Morristown West at Cherokee — Friday, 7:30 p.m. — Big Red Valley
Morristown West has put the special in special teams as of late.
Despite the stat sheet depicting a blowout loss, the kicking game kept the Trojans alive in Week 3. West (1-2) was not only alive but had a chance to win at Jefferson County thanks to the play of its special teams.
The Patriots’ ability to run the ball against West’s defense came back to bite the Trojans, however, as JCHS embarked on the game-winning drive to win 28-20 after West had pulled even in the fourth quarter.
“We’re finally playing with the right effort and the right intensity, so I was proud of that,” West coach Dr. Alvin Sanders said. “We’re just reminding each other how important it is to clean up some little things, and make sure molehills don’t become mountains, make sure we’re doing our job every play.”
Senior placekicker Juan Villasenor gave an early indication of his night to come with a 50-yard punt after West’s opening three-and-out. The Trojans had two drives stall in the red zone, but Villasenor kept West within a score as he connected on field goals of 28 and 30 yards while repeatedly drilling kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks.
Zach Christensen helped give West a short field with kickoff returns of 27 and 42 yards in the second half, and the Trojans tied the score at 20 when Justin Dilbeck recovered a fumbled punt snap in the end zone with 8:37 left.
“Those guys’ whole mindset is that they’re tone setters for this football team,” Sanders said. “Every game, they’re going to start it off. They’re the first ones to take the field, and we want to make sure we’re getting off to a good start. Extremely proud of those guys.”
In addition to his fumble recovery, Dilbeck was the Trojans’ leading tackler with 8 stops. Dilbeck, Junior Diakelmad and Corson Olodey all had 1 sack with Konner Shelton, Jovanny Gonzalez and Olodey all involved in at least 1 TFL.
However, West has allowed an average of 215 yards rushing and 180.3 yards passing per game, an alarming stat as the Trojans prepare to face fourth-year head coach Cody Baugh and the Cherokee Chiefs (3-0) this week.
The Trojans will be facing a quarterback capable of both running and passing in senior Collin Trent (6-0, 185), who has completed 32-of-59 pass attempts for 342 yards and 3 touchdowns while keeping the ball 35 times for 226 yards and 7 touchdowns.
Oh, and he intercepted two passes on defense in the Chiefs’ 27-23 win at Morristown East in Week 3.
Against East, Trent completed touchdown passes of 23 yards to running back Trent Price (5-8, 175) and 6 yards to Connor Smith (5-11, 175) while before scoring on a 1-yard sneak and a 13-yard keeper for the game-winning touchdown.
The performance came a week after he ran for 160 yards and 4 touchdowns at Sullivan South while throwing for 112 yards including a 30-yard TD to Smith.
Senior wideout Jonas Leeper (6-0, 195) is also a major deep threat for the Chiefs as are fellow seniors Austin Hamblen (6-2, 175) and Micah Jones (6-2, 180).
“Watching Collin Trent on video what he does for that football team, it’s a whole new dimension. There’s not a throw on the field he can’t make. He’s special with the ball in his hands,” Sanders said. “When you’re playing against a talented quarterback and an extremely talented receiving corps, it’s important for our guys to be locked into their technique. (Our secondary) has gotten better each week, slowly starting to limit the other team’s big plays, and we’ve got to continue to grow in that aspect.”
Aside from a third-quarter scoring drive, the Trojans offense struggled offensively for much of the night and finished with just 140 yards.
Dominick Hazeltine ran 17 times and earned every bit of his 73 yards, scoring from the 5 in the third quarter as the Trojans finished with just 76 yards on the ground as a team.
Through the air, West managed just 64 yards as junior quarterback Dylan Cribley hit 6-of-12 passes for 54 yards while Noah Tripucka, who ran twice for 18 yards, hit 2-of-3 for 10.
“Noah has worked extremely hard and he’s earned the right to play. He comes in and gives us a different dimension in the backfield at quarterback, and Dylan is getting better at taking care of the football,” Sanders noted. “They’ve done a great job of not only challenging each other but coaching each other up. With that type of competitive nature and sportsmanship and brotherhood there, we’re going to get better as an offense. They want what’s best for this football team.”
Terrell Lovell had a team-high 28 yards on 3 receptions while Nick Hildebrand and Elijah Richardson both had 1 reception and combined for 27 yards.
Despite rushing for 231 yards against Morristown East, the Trojans are currently averaging 131 yards per game on the ground.
West is currently averaging that same number in its passing game with Cribley having completed 29-of-53 passes for 383 yards and 4 touchdowns against 1 pick. Connor Patrick (9 catches for 114 yards) and Jackson Cole (6 catches for 75 yards) have 2 TD receptions each.
Neyland Gordon is the only Trojan with over 100 yards rushing so far, having gained 143 on 30 attempts in two games before missing last week with an injury. Hazeltine has rushed for 89 with Hunter Delaney, who has missed two games, ran for 77 yards on 15 carries against East.
Smith and junior Hayzen Hayes (5-10, 175) have been solid at safety for the Chiefs with Trent at cornerback.
Senior Noah Marrisett (5-10, 198) anchors the Cherokee defensive line in front of junior Bobe Allen (6-0, 210) at middle linebacker, as the Chiefs base out of a 4-3 but have shown multiple formations.
A win would give the Trojans their first win outside Burke-Toney Stadium since a 28-6 triumph at Jefferson County on Oct. 6, 2017.
“We always compare ourselves week to week. These last two losses have felt different because we are playing extremely hard, and we felt like we’ve had a chance to win these two games but just had a miscue here or a miscue there,” Sanders said. “The focus has been so much on us and the little things, and getting a road victory would boost how important those things are and that hard work pays off when you do things right.”
West has dominated the all-time series which began when Cherokee High School opened in 1980 to replace the former Rogersville High School, as the Trojans hold a commanding 30-6 advantage having won the last three meetings.
The Chiefs last defeated the Trojans in a 43-35 shootout at Rogersville in 2013, with West winning at Burke-Toney Stadium the next year before the series took a two-year break. West won the last meeting at Cherokee in 2017 with a 44-27 triumph before last year’s 38-35 victory at Burke-Toney Stadium, in which the Chiefs nearly erased a 38-7 deficit in the second half.
The Trojans and Chiefs renew their rivalry at 7:30 p.m. Friday night from Big Red Valley.