SMITHVILLE — In a year when time has a heavier weight than most, the DeKalb County Tigers had plenty of time to recall their exit from last year’s playoffs at Nolensville.
On a chilly night in Smithville, their rematch would play out, but Nolensville denied the Tigers again, escaping with a 24-17 victory.
The defenses had trouble in the first half getting stops. Axel Aldino proved hard to stop, especially on third down where the Tigers picked up multiple conversations. A 97-yard drive on their first possession set the tone, showcasing the Class 4A Mr. Football semifinalist’s skill on the ground and finding his targets down field.
Nolensville stayed within striking distance. Late in the first half and trailing by 10, the Knights rolled out a sweep play on fourth down instead of kicking a field goal.
Knights head coach Paul Derrick said after the game, “We had success with that play in practice … three might not be enough.”
Ryder Galardi only made one mistake in the first half, and the Knights’ offense kept its defense fresh with time-consuming drives. Galardi completed 15-of-25 passes for 218 yards and two touchdowns.
In the second half, the Knights’ defense held the explosive Aldino in check and forced consecutive three-and-outs. The Knights added a field goal before the game got very chippy. Galardi was forced out of bounds on the home sideline and shoved into the retaining fence. Tempers flared, and the Tigers’ defense looked to have their groove back as the game entered the fourth.
Galardi found a hole in the DeKalb secondary and the Knights took their first lead with 8:48 to play on Chance Fitzgerald’s 23-yard touchdown catch. From there, the Knights defense was faced with the task of holding off the Tigers, who started to look sharp again on offense.
The drive ended at the 1, and the DeKalb County Tigers saw their season expire again at the hands of the Knights.
Nolensville moves on, and Paul Derrick’s crew found the right balance to move past a tough task and a hostile environment.
The Knights will travel to unbeaten Tullahoma for the Class 4A quarterfinals, seeking to avenge a 29-14 loss on Oct. 23.