Bradley Central is looking to “fight fire with fire” as the Blackman Blaze come calling this Friday night.
A week off didn’t help Bradley’s injury problems but that’s not what concerns head coach Damon Floyd the most.
“Our biggest problem is we have no ‘fire,’” commented the Bear mentor coming off a very poor performance against state-ranked East Hamilton two Friday’s ago. “We have no excuses. We have got to play all the way from the snap to the whistle on every play.”
Now 2-2 on the season, the Bears have had a pair of strong showings resulting in victories over Polk County and Soddy-Daisy by a combined 66-7 tally. However, a couple of lackluster efforts have produced lopsided losses to Baylor and East Hamilton by 74-20 deficits.
“For some reason in our two losses we didn’t play with the same intensity we did in our wins,” Floyd assessed. “We better give it everything we’ve got this week or we’re going to be in trouble.”
With five starters out with injuries, the Bears will play host to a very strong Blackman squad for the first time in school history for this year’s Homecoming festivities.
“They play in the toughest district in the state,” the Bradley coach said of the 3-2 Blaze, who are 0-2 in District 7-AAA play. “They lost on a last minute touchdown last Friday to Oakland (23-17) and they got beat by (second-ranked) Siegel, who just beat Riverdale.”
Blackman’s three victories have come over Independence (20-7), Pearl-Cohn (38-14) and Signal Mountain (41-10). The Blaze torched the Bears 34-14 last September in Murfreesboro behind a record-setting 336 rushing yards from I’tavius Mathers.
The good news is Mathers now plays for Ole Miss. The bad news is his little brother Dee is now the leading ball carrier for the Blaze, but he is not their only weapon.
Through their first five games this season, the younger Mathers had gained 313 yards, while splitting carrys almost evenly with Cole Notgrass, who has 291 yards on three less tries. Antonio Allen, a 240-pound bruiser at fullback, is averaging 7.5 yards a carry for 208 yards as the Blaze average just under 200 rushing yards per game.
“There’s no secret to them,” declared Floyd. “They are a run-first team with the best running backs we’ve seen so far this season. They are big up front and very physical.”
After Matt Williams completed 13-of-34 passes for 286 yards in the first three games, Blackman put the ball in the hands of Smotherman, who has responded by completing half of his 50 passes for 446 yards.
“They are going to be as good as any team we’ve played this year, but our main concern is not with them — it’s with ourselves,” proclaimed Floyd.
“We have got to have more ‘fight’ in us. We have no excuses. We have our backs against the wall, but the question is what will we do now?” he continued.
The Bears, who lost starting defensive end Jordan Sharp before the season began, saw their walking wounded list grow considerably in their last outing.
Starting offensive and defensive tackle DJ King, who missed the East Hamilton game with a knee injury, “won’t be back until the Ooltewah game (Oct. 5).”
Junior tailback Logan Fetzner, who had 298 all-purpose yards in the season opener against Polk County, will also be out this week after reinjuring his ankle. Senior tight end Caleb Cain is questionable as well due to sore ribs.
While King, Fetzner and Cain are all expected back, the word on senior safety Alex Hopkins isn’t as good. The Bears’ leading tackler is out for the season after suffering a shoulder injury in the East Hamilton game.
“It’s one of those situation where it would pop out of place and they’d put it back in, but it’s gotten to the point where it won’t pop back in and he’s going to have to have surgery,” Floyd explained.
“Yes we have some guys out, but that just means the next guy needs to step in and pick up the slack,” he added. “We’re not going to change who we are and the type of ball we play. We just need to get better at it.
“We are not happy with our last performance,” the coach commented. “I hope we have a mad football team that is ready to come out to prove that’s not us. We have it in us. We proved that against Polk and Soddy, but now we need to show that same intensity this week.”