The adage says that patience is a virtue. For Lebanon head coach Chuck Gentry, patience was his mantra – so much so that he wrote a note to himself as a reminder earlier in the week.
“I’m not patient enough at times, but I knew we had to be tonight, the way (Mt. Juliet) were probably going to play us, and that’s we wanted to do.”
The Blue Devils (6-2) used a clock-grinding running game in the second half while the defense limited host Mt. Juliet to 31 yards on 26 carries to defeat the Golden Bears 27-6 on Thursday night.
“Our goal was to tackle,” Gentry said. “In the two games we lost, we didn’t feel like we tackled well. We’ve been working on it. They’ve got three really good running backs and they’re all three different. We knew we had to tackle and make them throw the football.”
The game got off to a slow start as both teams fought off penalties early. In the first half alone, there were two sideline warnings and three sideline infractions marched off.
Mt. Juliet (5-2) was able to move the ball throughout the first quarter against the Blue Devil defense, but could not sustain drives, something that Mt. Juliet head coach Trey Perry said put them behind the eight-ball as the game progressed.
“I heard (Titans head coach) Mike Vrabel say this, ‘drive starts,’” Perry said. “Early in the game we had good drive starts, good series openers and won a lot of first downs but as the game when on we didn’t. It was a penalty on first down or a negative play on first down. The makes a coordinator’s job really hard.”
After a scoreless first quarter, the Blue Devils mounted a 10-play, 90-yard drive that bogged down deep in Golden Bear territory. Facing fourth down from the 17-yard line, the Blue Devils pulled out a play they had practiced only a handful of times before.
Lebanon quarterback Jalen Abston handed the ball off to wide receiver Anthony Crowell on the end around, pulling the defense with him. Crowell then lofted a perfect pass to Nolan Sandefur in the corner of the end zone to get the Blue Devils on the board midway through the second quarter.
“We didn’t even run it the whole week, said Abston. “It was executed really well.”
Crowell, a sly smile crossing his face, admitted he was excited when he heard the play call. “We practiced it a little bit, but I’ve only run it like twice, but I was happy when I did it.”
A mishandled exchange on a reverse on Mt. Juliet’s next series gave the Blue Devils possession at the Golden Bear 29-yard line. Seven plays later, Abston dropped a dime into the right corner of the endzone for Crowell for a 14-0 lead.
“(Crowell is) a special young man, he does a lot of things for us, a ‘Swiss Army knife,’” Gentry said. “He’s one of the best football players I’ve ever coached, and I’m glad he’s on our side.”
The second half saw the Blue Devils go to a heavy dose of running back Sean Heath, getting 18 of his 29 carries in the half. Heath finished with 173 yards on the ground.
Midway through the third, Mt. Juliet attempted a fourth-down conversion but came up short when Connor Gannon tripped up Golden Bear quarterback Tyler Travers short of the first-down marker.
The Blue Devils cashed in with 5:44 left in the third quarter with a 2-yard Abston keeper, a play set up by a 36-yard pass from Abston to Crowell.
Mount Juliet answered back immediately as Travers found Baylor Osborne open on the deep post for 47 yards, putting the Golden Bears deep in Lebanon’s end of the field.
The Golden Bears capped it off when De’Arrius Morton, who was held to 30 yards on 14 carries, completed a 1-yard pass to Rayder Soto.
The Blue Devils added their final score with 3:19 left in the game as Heath plunged in from a yard out to make the final score 27-6.
Gentry feels the Blue Devils are overcoming the mistakes that caused them to back-to-back games earlier in the season. “Before tonight I would have said, ‘I don’t know’ but (after tonight), I think so. It’s an ongoing battle every day. I hope those two games got us focused for the stretch.”
Conversely, Coach Perry still feels confident in his group. “Honestly, you want to win games like this, it’s rivalry games. But ultimately, we didn’t get people injured, we got to see a team like we’re going to see in the playoffs. The opportunity is that when we do see a team like this again, we don’t fumble the football in the red areas, we do finish drives and we get a game in the fourth quarter.”
Lebanon is off next week, while Mt. Juliet finishes a run of three consecutive Thursday night games by hosting RePublic.