.
A Closer look at the West Creek losing streak– The Coyotes were outscored 641 to 112 in the 17 games as opponents averaged 37.7 points while the West Creek offense were shut out seven times in that span and only averaged 6.6 points during the losing streak.
“Players win games, coaches lose games, our players trust the process and how it works and it starts with family. They all play for each other and they are all in,” Figueroa said.
Columbia 40, Hillwood 0-The best thing about Columbia winning their first game under second year Lion Coach Jason Hoath was the fact the defense played so well after a dreadful 2016 year in which opponents feasted as they averaged 45.6 points a game during Columbia’s 16 game losing streak. Quarterback Darien Davis had four touchdown passes to four different receivers and added a fifth touchdown on a run while the defense allowed just 147 total yards to Hillwood as they forced five Hilltopper turnovers.
A Closer look at the Columbia losing streak– Columbia was outscored 729 to 256 during the streak as the Lions allowed six 40 or more point games, five 50 or more points and one game as they were defeated 70-28.
“It was a great feeling for that streak to come to an end. Our players have worked hard this year to make sure we turn our program around and head it back in the right direction. Our team played with a purpose and went out and executed the game plan. Defensively we came up with five turnovers and our offense did an outstanding job of moving the ball and putting points on the board. I’m excited about this group and what the future holds for them the rest of the season,” Hoath said.
White House 35, East Robertson 0– The Blue Devils erased their 13 game losing streak as their defense was huge holding East Robertson to only 70 yards as they forced three Indian turnovers in the win. Carter Hunt was the offensive star as he scored two touchdowns (one rushing, one punt return) in the win.
A Closer look at the White House losing streak-The Blue Devils outscored 431-146 but had two near wins in 2016 losing 14-7 (White House Heritage) and 16-14 (Sycamore) last season.
“Just excited for our players to win in week one. Even though we were not successful in the win-loss column last year, many of those players gained valuable playing time that we hope they can build on this year . Steaks happen and we just look towards the next opponent and respect the past and learn from it,” White House Coach Jeff Porter said.
Richland 32, Perry County 28– First year head coach Mike Holt definitely got the Raiders off on the right foot as they broke a nine game losing streak after winning the season opener last season. The Raiders had a ton of success on the ground as four players had at least 60 yards rushing as Braxton Woodard (96 yards), Gus McGowan (87 yards, one touchdown), Skylar Tarpley (71 yards, 2 TDs) and Dustin Grenko (61 yards, TD) all had success on the ground.
A Closer look at the Richland losing streak– After beating Sale Creek 50-10 in the 2016 opener, Richland was outscored 348 to 143.
“It feels amazing. This team has worked hard all preseason to get better. We took on a new motto for this season, “Whatever it takes!” That’s exactly what our guys gave us. Whatever it took to win the game. We are excited about that win, but know that it’s still only one little piece of the puzzle. We are looking forward to continuing to do whatever it takes to win the next one,” Holt said.
McGavock 25, Maplewood 24– An eight game losing streak was kicked to the side as junior running back Ta’micus Napier rushed for 156 yards and scored two touchdowns including the game winner in overtime.
A Closer look at the McGavock losing streak– The Raiders were outscored 335 to 112 as opponents averaged 41.8 during the McGavock losing streak.
Winning Coaching Debuts
54 coaches found new schools to call home during the off season and 52 were in action last Friday and 19 were able to get wins while 32 lost their coaching debut. New coaches Lance Rorex (Lookout Valley) and Orentheus Taylor (Liberty) will go for their first wins this week as their teams were off in week one.
The following 13 coaches got their first ever coaching win in Week One. They were:
Matthew Bates, Clay County
Randall Boldin, Whitwell
Chris Cascio, Northpoint Christian
Levi Estes, Dresden
Mike Head, Antioch
Mike Holt, Richland
Derek Hunt, Maryville
Brad Lowery, Zion Christian
Alvin Sanders, Morristown West
Gerald Sensabaugh, David Crockett
Dennis Therrell, Bledsoe County
Houston Thiel, Creek Wood
Adrian Watson, Pigeon Forge
The following four coaches got back in the win column this time with their new program
Michael Copley, Siegel
Mac McCurry, Franklin County
Randy McKamey, Clinton
Brad Waggoner, Trousdale County
The following two coaches got their first coaching win back at the school they previously served as head coach.
Larry Franklin, Trezevant
Derwin Wright, York
Contact Donovan at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at Examine_Stew