By Mac McLeod,
“There was never a doubt in my mind, never the slightest doubt, that when we got that football at the one yard line with two minutes to go that we wouldn’t score and win this game. That was one of the proudest moments of my coaching career to watch you take that ball 99 yards and win. I’ll never forget it.”
That was Livingston Academy head coach Bruce Lamb addressing his Wildcats moments after they had beaten one of the state’s premier programs, Cookeville, and its highly successful coach Jimmy Maynord in a 28-21 thriller that will leave mountains of good memories to the packed house on the home side of Tom Davis Stadium last Friday night and a second bitter pill to swallow to the other packed grandstand on the opposite side of the field.
It was the first time in 25 years that Livingston Academy has beaten Cookeville.
“We weren’t going to accept anything but a win,” senior quarterback and now the school’s most successful passer, Will McDonald, proclaimed. “We didn’t come here for a moral victory, and that drive that coach Lamb talked about was about as much fun as I have had in all my playing days. And if you really want to talk to somebody about it, talk to him.”
“Him” just happened to be senior receiver Wesley Smith, who was sitting just in front of McDonald. The always easy going Smith simply smiled and explained that, “First of all, it feels great to win this game. It’s got to be the biggest win of my career here at LA. Will (McDonald) was right on the money with every throw, and we didn’t fold when we made a couple bad mistakes. I’m just proud to be a part of this team and this win.”
And that was, almost to a man, the same answer each player gave as they paraded around the field, not wanting to move away from the scene of the school’s biggest win since the state championship game in 2005.
“I’ll will never forget this night as long as I live,” senior lineman Cole Spears explained with a smile that covered his entire face. “I don’t think we ever thought we couldn’t beat Cookeville, but to come out here and do it, well, it’s hard to explain that feeling, but it’s in here somewhere. What a game.”
“That ought to get us a trip to Disney World,” senior receiver Aubrey Hollars laughed. “This senior class goes all the way back to Outlaws, and we’ve been together so long we’re a family, and to do what we did tonight, I really can’t be put in words. I’ll cherish it and remember it for a long time.”
With perhaps the second largest audience ever to witness a game in Livingston, the Wildcats got off to a slow start when McDonald lobbed a pass in the direction of Nate Neely on the second play of the game and it was intercepted. It wasn’t the best way to start the game, but the LA defense dug in, stopped the Cavaliers on four plays, and gave McDonald another chance. Seven plays later, he found Smith in his favorite spot, the corner of the endzone, and threw a perfect strike.
Tee Beaty nailed the first of four point-after attempts and the Wildcats were on the board, 7-0.
“That pass was very important to me, simply because it got me back in the rhythm,” McDonald later pointed out.
Cookeville answered the score and the game was tied at 7 at the end of the first quarter, and the visitors would go ahead on the first play of the second frame and carried a 14-7 lead into the locker room at intermission.
Five minutes into the third quarter, McDonald found his old time favorite target, Hollars, right over the middle and hit him with a perfect strike. Hollars then made an extra effort to get the ball over the goal. Beaty’s conversion knotted the game at 14.
But not for long. Two 15-yard penalties on one play against the Wildcats gave Cookeville the ball deep in LA territory, and the Cavaliers made the best of the mistakes, scoring two plays later.
Going into the final 12 minutes of the game, Cookeville led 21-14, but that lead wasn’t secure as McDonald again found Smith in the corner of the endzone, and with 8:33 remaining in regulation play, the game was tied at 21. Overtime looked like a big possibility.
Cookeville then used a clock-eating 15-play drive to march to the Livingston 1 yard line, but the Wildcats’ stubborn defense made its finest stand of the night and denied the Cavaliers the go-ahead score.
Standing five yards deep in his own endzone, and with only 2:12 showing on the game clock, McDonald forced his team forward. An 11-yard pass to Smith, then a 4-yarder to Raven Carpenter. Back to Smith for 10, then back to Carpenter, then a beautiful 16-yard run by Nate Neely, and so on until, with only 22 seconds remaining in the game, he found Smith one more time, who after catching the pass, made a beautiful run for a 30-yard touchdown, and time was quickly running out.
The Wildcats marched 99 yards on 9 plays, with McDonald using the precision of a surgeon to cut up the Cookeville defense and the skill and coolness of a Peyton Manning to control the march. It was textbook playing by every player on the field.
“That was about as good as it gets,” McDonald continued. “They caught everything I threw out there, and the offensive line just did a fantastic job of giving me time to find the receiver and make the pass. That drive will be a life-long memory.”
In the process, McDonald surpassed his quarterback coach, Danny McCoin, as the school’s all-time leading passer. He needed 239 yards to break the mark, and he finished the game with 304, giving him a total of 5,506 yards with no less than eight more games to play.
“The record is fun, but I didn’t do it by myself,” the quarterback added. “Somebody had to catch those passes, and a lot of people had to block out the oncoming defense to give me time to do what I did. My name is on the record, but this entire team is a big part of it. And I can’t leave out coach McCoin. What a blessing I’ve had to have him share his knowledge with me over the past four years.”
“That’s a fine senior-loaded team over there,” Cookeville coach Jimmy Maynord pointed out after the game. “We made way too many mistakes, but don’t take a thing away from Livingston. We knew what McDonald could do, and that defense was outstanding tonight. Give Livingston the credit, they won.”
Offensively, LA had a total of 354 yards on the ground and through the air with Neely gaining all 50 ground yards. Smith caught 9 passes for 176 yards and three touchdowns, Carpenter had 8 grabs for 61 yards, Bryer Mosley grabbed five throws for 34 yards, Neely had 2 catches for 16 yards, and Hollars had 2 for 15 yards, including one for a touchdown.
Defensively, Dustin Parrish had a stellar night leading a superb LA defense with 9 tackles followed closely by Nate Carwile with 7. Neely had five stops, Spears and Hollars had 4 each, Carson Smith, Smith, and Carpenter each had 3. Dexter Wright, Austin Reeder, and Mosley were credited with 2 tackles each, and Thomas Penticuff, and Donnie Phillips each had one.
The defense forced Cookeville to punt twice, the Cavaliers’ first punts of the season.
“I thought last week was fun,” Mosley smiled. “I’ve worked hard and finally got a starting spot, and I’ll always remember that first game getting to play. But it can’t compare with tonight. What a game, and I’m just proud I could play a part in it. This was truly a total team effort.”
Livingston will be at home one more time before going on the road. The Cats will host Cumberland County Friday night boasting a 2-0 record. The game with the Jets will be a region contest, while the first two weren’t.
20 1st downs 14
50 Yds. Rushing 151
304 Yds. Passing 56
354 Total Yards 207
34/25 Pass Att/comp. 11/5
0 Passes INT by 1
2 Fumbles lost 0
0/0 Punts /Avg. 2/26
65 Yds. Pent. 72
Score by quarters:
LA – 7 0 7 14 – 28
CHS – 7 7 7 0 – 21