By CHRIS CANNON
JACKSBORO—For the first time in school history, the Campbell County Cougars are headed to the second round of post-season play.
The hometown team will travel to Knoxville West High School on Friday night to take on the Associated Press No. 2 Rebels.
“They’re well coached, they’re athletic, and they’re physical,” head coach Justin Price said. “At the same time, they do some stuff on defense and offense that’s not too complicated. It’s about us just executing. If we can go out offensively, throw on time, take what they give us, protect the football, stay on blocks and make the catches, I think we can have some success against them.”
Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m., and admission is a TSSAA-mandated $8.
West comes into the game having outscored opponents 150-12 in the Rebels’ previous three contests, which included bouts with Heritage, Lenoir City and David Crockett.
The Rebels won in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs with a 60-0 blowout over the Pioneers.
“We’ve got to play fast, we’ve got to play physical, and we’ve got to play downhill,” middle linebacker Nick Bailey said. “We know their running backs are good. That’s the main thing we’ve got to stop on Friday.”
Running back Nathan Cottrell has led West in rushing this season, followed by quarterback Seth Marshall and fullback Justin Hodge.
The trio has racked up 2,627 yards and 38 touchdowns combined, as they average 10.7 yards per carry.
“They’re big up front, and they’re fast,” defensive coordinator Matt Price said. “Their running backs, the Cottrell kid, he’s as good as anybody around. Stinson and those guys are fast, but he’s right up there with them. He’s a little bit more explosive.”
Cottrell has 1,308 rushing yards this season on only 90 carries. He’s crossed the goal line on 14 occasions, as he averages 14.5 yards per run.
“We’ve got to be so disciplined, but we’ve got to be physical, too,” Matt Price said. “They’ve got it all on that side of the ball. I think we’re pretty good against the run, and I like our chances. I think [Christian] Monday, [Andrew] Evans and Bailey will get the job done.”
In order to be successful, Campbell County will have to produce defensively on first down.
Throughout this season, West has managed to only convert on 31 of its 75 third-down attempts.
With such a low number of third downs, teams haven’t been successful slowing the team down.
“They’re not a very good throwing team,” Matt Price said. “They’ll throw some screens and stuff like that, but they thrive off getting 4 or 5 yards on first down. They’re right where they want to be. That’s where we’ve got to win. We’ve stressed this week about keeping them to 2 or 3 yards on first down. You get in those third and 5s, third and 6s, that’s when you’ve got a chance.”
Although the Rebels have thumped their previous three opponents, the team has given up two turnovers in each contest.
Against David Crockett, West had a total of five fumbles, only two of which were lost.
“All year, we’ve caused a lot of turnovers,” Matt Price said. “I think we’re over 30 now. A lot of it’s just how we gang tackle and get to the ball. With an option team, they’re suspect to put the ball on the ground. We’ve got to hit them and get to the ball. If it’s on the ground, pick it up.”
Should the Cougars pick up those key turnovers, the offense has been potent at turning them into points.
Against Gibbs on Friday night, the Cougars rolled up 28 points off of six total turnovers.
Against one of the top teams in the state, turning those miscues into points will be crucial.
“We all have confidence that our defense can stop the run, just like they did against Gibbs,” Ethan Jeffers said. “We’re all confident that the defense can get the offense the ball. All we’ve got to do on offense is execute.”
Execution is the key word for Friday, Justin Price said.
“I think, early on, if we can find a way to do some good things against them, whether it’s offensively or defensively, to get some doubt in their minds as far as what they’ve been doing, it’ll be good,” he said. “They’ve been killing people, so it’s a matter of doing some things to them early to put the pressure on them and see how they handle it.”
Thus far this season, the Rebels have outscored their opponents by a score of 167-33 in the first quarter.
By the half, that margin extends to 310-75.
“I think it’s very important that we get off to a quick start,” Justin Price said. “Offensively, in 11 games we’ve played, I feel like eight or nine of them, we have gotten off to a fast start. We’ve got to make sure that we come out and do what we know to do early on — just play the game one play at a time. We’ve got to put the pressure on them a little bit. I think that’s key for us.”
Only one thing for sure — the Cougars have a ton of belief in what their doing.
“I’m pretty sure everybody on this team believes we can go get that W,” Bailey said. “I know the starters do, and I think everybody behind us does, too. I think we can go in Friday and get a big win.”