Through three games, Mt. Juliet is exactly where it wants to be, having won all three weeks to begin the 2023 season.
Friday evening’s Region 4-6A opener at Gallatin proved, however, that despite the perfect start, the Golden Bears are not exactly perfect.
For the second time in three games, Mt. Juliet had to hold off a late rally. This time, Gallatin attempted to climb out of a 29-7 hole in the second half and had a chance to do so after recovering a fourth-down fumble with less than a minute to play.
However, the Golden Bear defense turned Gallatin over on downs to preserve a 32-26 win. In the opening week, Mt. Juliet defeated Cane Ridge 31-28 after leading by 17 in the second half.
“I told them right after the game and not really joking, that I gotta start working out if we’re going to have games like this, because I’m about to have a heart attack,” Mt. Juliet head coach Trey Perry said. “I know the word ‘resiliency’ sounds cliché, but we had a little bit of that tonight … we kept having that ‘next play’ mentality, play the next play, play the next series.”
The Mt. Juliet backfield, with juniors Jon’Mikael Crudup (28 carries, 168 yards, two touchdowns) and Harrison Edwards (seven carries, 42 yards and a touchdown) largely carrying the mail for the Golden Bears, ran for 234 yards as a team. Junior quarterback Tyler Travers also ran for a touchdown in the first quarter.
Edwards would have surpassed the 100-yard mark had a 79-yard touchdown not been called back due to a penalty in the fourth quarter. Mt. Juliet was flagged 11 times for 98 yards in the contest.
“Coach (Perry) told us that it was going to be a dogfight the whole game,” Crudup said. “Like what happened last year, we came into the game, got up at halftime, same thing happened – (Gallatin) brought it out like they did (last year) again. But I think it’s just the way we grind in practice, we always finish the play.”
The Golden Bear defense held Gallatin to seven first-half points but had trouble containing Green Wave senior running back Za’Kyian Brinkley, who had 25 carries for 244 yards and two touchdowns.
“I don’t want to see (Brinkley) anymore,” Perry said. “I saw him after the game and said if I had a vote for the All-Star team, he’d be on it. He is a heck of a player. (The) speed is deceptive on that dude.”
The 5-foot-9, 229-pound Brinkley displayed some speed on a 72-yard run that set up Jeremiah Williams’ 8-yard touchdown run with 10:43 to play. That was 25 seconds after Mt. Juliet had made a field goal to take a 32-13 lead.
“I felt like from Week 1 to Week 3 what we did better was we came out in the beginning of the second half,” Perry said. “You’ve heard (University of Tennessee head coach) Josh Heupel talk about four-minute football. We did that well, but we didn’t close out great. I was proud of our defense for coming out there and doing it when it mattered the most.”