By Jake Evans:
This Friday night, the Whitehaven Tigers will host the Ravenwood Raptors, a 6A foe from Brentwood, TN, in a semifinal matchup. Last week, Whitehaven stunned undefeated Germantown 14-0 at their field. In the regular season, Germantown handled the Tigers 37-19, so a 14-0 Whitehaven win was unexpected. That win sends Whitehaven into the 6A semifinals for the 5th straight time, and 8th in the last 9 years. That was also the third straight time that Germantown has lost to Whitehaven in the quarterfinals. This year’s seniors for Whitehaven were freshman in 2015, the last time Ravenwood and Whitehaven played in the semifinals, a game which Ravenwood won 20-13 en route to a state title. When asked about the upcoming matchup, Whitehaven’s coach Rodney Saulsberry told The Commercial Appeal that, “I love that. We’ve seen them before.” He added, “I really appreciate Ravenwood winning so we can see a familiar team and have a little chip on our shoulder because we owe them one. They beat us the last time we played.”
This year’s seniors for Whitehaven is the heart and soul of their success, as they have 4 players in the top 30 in the state rankings. 4-star WR Keveon Mullins is committed to South Carolina, 3-star guard Melvin McBride is committed to Tennessee, 3-star TE Cormontae Hamilton is committed to Ohio State, and 3-star WR Devin Boddie is committed to Vanderbilt. That group makes up one of the most explosive offenses in the state, a unit that has scored an average 34.3 PPG this season. Junior RB Cameron Sneed leads the ground attack for Whitehaven, with 130 rushing YPG, which gives the Tigers just one more explosive weapon on their side. Defense is where Whitehaven has shined as of late though. In 3 playoff games this year, they’ve given up just 11.3 PPG. Last week versus Germantown, the Tigers defense tallied 5 turnovers, a stat the helped them blank the undefeated Red Devils. That was their 4th shutout of the year. The Tigers’ defense has been stout, led by Tamarion McDonald, Tyler Hunter, and Martavius French. The trio of linebackers combines for nearly 20 tackles per game, making them the backbone of the Tigers defense. They’ve been the main stopping force this year for Whitehaven’s defense, one of the best in the area. Those 3 on defense have to be sharp if they want to stop Ravenwood’s dynamic, balanced offense.
As for Ravenwood, they’ve scored 29.5 PPG through 13 games, while giving up 17.6 PPG. They’ve scored 35+ in 8 games this season, while also blanking 5 of their opponents. QB Brian Garcia has been their leader this season, throwing for 200 YPG and 26 total TDs. Last week in a win over rival Brentwood, Garcia was 12/21 passing for 196 yards and 2 TDs. Equally important to this offense is RB Tony Rice. Last week, Rice had 9 carries for 101 yards, putting him over 1,000 yards on the year. Garcia’s top target this season has been senior WR Anthony Holmes, another key contributor who has helped the Raptors to 45 PPG in the playoffs. On defense, Ravenwood has been led by DE/OLB Bryan Rice, a junior who leads the team in solo tackles and tackles for loss. If the Raptors want to stop the explosive Tiger offense, Rice has to be a factor early and often.
There is a good chance that this game turns into a high-scoring shootout, as both offenses have been electric in the playoffs. However, both defenses are more than capable of shutting down the opponent. This game could be a classic, as the winner will take on the victor of the Maryville/Oakland game in the state championship next week.
Kickoff is Friday night, November 23rd, at 7pm at Whitehaven High School.