Following their first win of the season, Morristown East heads into their first ever contest against West Ridge with a spot in the playoffs on the line.
The ‘Canes are coming off a 42-7 win over Cocke County. It’s the third straight contest East has continued to improve in, this one resulting in their first victory of the season.
“I thought we have played well defensively for the past three weeks,” Morristown East coach Caleb Slover said. “Offensively, other than some key mistakes, I thought we played better. Being able to run the football like we did Friday obviously is very helpful.”
The running performance Slover is referring to came from the ‘Canes Ethan Ledford. Ledford ran for a school record 337 yards and three touchdowns as he doubled his total yards for the season in just one game.
More importantly for Slover, the effectiveness of the run game allowed them to not rely as much on the passing game, leading to less turnovers and less pressure for his quarterback and wide receivers.
“I think that is a big thing,” Slover said. “I think we’ve struggled in the run game sometimes this season. When we can’t run, you have to rely on the pass more which allows them to drop more guys into coverage. That adds pressure to Eli which makes him feel like he has to make great throws all the time. Obviously, running the ball helps and you have a higher percentage of running the ball four to five yards down the field then throwing it 12-15 yards down the field.”
West Ridge enters the game with a 5-2 record and are 1-2 in the region, that region win coming over William Blount. The Wolves have won their last three games and, most recently, took down David Crockett on the road 24-6.
Offensively, the Wolves run the ball a good majority of the time and will provide challenges all across the board for East.
“Their offense is going to present challenges,” Slover said. “They’re going to put 11 guys on the line of scrimmage and run straight at you. We have to be gap sound and be able to control our gaps this week. It could be a long night or a great night depending on how we are able to play upfront. Defensively, they like to stay in a 3-3 stack and play four upfront. They have a tremendous middle linebacker. We have to be smart and be able to run the football and make the throws that are there. We just have to play smart and play fast and take what is there.”
In terms of playoff implications, this is a must win game for the ‘Canes if they want to still have chance to make the postseason.
As it currently stands, if East were to beat West Ridge and William Blount to end the season, they would be the No. 4 season in Region 1 for the playoffs.
Slover knows the opportunity ahead and understands that a playoff appearance can wipe away the slow start to the season.
“We told them this is a must win game if we want any kind of opportunity to make the playoffs,” Slover said. “We just have to relax and go play. We need to play gap sound on defense, that is the key over there, and not give up the deep ball on play action stuff. Offensively, we have to take what is there and drive the football. We’re probably going to be limited on possessions with how they run their offense so we have to be efficient. Those are the key things we have to do and just keep rolling and keep getting better.”
Kickoff for Friday night is set for 7 p.m.