Thursday, September 13, 2012Author: Jonathan Herrmann
(Last modified: 2012-09-13 14:15:42)
Many will be watching Friday when Lenoir City hosts Bearden in a meeting between unbeaten division opponents.
The Panthers, 3-0 (1-0), will come in still remembering last season's 21-17 loss to the Bulldogs, 4-0 (1-0), when Lenoir City blew a 17-point lead.
"Losing that 17-point lead, it stuck in the back of our minds, made us work hard over the summer," senior quarterback Jordan Hall said.
"Any time you lose a ball game like that it leaves a bitter taste in your mouth," Panthers head coach Mike Zeller said.
Taking motivation from last season's loss will be important for Lenoir City as the task at hand is a tall one.
"They play hard, they control the ball, they can throw the ball, they can run the ball and they play good defense," Zeller said. "Obviously, they're a 6A team and ranked in the state. We've got our work cut out for us. They're a good ball club."
In four games this season, the Bulldogs have out scored opponents 169-26, allowing no more than nine points in any game.
"They have a bunch of play makers," Hall said. "They're a senior-led team this year. They have a couple college prospects on their team."
Since moving up to class 5A and into the same conference as Bearden, the Panthers are 0-3. In order to change that this season, they'll need to do a much better job against the Bearden running game, which totalled 251 yards in the 2011 meeting.
"They have a lot of different variations of the run," senior linebacker Jordan Willis said. "They mix it up real well."
Zeller believes the Panthers defense is further ahead of this time last year, and that his current unit has the ability to do a better job against Bearden.
"We've got a lot of players back on that side of the ball as well as offensively," he said. "(Jeff) Cortez is doing a good job as our defensive coordinator and those kids are believing in what he's doing. They play hard."
In addition to stopping the run, Lenoir City, which ran for just 24 yards in last year's meeting, will need to perform much better.
"You've got to be able to run the ball," Willis said. "Last year, all we did was pass. Our run game was really not very good. This year we've stepped it up. We've got to have a better run game. It opens up the pass game if you can run."
Hall said the offensive line's ability to open things up on the ground this season has been beneficial to the passing game as well, allowing for receivers to run more freely down field.
One worry with the line, Zeller said, is picking up different blitz packages to take pressure off Hall when he drops back to pass. Even with an added focus on running the ball, the Lenoir City offense is built around the pass.
Hall will need to be wary of Bearden's senior defensive back Josh Davenport, who recorded two interceptions, returning one for a touchdown, in the team's 49-7 win over Rhea County. Bulldogs quarterback Nick Frizen is also off to a hot start and could cause trouble for the Lenoir City secondary.
In addition to experience under center, Bearden sports a pair of senior running backs in Trent Waters and Jake Jolly. Waters is a Division I recruit drawing interest from Middle Tennessee State University and The University of Nevada-Las Vegas.
The offensive line was a concern for the Bulldogs when season began, returning only one starter, but their impressive point total early on would suggest there is little concern remaining after four games.
Lenoir City's special teams could come into play with the ability of kicker Dakota Vincel to kick for touchbacks, giving the Bearden offense a longer field to work with.
Bearden coach Brad Taylor could not be reached for comment on the game.
The Bulldogs are ranked eighth in the state in the Associated Press Prep Football Poll in class 6A and fifth in the East Tennessee Sportswriters Poll in 6A. Lenoir City ranks second in both polls.
The two teams will play at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Lenoir City High School.
A win would mark Lenoir City's first 4-0 start since 2004 when the team finished with seven wins, losing in the second round of the playoffs. A 5-0 start would be Bearden's first since 2010 when the team finished 9-4 with an appearance in the state quarterfinal.
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