I’m not going to lie – there were times Friday that the Page-Nolensville showdown resembled more of a Week 1 game with all the flags that were being thrown. There were mistakes that high-caliber teams shouldn’t be making in Week 8.
But when crunch time arrived, the two top-four combatants delivered what was expected and a thrilling overtime finish was the result.
Welcome to October, where every game – even the non-region ones – can have an impact on the playoff brackets come November.
For Page and Nolensville, however, Friday was about two things – getting to the top of the region standings and sending a message.
Page sent its message throughout the game, but the Knights responded with one of their own and delivered a second one in overtime, winning 27-21 on Samson Johnson’s walk-off touchdown after the Knights’ Joseph Carano busted through to stonewall the Patriots in the backfield on fourth-and-goal from the 1.
“It couldn’t have ended in a better way,” Johnson said. “We gave everybody what they wanted, and we came out victorious.”
It was a breakthrough win for the Knights, who had come up empty in four previous tries against the Patriots, including a 20-15 loss in last year’s second round of the playoffs.
“Being 0-4 or whatever it was against Page … last year being so close in the playoffs, I felt like we were almost there and just couldn’t get over the hump,” Nolensville head coach Paul Derrick said after Friday’s win. “And (Page) is a good football team, too. That’s another reason why it’s a big win. It’s a region game, but I think it’s a confidence-builder for our kids to say that we finally beat them.”
The Knights’ defense is the biggest reason why they’re still unbeaten. It’s a group that has improved considerably from last year, when they allowed 26.4 points per game (though to be fair, only Page scored more than 21 against the Knights over their final six games). This year, however, Nolensville’s defense has been stingy from the start, not allowing anyone more than 21 points in a game through Week 8 and averaging 12.3 points per game allowed.
“Everybody talks about our offense,” Johnson said. “But we need to start giving props to our defense – I think it’s like 14 turnovers now that they’ve forced (this season), and we need to start putting some respect on our defense.”
Some might say it’s too early to look at playoff pairings, but it’s October, so I’m calling it fair game. Crossing over with Region 5-5A for the first three rounds, here’s how those first-round pairings currently shape up:
- (R6 #4) Lincoln County at (R5 #1) Mt. Juliet
- (R5 #3) Green Hill at (R6 #2) Page
- (R6 #3) Franklin County at (R5 #2) White County
- (R5 #4) Wilson Central at (R6 #1) Nolensville
Those are certainly subject to change over the next three weeks, and I expect them to – keep in mind that Mt. Juliet and Green Hill have a cross-town throwdown on Oct. 28 and the winner wins Region 5 (provided Green Hill defeats Station Camp first).
It’s possible that no team really wants to see White County and state-leading rusher Malaki Dowell come to town, but that could be in the cards for either Page or Nolensville depending on that Mt. Juliet-Green Hill result. And Green Hill would certainly like another shot at Page following last year’s quarterfinal ouster by the Patriots.
Let’s not forget, too, that Page lost a talented senior class from last year’s state runner-up and a younger team is the result – one that still has a 7-1 record after Week 8 and has a solid future ahead.
“The truth of the matter is we’ve got 15 seniors and seven or eight of them played (Friday),” Page head coach Charles Rathbone said. “And we’re a young team, and we made some young mistakes tonight. Just miscommunication things that we normally don’t have, so we’ve got to come back and get better and correct our mistakes.”
They’re not shoo-ins to meet again, as they’ll get tests in the first two rounds, but I think both the Patriots and Knights are built for whatever Region 5 throws at them, and that’s why I’m circling Nov. 18 on my calendar for a potential Page-Nolensville rematch. The Knights would host the sequel as well.
Teams no longer flying under our radar
>> Beech should be ranked in 6A after Week 8. The Buccaneers have flown under the radar all season, largely because except for Clarksville, the rest of their region has underachieved this season. Beech has allowed 12 points per game in compiling a 6-1 mark with the lone blemish being a Week 1 loss at Farragut by three points – and that Farragut team isn’t bad, either. They’re also scoring 32.7 points per game, as well. They’ll be a tough out for anyone in the western half of the 6A bracket.
>> Centennial is ranked and will move up after its win over Ravenwood, but the Cougars still haven’t caught a lot of love lately either despite being 7-1. They’re literally one Tre’ Hartwell touchdown run in Week 3 away from being unbeaten. Part of it is because even though they currently sit atop the Region 7-6A standings through tiebreakers, they could still finish anywhere from first to fourth depending on what happens on Oct. 28. They’ll travel to Brentwood, while Independence hosts Ravenwood. All four teams could win the region, while all four could finish second, third or fourth as well. They are not a team anybody should take lightly for the rest of the season.
Who gained the most from Week 8?
Certainly CPA’s stunner over Oakland turned the most heads, but that’s the obvious choice for who gained the most out of Week 8.
Cane Ridge clinched the Region 6-6A title with its win over Overton – a team that is getting better each week and will cause problems for somebody in November.
Macon County knocking off previously unbeaten Stone Memorial set the Tigers up to win Region 4-4A simply by winning out, but it essentially added another ‘region game’ as they must take care of non-region foe Smith County in two weeks to keep their overall wins tiebreaker in place should they need it.
Sycamore vaulted into third place in Region 6-3A by beating Cheatham County, but the War Eagles still have Fairview to play so that spot isn’t secure, yet.
Pearl-Cohn’s win over Marshall County puts the Firebirds in the driver’s seat in Region 5-4A, and Creek Wood’s win over Greenbrier put the Red Hawks into a playoff position for now as well.
Wilson Central took a big step toward a playoff spot by beating Station Camp and the Wildcats have won three of their last four since starting 0-4.
Clarksville’s win over Hendersonville has the Wildcats in the No. 2 spot in Region 5-6A for now.
Clarksville Academy won a game it had to have over Grace Christian to jump into a playoff position. Both teams still have Columbia Academy on the schedule, who is also vying for the No. 3 seed in Division II-A’s Middle Region.
Looking ahead to Week 9
It’s the lightest week of the regular season with half the teams in our coverage area on fall break, but here are my most important games of Week 9, ranked:
- East Robertson at Westmoreland – I’m headed to this game for a reason. It’s a region title game between an offense with skilled playmakers (East Robertson) and a stingy defense (Westmoreland) with an offense that has improved this season. This will be a playoff-type game in Week 9.
- Beech at Gallatin – Beech wins the Region 5-6A title with a win, or Gallatin can cause chaos and open the door for themselves or potentially Clarksville to win the region title. The way Beech has played recently though, it will be a challenge for the Green Wave, who cannot afford to make the mistakes they made against Hendersonville.
- Oakland at Riverdale – In name recognition, this would top the list. But the Battle of the Boro could become a game where Oakland rebounds in a big way following its first loss since Nov. 29, 2019. A loss doesn’t necessarily hurt Riverdale’s playoff chances, but their defense will need to be on top of its game this week.
- Goodpasture at Davidson Academy – An important game for seeding in Division II-Class AA’s Middle Region, the two neighborhood foes meet up to play for fourth place and clinch a playoff berth. The loser’s in all likelihood still making the playoffs (top five teams qualify from this region), but it’ll be more of a confidence boost than anything else.
- Whites Creek at Trousdale County (Thursday) – It’s hard to imagine a postseason without Trousdale County, but a loss to Whites Creek and it would be a reality. The Yellow Jackets simply haven’t been able to score much this year – they’ve averaged 7.8 points per game while allowing 39.3 points per contest to opponents. Whites Creek has allowed almost half of that – 21.2 points per game, but their offense hasn’t fared much better at 11.1 points per game. There’s only one path to the postseason for the Yellow Jackets to continue the state’s longest playoff streak, and it requires winning this game.
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