By Mac McLeod,
Back in 2014, the Livingston Academy football Wildcats posted an impressive 11-2 record and went to the third round of the playoffs. When it ended, the Cats had a monumental rebuilding facing them so head coach Bruce Lamb “bit the bullet” as the saying goes and started the season with a group of young players and a freshman quarterback.
The future was down the road.
“When you look back at that,” the coach started out, “we had some experience coming back, but we didn’t have a lot, and we had to find a quarterback, so I decided right then that Will (McDonald) had potential and he wanted to give it a try, so we decided to go with him and see how it turned out.”
In 2015, LA posted a respectable 7-5 record, then went 8-3 before having a very poor season in 2018, going 5-6.
“That wasn’t all that impressive,” McDonald would recall before the 2019 season started. “We just haven’t put it all together, but I think you’ll see a much more balanced team this year on both offense and defense, and we are really ready to make things happen.”
McDonald knew his team and he knew exactly what was going to happen in 2019.
First off, the team became the first at Livingston Academy to win 10 straight games and go undefeated. The Cats rolled over most opponents, scoring 336 points while holding the opposition to a mere 74, and in that grouping, two didn’t score, two scored 6 each, and one only got 2. Cookeville scored the most with 21 in a 28-21 LA win, and in Region 3, 4A, only two teams scored. Stone Memorial scored 7 and Macon County had 6.
A berth in the opening round of the state playoffs was already in hand when last Friday night rolled around and the Cats were assured a home site for at least three.
So what was at stake at Macon County Friday night?
“We wanted to come up here and prove to anyone with any doubt, that this is a very good team,” lineman Dustin Parrish said after the game. “We wanted that 10-0 record so bad, so we came up here and did what we had to do. It was pretty simple.”
It was pretty simple and was also pretty easy as the Cats claimed that perfect regular season record, the region championship, and the home field advantage for the playoffs with a 42-6 rout of the Tigers.
“They (Macon) could never figure us out,” wide receiver Aubrey Hollars commented after the game. “We would come to the line, make a little adjustment, Will (McDonald) would give a couple false numbers, their secondary would make a change and we would score. It was almost that easy.”
On the third play of the game, Hollars would cut across the middle, pull in a perfect throw from McDonald, then outrace two Tiger defenders almost 50 yards for the first of what would become six LA touchdowns. Not long afterward, Hollars would go down with a separated shoulder and sit out the remainder of the game. He’s expected back this week.
Tee Beaty hit the PAT attempt and would go on to hit five more to again be perfect on the night.
Livingston got the ball rolling again on its second possession, marching 70 yards in seven plays with Wesley Smith this time pulling in a McDonald strike. The play covered 11 yards, but the key to the drive was a 33-yard run by Nate Neely that set the Cats up on the Macon 22 yard line.
In the second quarter, Livingston really rumbled. Smith pulled in a 23-yard strike from McDonald, Raven Carpenter would get in on the action with a 12-yard catch, and Smith ended the first half scoring with a 29-yard catch.
Macon got lucky late in the second quarter when it used a 66-yard pass to put the ball at the LA one, then a quarterback sneak put the Tigers on the board. The PAT try failed and Livingston led 35-6 at the half.
In the first half, McDonald would do something no other LA quarterback has ever done – threw five touchdown passes. Hollars caught one, Smith caught three, and Carpenter added one.
“That will give me some bragging rights,” soft spoken senior Smith smiled after the game. “My brothers are always giving me a hard time, but this will stop that. “
Smith’s brothers include Ronnie Linder and Dylan Linder, two outstanding LA players in their own right.
Early in the third frame, the Wildcats used a 30-yard pass from McDonald to Carpenter to put LA up 42-6, and for the second week in a row, the continuous clock rule went into effect.
“I’ll always remember this season,” lineman Cole Spears explained. “When you are involved in something like this, you can’t forget it. It’s been a very good season to say the least, and the best part is we’ve done what we started out to do when the season started. Now we’ve got to finish the job.”
For McDonald, it was one of the finest nights of his career. The senior quarterback threw the ball 29 times, connecting on 23 for 323 yards and 6 touchdowns.
“It felt good from the start,” McDonald said after the game. “I can’t tell you how good the offensive line was, but let’s put it this way, I didn’t get sacked, even rushed, all night, and with that kinda time, you can’t help but be on the mark.
“We kept Macon guessing all night, and our receivers did a super job catching the ball. Remember that catch Nate (Neely) made when we needed a first down, it was almost on the ground and he came up with it. It was that kinda of a night. It was fun to be part of it.
“This was a team effort all the way,” McDonald added. “Every player on the offense and defense shares this win, and all the others that stand on the sidelines waiting. Everybody is part of it. The season is going like we wanted it to go, and now we have to keep it going. From here on out, a loss and you go home.”
In the rushing department, Neely rushed 9 times for 90 yards, while Kaleb Robinson ran 8 times for 22 yards. Through the air, Smith had 83 yards on 6 catches and added 3 touchdowns, bringing his career totals to 145 receptions, second only to Matt Swallows on the all-time receiving list. He’s number one on the receiving yardage list with 2,393 total yards. He also has 18 touchdowns this season.
McDonald keeps adding to his impressive passing records at Livingston Academy. Friday night he passed the 7,000-yard mark, putting him at 7,059 total yards, tops on the record list. The six touchdowns add to his all-time TD list of now 75.
Defensively, Smith and Robinson each intercepted a Macon pass. Neely, Wesley Smith, and Carson Smith were each credited with 5 tackles. Spears and Parrish each added 4 while Dexter Wright had 3, Nate Carwile, Clay McDonald, and Carpenter had 2 each, and Westlyn Clouse, Bryer Mosley, Thomas Penticuff, and Bailey Johnson were in on at least one.
“Okay guys,” LA assistant coach Tyler Livingston told the team at mid-field after the game, “you’ve won 10 straight, and that’s a great record, but the next five games will be the test. They will be the toughest five games you’ll ever play, but the reward at the end is indescribable.”
Livingston knows what he’s talking about – he was a member of the 2005 state championship team.
Livingston Academy will be at home to start the playoffs this Friday night hosting Maplewood.
14 1st downs 7
76 Yds. Rushing 63
323 Yds. Passing 107
400 Total Yards 170
29/23 Pass A/C 18/3
1 Fumbles lost 2
52 Yds. Pent. 46
Score by quarters:
LA – 14 21 7 0 – 42
MC – 0 6 0 0 – 6