By TREY WILLIAMS
David Crockett and Daniel Boone put on a show during the Musket Bowl on Oct. 19 in Jonesborough, and the 10,000-plus that surely attended are eager for an encore performance.
The Pioneers (10-0) and Trailblazers (8-2) will each host an opening-round Class 5A playoff game on Friday. Crockett will host Halls (5-5) and Gibbs (6-4) will visit Boone.
If both teams win two playoff games a, Musket rematch would take place at Crockett in the quarterfinals.
Shortly after Boone concluded the regular season with a 49-15 home win against Cherokee on Friday, someone told Traiblazers coach Jeremy Jenkins he’d sure like to see a Crockett-Boone quarterfinals matchup.
“I think that’s what everybody wants,” Jenkins said with a chuckle.
Certainly, that’s the case for Boone senior quarterback Easton Harrell.
“That’s our No. 1 goal right now,” Harrell said.
Of course, Jenkins and Crockett first-year coach Hayden Chandley, who played for Jenkins at Boone, don’t want to peek ahead to what would be an epic rematch.
“We’ve gotta execute this week,” Chandley said, “and take it one week at a time.”
Crockett will host a playoff game for the first time. It’s opponent, Halls, is coached by Jeremy Bosken, who was Crockett’s head coach (2013-16).
Bosken was ejected during a season-ending win against Seymour on Friday, and must leave Crockett once the players get off the bus and enter the locker room.
Bosken coached the Pioneers when the current seniors were sophomores. And Pioneers starting quarterback Cade Larkins, a junior, began starting for Bosken in the second game of his freshman season.
“How many times in life do you get to coach in a game where, like, every kid on the field is your guys,” Bosken said. “I was excited about it. … I get devotionals every day from Cade Larkins’ dad. It’s a group that we’re close with.”
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Larkins has passed for 3,172 yards, 36 touchdowns and six interceptions this season. His favorite target is 6-foot-4 junior Donta Hackler (54 catches, 1,002 yards, 14 TDs), but he utilizes a variety of weapons that includes Micah Robinson (45 catches, 991 yards, 12 TDs), John Kollie (33-504-5), Mark Seidler (22-380-2) and Prince Kollie (21-263-3).
If Halls doesn’t play well, Bosken knows his former players will end his current players’ season.
“They throw it to everybody,” Bosken said. “So you can’t really not pay attention to anybody, and they’ve got the best quarterback in Tennessee. It’s like, my goodness, you’ve got Baby (Ben) Roethlisberger back there picking people apart.
“And, gosh, I love Donta. He’s that quiet leader, but he’s so passionate when he gets on the field or the court. He’s respected by everybody. … There’s nobody that doesn’t respect Donta. He’s a guy that you’d want your daughter to marry. He’s just a good kid who plays hard. He’s coachable.”
Seidler (94 tackles) and Kollie (82 in nine games) are the Pioneers’ leading tacklers. Hackler and Robinson have also greatly contributed to the 10-0 start on defense, leading the team with four and three interceptions, respectively.
“I’m very excited for the school – and community – for taking the season one game at a time and focusing on the next game each and every week,” Chandley said. “We’ve told our kids to soak this in and don’t take for granted what we’ve done thus far. (Going) 10-0 isn’t an every-year thing. Our kids have worked their tail off and deserve it.
“But we still have more left to prove. While our season has been great thus far, none of that matters starting Friday night. As long as you get into the ‘big dance’ the great record now only means anything because of getting to host some playoff games. Thirty-two teams control their own destiny in 5A and we are fortunate to be one of those and have left our kids with that.”
Chandley doesn’t expect anything to come easily in the trenches against Halls, which was still awaiting word on whether or not three players will be suspended for the Crockett game due to an altercation against Seymour.
“Halls is extremely physical at the line of scrimmage,” Chandley said. “They have great size and strength and do a good job of running the football to set up their play-action and screen game. Defensively, they get after the quarterback extremely well and do a good job of getting pressure with just four rushers. We have to do a good job defensively of stopping the run and putting them into sure passing situations.
“Offensively it’s the same old story: we have to protect Cade and give him time to find the open guy. Our offensive line has gotten better each and every week with last week being their best performance of the season. We must block and tackle, fly to the football, and take care of the football for 48 minutes.”
Boone is led by 6-foot-2, 225-pound junior running back Charlie Cole, whose impressive combination of size and speed have helped him rush for 1,574 yards and 23 TDs on 173 attempts.
Harrell has been solid from the get-go and gotten better each week this season. He’s rushed for 914 yards and 14 TDs on 100 carries. He’s also passed for 732 yards, six TDs and two interceptions – not bad for the guy that was supposedly the question mark on a potentially solid squad.
“It feels really good,” Harrell said. “I knew there was a lot of people doubting me because of a couple of games last year. But I got thrown in the fire quite a bit and people just thought I wasn’t capable of doing it. And I just came out here and showed ‘em what I could do.”
Cole (15 carries, 131 yards, two TDs), Harrell (9-125-2) and sophomore Devon White (9-101-2) each rushed for in excess of 100 yards and two TDs in Friday’s win against Cherokee.
“Devon’s a great running back,” Harrell said. “He’s gonna step up and make big-time plays like that.”
White also leads the Trailblazers in tackles (82), whch will be critical against ground-oriented Gibbs.
“Gibbs runs the flex-bone offense like Georgia Tech,” Jenkins said. “So you have to play assignment football. First-down defense will be huge for us, to get them into some long-yardage situations.
“They have a real opportunistic defense that loves to get penetration with their front and force turnovers. We have to take care of the ball and move it consistently and make them play catch-up. They are a ball-control offense. So we have to force them into some negative plays and get them off the field on third down.”
Jenkins is proud of his ‘Blazers for winning eight regular season games during a season in which they were replacing Region 1-5A’s offensive player of the year in Shelton, lineman of the year Bailey Presnell and key players such as receiver C.J. Carter and Zach Taylor (Carson-Newman) from the program’s first conference championship team.
“I’m happy for our kids and our coaching staff – to be 8-2 and have some big wins this year and finish runner-up,” Jenkins said. “This bunch has won 16 games the last two years. We’re tickled with the way we finished. Now, we’ve gotta start again in the postseason.”