NASHVILLE – East Nashville was the last team to score against Pearl-Cohn’s defense… 42 days ago.
Friday, the Firebirds’ defense made sure its shutout streak remained intact, blanking the Eagles 41-0 to record its fifth consecutive goose egg since the second game of its truncated season.
With the victory, Pearl-Cohn (7-0) cruised to the Class 3A quarterfinals, where the Firebirds will travel to Stewart County to battle for a semifinal spot.
“I guess we’re playing good team ball on defense right now,” Pearl-Cohn head coach Tony Brunetti said. “We’re not perfect at all. Made a lot of mistakes. I think (East Nashville) did a good job of changing up the way they blocked things from last time. We changed things up, too.”
It appeared that East Nashville (4-2) would make a game of it early, driving deep into Firebird territory — all the way to the 1-yard line —before a fourth-down stop to begin the second quarter ended that surge.
“It might not have changed the outcome of the game, but it changed the morale of the kids,” East Nashville head coach Jamaal Stewart said. “When you don’t punch it in right there, it kind of downs the kids.”
Brunetti added, “That’s knock-on-wood, y’all. We’ve been stopping people there. That’s the second big stop we’ve had (at the 1 this season) … We’ve been rolling the dice and the dice have been good on our side.”
Pearl-Cohn needed only 75 seconds to get on the board first, with Martino Owens’ 1-yard plunge providing all the scoring the Firebirds eventually needed. Owens tossed three scoring strikes, finishing 12-of-14 for 231 yards. Justin Vila, Bari’on Brown and John Roberts were on the receiving end of Owens’ touchdown passes.
“Hey, he threw that ball tonight, woo,” Brunetti said. “People don’t understand the comeback he had. He’s better than he was last year. He deserves everything he gets right now … if you give him time, he’s going to hurt you.”
Randall Hodge put the Firebirds up 14-0 with his 7-yard run up the middle of the East Nashville defense.
“We came out flat,” Stewart said. “They hit us in the mouth early. We made a lot of mistakes against a good team like that, and they just beat us up front.”
I’ven Dayton spun out of a tackle and darted in from six yards out to boost Pearl-Cohn’s lead to 28-0 early in the second half.
The Firebirds’ defense did the rest in their playoff opener — last week’s scheduled first-round game against Camden was cancelled when the Lions were forced to quarantine — and have outscored opponents 236-0 since their 42-21 victory over East Nashville on Oct. 2. Even after the first two games, that margin swells to 292-28.
“They’re loaded,” Stewart said. “They’re fast, athletic and strong. (Owens) is good. And they’ve got a swagger about themselves. That’s the thing about Pearl-Cohn — their swagger about themselves — that gets in kids’ heads nowadays before the game even starts. And I tried to preach all week not to let that happen.
“First game we played them, we didn’t let it happen. We had a little attitude about ourselves, too. But we fell behind early and our kids’ heads fell down. I’ve just got to do a better job.”