When rivals meet on the gridiron it’s always exciting. When region titles are potentially on the line it means even more. The October 23 showdown at Smyrna was all about first place in more ways than one as the Wolverines and Bulldogs battled for the top spot in region 5.
The long-standing high school football series with LaVergne has presented many challenges for Smyrna over the thirty plus years it has existed. The Wolverines have had plenty of fight, but some how, some way, the Bulldogs have found a way to stand tall in every meeting except one (2000). As every one knows this year has been different in many ways, but the outcome of this backyard brawl saw more of the same for Smyrna.
In a contest that featured many highlights and offered up all the reasons why high school football is fantastic, Smyrna’s 35-28 triumph was another storied chapter in the Bulldog football lore. Big plays when it counted the most allowed the Dogs to dig their way out of a 21-14 halftime deficit. Using all facets of the game, Smyrna rolled up the fur and found a way in the final two quarters.
“I am really proud of our kids for keeping their composure and not panicking when we were down at the half,” says Smyrna head coach Matt Williams. “LaVergne has a good team and Ray Banner is a very talented player. We had a lot of kids step up and display the heart of a Bulldog.”
Ray Banner, the Wolverines outstanding senior running back, struck fear into the Smyrna hearts with a sizzling first half. Scoring two of the three LaVergne touchdowns, one was a scintillating 75-yard scamper that proved this kid can take it to the house any time he touches the ball. His presence and the confidence he brings to the entire squad meant it would take something special for Smyrna to keep their winning streak alive.
True to form, the opening offensive series for Smyrna saw one of those table turning plays. Listed at 5 foot nine and 155 pounds, senior receiver Jamir Eaton is a diminutive Dog with a huge heart. Hauling in a pass from quarterback Landon Miller, Eaton solidified his super hero status as he refused to go down. Breaking tackles like the Incredible Hulk at mid-field, he then transformed into the Flash as he bolted free and ran to paydirt. The 77 yard pass, catch, and run infused life into Smyrna as Dogged determination was in full display.
Following a blocked punt, Smyrna took the lead for good as Miller found the end zone from one yard out. Mid-way through the decisive third quarter LaVergne was dealt a misfortunate blow as Banner left the contest with an ankle injury. Having accumulated 222 yards on 22 carries through two and a half quarters, the Wolverine star would not return.
Capitalizing on a now limited LaVergne offense, Smyrna turned loose their running game. Proving to also be a force on the ground, Sophomore Arion Carter capped a big night (147 yards 14 carries) by racking up yardage during Smyrna’s third scoring drive of the quarter. Now up 35-21, the Bulldogs used the ground game to help shorten the fourth quarter with clock consuming possessions.
“I am very proud of our offensive line and how they found a way to open holes for all of our backs,” says Williams. “Arion Carter is a kid I can’t say enough about and we had a lot of big plays from different players in critical situations.”
The 2020 edition of the rumble in North Rutherford County wound up with a familiar result, but it once again featured outstanding effort from both sides and some sparkling performances. Smyrna (6-3 , 5-0 in region play) now controls their own destiny as they can claim the region title with a win at Stewart’s Creek. For Bulldog leader Matt Williams it marked another notch in his coaching collar as he found a way get his Dogs to measure up.
“We haven’t played LaVergne this late in the year with this much on the line in a long time,” says the Dog leader, now in his 13th season. “No question this is a special win and now we just need to keep moving forward.“
Smyrna closes the regular season on October 30 at Stewart’s Creek Kickoff is slated for 7 pm.