Eagles down Dyersburg for program’s first state title game appearance
NASHVILLE – The Thanksgiving holiday is a time for family, and while many Nashville families were braving the chilly November air for their holiday visits, Jamaal Stewart and his East Nashville Eagles were busy working to deliver their Christmas gifts to each other a month early.
The Eagles used a smothering defense and a 175-yard effort from Amarion Ford to hold off visiting Dyersburg 20-7, a win that propelled the Metro program into the BlueCross Bowl for the first time.
“It means one more week together,” Stewart said. “When we talk about family, we talk about each other as well. We text and laugh and joke and talk to each other, day in and day out. I couldn’t sleep, they couldn’t sleep, we were in a group chat texting at 3:00 in the morning. ‘What are ya’ll doing up’? (They replied) ‘watching film Coach!’
“And I’m watching film too. It’s a blessing. I love these kids. I’m just happy for the opportunity to have one more week together.”
The Trojan contingent was well represented as numerous cars bearing Dyer County license plates set up hours in advance to tailgate, filling the visiting bleachers to capacity prior to kickoff.
Grinding out the remainder of the first-quarter clock, the Eagles marched 93 yards to grab the lead on a 2-yard rugby scrum that quarterback Zacc Beard powered over the goal line.
“They were a team that liked to drive and drive and milk the clock,” Ford said. “They aren’t very good in the passing game. We knew if we could score early and run the ball and stop the run (defensively) we would win the game.”
“I’ve always been one of those guys that defers to the second half,” Stewart said. “But one time I said, ‘Man, let’s just get it’ and get the score first and then put the pressure on them. Once you hop out on somebody they have to respond, because if we go up two (scores), that’s kind of tough.”
Dyersburg’s Wing-T offense continued to struggle thanks in no small part to LaDon Pointer and Jordan Houston locking down the edges and filling the gaps. But a turnover on downs on the following Eagle drive gave the Trojans the ball near midfield. The Eagle defense got a turnover on downs themselves when Lafe Morgan’s fourth-down pass went off the outstretched hands of Meschach Jones.
The next drive gave Stewart exactly what he wanted. The Trojans, loading the box to stop the run,
allowed Eagle receiver Willie Wilson to streak by them. Wilson snagged Beard’s 50-yard pass in stride to put East Nashville up 14-0 as the half ended.
“We’re a run-heavy team but we can throw the ball,” Stewart said. “If Willie gets past you, you’re not going to catch him.”
Ford said the team’s confidence grew with the two-score margin.
“When you’re up 14-0 on a team that runs the Wing-T, they want to drive,” Ford said. “So, they may get a 10- or 15-yard gain, but they’re not going to get 40- and 30-yard plays when they just run the ball. And we have tremendous run defense.”
“They were strong inside there,” Dyersburg coach Bart Stowe said. “We had some opportunities early that we didn’t take advantage of. You’ve got to score when you get the ball deep in their side and we were unable to do that. Our defense was out there way too much all night long. We didn’t make the plays. Hats off to them. They made the plays to win the game.”
The Eagle defense started off the second half much like they left off, creating turnovers on the first two Trojan drives. The second fumble, a mishandled pitch recovered by De’Myius Trotter, set the Eagles up on the Dyersburg side of the field. Five plays later, Ford broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage and bolted 13 yards to put the Eagles up 20-0.
“Yes, we made costly errors, we had some turnovers,” Stowe said. “We hadn’t been doing that all year long. The mistakes cost us. You do not beat a good football team when you make mistakes.”
The Trojans got a break late in the third quarter when Sam Lainez, attempting to punt under
pressure, was tackled in Eagle territory. A long Rah’montaye Patton run set up Dontavis Vaughn’s 4-yard run with 11:52 left in regulation.
Any chance at a comeback ended when Houston broke through and hit Morgan in mid-throw. The ball flutter in midair before falling into the grasp of Pointer who returned it deep into Trojan territory.
The Eagles were able to kill the remainder of time until both the home crowd and Eagle’s sideline
erupted once the scoreboard read all zeroes. Ford immediately found Coach Stewart and locked him in an embrace that lasted several minutes.
Ford, the remains of tears in his eyes, smiled wearily.
“I’m sore, I’m sore. I don’t think my body has ever felt like this. They can hit,” Ford said. “Man, (Stewart) has always been in my corner. He coached my brother when he went to Stratford. We’ve got a relationship, a bond. He knows everything I’ve been through. This game meant something to me. He wanted this win. He told me I need to put the team on my back. I just wanted to do it for my team.”