By Mac McLeod,
Livingston Academy head football coach Dale Flatt has been around long enough to have vivid memories of the 2006 edition of the Wildcats and he certainly can transfer it right over to this year’s squad. That team 15 years ago faced the same situations as this year’s team – losing big on Friday night, but coming back the next week to try to make it better.
”I certainly remember that 2006 team,” Flatt recalled. “We had won the state championship the previous year, but graduated about 17 seniors and we were in the same position as we are now – having to take young players and get them better each week. It was a chore and it didn’t happen in one season, it took several.”
Actually the following three seasons, 2006, 2007, and 2008 were identical with 1-9 regular season records. Finally, in 2009, with new coach Bruce Lamb at the helm, in his second season, did the years of struggle finally produce a seasoned team that finished with a 7-3 mark.
“We knew it would take some time,” the coach continued, “and last night I thought we showed steps in the right direction. Getting beat is not what you want, but we are learning that if you continue to improve, the good days will come. Offensively, we moved the ball on the ground the best we have so far this season, and Brodey (sophomore quarterback Brodey Coffee) had his best night of the season throwing.
“It’s coming, it’s just going to take time, but I really believe this group of youngsters are enjoying the challenge and they will get the job done with that attitude.”
Entering last Friday’s game at Overall Field on the campus of Tennessee Tech in Cookeville, Livingston Academy had lost both its first two games and had not scored a single point. Stone Memorial on the other hand was 1-1. When it finally closed out, Livingston was still looking for its first win after falling 49-12.
“Getting yards on the ground was much better tonight than in the two other games” junior running back Locklan Hammock pointed out. “I think we had zero yards that first game on the ground, and last week we only had seven. Tonight we got almost 90, and that’s a big improvement.
“Up front, the line did a much better job of blocking, and I had several chances to change direction and did, and it worked out. Those are the little things that when worked on, will make us a much better team. It will make our opponents look at us in a different light.”
In the first half alone, Livingston rushed for 43 yards and finished the night with 88. Hammock led the way with 41 while Coffee had 40 and Nathan Cowgill chipped in 11.
“I saw improvement last night,” Cowgill, one of the more experienced Wildcats, explained. “We’re still looking for some leadership, and with a team this young, it doesn’t come quickly, but I saw things tonight that indicated we’re moving in the right direction. Offensively, we did much better. We scored twice, and that was a first for the season. Defensively, we have got to learn to read the offense better and also to do a better job on the long pass.”
As for the game itself, it was much a repeat of the two previous contests in the early going. Livingston took the opening kickoff, failed to move the ball, and punted. On Stone’s first offensive play, a 31-yard pass resulted in the night’s first score. On the second offensive series, the Panthers used the onside kick and recovered, and in four plays scored again. And before the first quarter was over, the visitors used just two plays, with a 48-yard pass to Caleb Flowers capping the drive. Flowers was the receiver on all three TD passes, and with five minutes remaining in the first quarter, he had three touchdowns and 111 yards of offense.
Early in the scored frame, Livingston had its strongest offensive drive of the young season, going from its 14 to the Stone 33 before a pass interception ended the march. Stone added a fourth score late in the quarter, then used a deflected pass for a quick score to take a 35-0 lead into the dressing room at the half.
“At that point, we could have caved in,” Cowgill added, “but we didn’t. We realized a couple of those scores were flukes and if we just continued working, we could make a comeback.”
On Livingston’s first possession of the second half, Coffee found Cowgill crossing over the middle and the connection resulted in the Wildcats’ first touchdown of the season. Then early in the fourth quarter, a blocked punt and recovery in the endzone gave Livingston its second score of the night. With almost 10 minutes remaining, the Wildcats trailed 35-12.
Could they make it closer?
Two quick Stone scores dashed any hopes. In the second half, Stone stayed on the ground and used a Livingston mistake to score. All 147 Panther air yards came in the first half. A balanced attack saw the visitors add 178 yards on the ground for a total of 325 yards.
In addition to the improved running game, the Wildcats had a good night through the air, adding 162 yards, by far the most of the season. Coffee threw the ball 24 times, connected on eight. Receivers included Cowgill, Carson Parrott, Jaden Lawrence, and Xander Cantrell.
Back in the days when the Wildcats were struggling following the state championship, archrival York came through with the only wins in 2006 and ‘07, so will the Dragons throw a helping hand this way again?
“York is always tough simply because we want to beat them and they want to beat us,” Hammock concluded. “I will tell you we will give it our best shot, and we will be ready.”
The game will be played at Tennessee Tech in Tucker Stadium as the “home” field for Livingston this season and it will be played on Thursday night, starting at 7 p.m.