Believe It: Team 119 Heads to State

Success is nothing new to those around MBA football. After all, the Big Red have won fifteen state championships in their 119 year history. But four state championship appearances in four seasons is nothing to scoff at for any program. While going to Cookeville has almost become a given, it did not feel that way at times for this year’s players, Team 119. There were reasons to doubt. There were highs and lows. Nevertheless, the Big Red will be loading buses headed to Cookeville tomorrow. 

After a preseason full of questions, the Big Red rolled to a 7-0 start including key wins over Pearl Cohn, McCallie, and Memphis University School. The team had to overcome injuries to several of its stars, including senior running backs Tay Munoz and Michael McGuire to achieve this mark, but some of their biggest games awaited with rivals Ensworth and Brentwood Academy staring MBA down. In preparation for Ensworth, junior tight end Josh Meriwether, who had emerged as one of the Big Red’s biggest threats, broke his ankle. The offense struggled to get going that Friday night while the defense kept MBA in the game against the Tigers. A Ty Allen touchdown tied things up before the half, but a second half Tiger field goal acted as the deciding factor as Ensworth prevailed in the defensive battle, 10-7. 

A bye week gave MBA time to recover from their first loss, as the Big Red prepared for a state championship 

  SENIORS  : The 17 seniors from Team 119 pose for one last photo at Tommy Owen.   PHOTO: Carolyn Thombs Photography

SENIORS: The 17 seniors from Team 119 pose for one last photo at Tommy Owen. PHOTO: Carolyn Thombs Photography

rematch with the Brentwood Academy Eagles. While many of the stars from the previous matchups were gone, the bad blood between the two rivals remained. With McGuire back in the lineup, MBA hoped that their offense would spark the Big Red to a victory in their homecoming game and on senior night. That hope was gone early as MBA fell behind 14-0 within the first two drives. The Eagles continued to roll, taking a 29-0 lead into the half. While the Big Red defense shutout the Eagle offense in the second half, MBA could not catchup and lost 29-0. 

Two consecutive losses was unchartered territory for MBA. Many thought that the team couldn’t compete with the top of the division, but the Big Red felt otherwise. 

Senior offensive lineman Jackson Abbey said, “After starting 7-0, I think we got a little complacent. This is a special team, and we realized [after the losses] that we could either stay down or get back up and fight. It didn’t matter how we got the job done, but we were going to win regardless of all that had gone wrong with injuries and calls against us.” 

In response to the two losses, MBA headed to Chattanooga to take on the Red Raiders of Baylor knowing they were in for a physical game. And that’s just what they got. On the first drive, the offensive line dominated and enforced their will as MBA drove 80 yards and took over eight minutes off the clock on their way to a touchdown. It looked like the night would be all Big Red. The Red Raiders felt otherwise. 

Baylor fought back with hopes of getting a win on their senior night and ruining MBA’s chances at a playoff bye. Seventeen unanswered points gave the Red Raiders a 17-7 lead before MBA got back on the board. Ty Allen led the team down the field with under a minute left in the half and connected with Jackson McFadden for the score. Trailing 17-14 at the half, MBA knew that they had to respond as the coaches challenged the defense to step up their game. 

Senior middle linebacker Clay Garstin said, “We knew that Baylor was a run heavy team and that they did that very well. Stopping their powerful running backs would lead to big stops deep in our territory, give the offense great field position, and help the team win. That is what the coaches’ challenge to us was.” 

Garstin and the defense responded to the coaches’ call. Fenner Pollock led the defensive effort with an interception while a key sack by junior defensive end, Dominic Fisher, gave the Big Red offense the field position that they needed. Ten second half points was all MBA needed as Pollock broke up Baylor’s two point attempt for the win. MBA snuck away with a 24-23 victory and secured the second seed for the upcoming playoffs. 

While MBA hoped it would get a shot at revenge against Ensworth after their bye, Baylor knocked off the Tigers and advanced to play MBA once again. Out for revenge, the Red Raiders fought hard as the self proclaimed road warriors. Just like the second half of their regular season matchup, the playoff game was a defensive battle. At the half it was 0-0, but Michael McGuire finally broke free for a rushing score. 

On the next play from scrimmage, linebacker Jackson Hannah forced a fumble that was recovered by junior defensive lineman Ian Hall. That set up another quick score on a Ty Allen run from eight yards out. The 14-0 run gave MBA the momentum they needed to finish the game and come away with a 14-7 victory in what would be the final home game for this year’s senior class. 

The Big Red rolled on for the season’s third trip to Memphis for a matchup with the undefeated Christian Brothers Purple Wave. In a game very similar to the previous week’s against Baylor, MBA’s defense set the tone early on by shutting down the Brothers. The game once again went to the half with a scoreless tie. The Big Red finally found the endzone early in the fourth quarter as Ty Allen connected with Clint Blackwell for the game’s first score. On the following Christian Brothers drive, defensive lineman Harrison Graves picked off the Purple Wave and set up the Big Red with a short field inside the Brothers five yard line. 

  BALLGAME  : #7 Clint Blackwell scores the go-ahead TD versus Christian Brothers.   PHOTO: Carolyn Thombs Photography

BALLGAME: #7 Clint Blackwell scores the go-ahead TD versus Christian Brothers. PHOTO: Carolyn Thombs Photography

MBA responded once again with a connection between Allen and Blackwell as the Big Red took a 14-0 lead. The Purple Wave got in the endzone late in the game, but it wasn’t enough to stop the Big Red from rolling back to Cookeville. 

Garstin praised the defensive effort saying, “Christian Brothers was another run heavy team with a big offensive line, but we did our best to eliminate that part of their offense.” 

Tomorrow night, the Big Red will once again square off with Brentwood Academy for all the marbles. For the seniors, they will look to end their careers on a high note, with a ring. Few expect MBA to win, but fewer expected MBA to be here. The Big Red have been preparing for this game since the hottest days of summer, and Team 119 is ready for the challenge. 

Senior offensive lineman Wesley Hall said, “We know that the odds are completely against us. We don’t care.