Any win is a good win, but let’s be honest, some are just bigger than others. For the Smyrna high football team, the “W” they earned on October 2 was a big notch on the Bulldog collar.
Since the region re-alignment six seasons ago when Smyrna was grouped in with some Davidson County schools, the game with Cane Ridge has been circled. The current class of the Metro Public Schools, the road to the region title has usually run through this South Nashville area school’s vicinity. In 2017, the Ravens finished as class 6A state runner-up and in 2018 enjoyed an unbeaten regular season. Having defeated the Dogs in each of the five previous meetings, Smyrna has been fully aware of the quality of Cane Ridge.
The 2020 season has been a different one for sure as schedules have been juggled time and again. On again, off again, and then back on has created chaos in all programs. But here we were on October 2 with all that forgotten as two prideful programs squared off.
Smyrna came in with their fur rolled up. A 5-2 record had featured a pair of forfeits and less than stellar performances against Pope John Paul and county rival Riverdale. The Bulldogs needed to win the “big” game to answer some of the questions about just how good this group is.
Understanding the importance of getting off to a good start, Smyrna took the opening kickoff and pawed their way to paydirt. Mixing the run and the pass, as they would do all night, the Bulldogs wanted to send a message early that this was a team with conviction. As Cane Ridge answered with a score on their opening drive as well, the Dogs knew they were in for a fight, but most worthwhile things do not come easy.
A first half slugfest saw Smyrna on top 13-12 and most in attendance knew this one was likely going to be a wire job. Big games normally come down to big plays and who can rise to the occasion. Loaded with game-breaking talent, Cane Ridge was their usual formidable self. Question was could the Bulldogs bury the pain of the past and continue to compete at a high level.
The second half was all about an inspired Smyrna squad. Taking a physical approach instilled by head coach Matt Williams, the Dogs dug in with the determination past Smyrna squads have been known for. Posting the only score of the third quarter and opening the fourth with another touchdown, Smyrna built a 27-12 lead. A Cane Ridge comeback was thwarted as Smyrna senior Jamir Eaton intercepted a pass in the end zone on the game’s final play.
“I can’t tell you how proud I am of all of our kids,” says Williams, the dean of Rutherford County high school football coaches. “We stepped up when we had to and had a lot of different kids make some huge plays. That’s a good football team we just played and I couldn’t be happier with how our team stepped up.”
A quick look at some of the numbers also helps define this win as a “big” one for Smyrna. Cane Ridge (538) amassed just over 200 more total yards of offense than Smyrna (336) yet the Dogs prevailed 27-24. The Bulldogs, led by sophomore Arion Carter’s 119 yards, got physical up front and outrushed the Ravens 259 to 210. One of the biggest numbers on the night was a 3. Smyrna’s defense forced 3 turnovers (2 interceptions and a fumble recovery) while the Dog offense possessed the pigskin. Smyrna kicker Kevin Avallos converted 3 PAT’s while the Ravens made nary.
Heroes for Smyrna were numerous in this memorable encounter. The tackles of Jeremiah Bailey, field generalship of Landon Miller, 74 yard touchdown scamper from Joshua Jones, tough running of Arion Carter, and big plays on both sides from Jamir Eaton will all go down in Bulldog lore. Standing behind these courageous young men were the other heroes, head coach Matt Williams and his dedicated staff.
“These are the games that make you get up every morning and work hard,” says Matt Williams. “I am happy for these kids and happy for our program. Now we need to build off this and keep growing.”