Ballots went out this week from the TSSAA for nominations for Mr. Football.
For DII Back of the Year, it would seem to be a two-way race between Ensworth super back Orleans Darkwa and star Memphis University School quarterback Barry Brunetti.
Both are the respective leaders for the top two ranked DII teams in the state, both play for unbeaten teams and they rank as two of the top prospects in the state. Brunetti is a West Virginia commitment.
For Ensworth Coach Ricky Bowers, whose QB last year Tavarres Jefferson won the award, it’s not a contest.
“Orleans has been incredible for us, so durable and so dependable,’’ Bowers said after Ensworth held off scrappy Ryan 35-27 last Friday to go 7-0. “Heck, he runs the ball for us almost every play and never seems to get tired. He’s strong and has an amazing ability to shift gears almost instantly, and makes tacklers miss.’’
Against Ryan, Darkwa might have had his best game yet. He scored all five touchdowns, one on a 90-yard kickoff return, and rushed for 364 yards in 40 carries (Ensworth ran 50 plays total).
That gives him 1,870 yards rushing and 22 TDs for the season. He appears certain to pass the 2,000-yard mark when Ensworth (7-0) meets Baylor Friday. Also Friday, MUS (8-0) hosts rival Christian Brothers (7-1) in the top game in Memphis.
Asked if it were his best game of the season, Darkwa said, “I really don’t think stats, it’s about winning. I have the best O-Line in the state, they really make me look good. We’re trying not to look too far ahead.’’
“It’s really special to have someone like Orleans to block for,’’ said mammoth 6-6, 300-pound junior transfer Antonio Richardson. “He’s shown what he can do. As for me, I owe everything to Coach (Edd) Caudill, he’s the best O-Line coach in the state.’’
Should the two teams get that far, a finals match-up between Ensworth and defending champion MUS (at this point the No. 1-2 seeds) would likely be a battle of unbeatens and send the two stars against each other.
Bowers is having none of that. “We never talk about it (the playoffs). We’re just trying to get better each day.’’
Bowers lit into his team after the Ryan game, very upset that the Tigers, leading 21-0 at one point, made mistakes which helped Ryan get back in the game. “We’re up 21-0 and rolling and then, thanks in big part to our mistakes, we finding ourselves in a real fight,’’ he said later.
“He (Darkwa) is an outstanding back,’’ said Ryan Coach Bruce Lussier whose team has lost tough duels with MBA and Ensworth the past two weeks. “At the same time, I’m really proud of my team for fighting so hard and never giving up.’’
In a rarity of back-to-back TD kickoff returns, Darkwa’s return came right after Ryan’s Joe Francescon returned one 90 yards in the third quarter, 16 seconds apart.
A major part of the Tiger success has been the offensive line and Caudill calls his unit a truly special one.
“We’re solid from end to end,’’ he said. “We have two tight ends who are DI caliber in Daniel McFadden and Sam Cooper (Clemson commitment). Of course, there’s Antonio, who has made great strides with his God-given talent. We have two senior leaders in Aiden Smith and Miller Reuther, along with Conor McDermott.
“And Teddy Reeve is the best center I’ve had in 25 years of coaching,’’ he said. “He’s very bright and completely understands what we’re doing.’’
Speaking of Mr. Football awards, Nashville DII also has two outstanding candidates for Kicker of the year in MBA’s Andrew Fletcher and Ryan’s Nick Pollard.
Fletcher field goals have been the winning margin in two games this season and has booted a 53-yarder. Pollard also has great range and kicked a 52-yarder on the final play of the half Friday.
District champ Glencliff (24-1) gets the honor of meeting defending state champ Independence in the semifinal round of the Region 6-AAA volleyball tournament at Ravenwood High Tuesday, following a 4:30 semis match between the host Raptors and Antioch. Finals follow at 6:30.
Nashville Christian School, as district runner-up, travels to Community High in Unionville Tuesday in the Region 5-A tourney. All of Tuesday’s region finalists qualify for sectionals Thursday.
In DII-AA, East/Middle Region champion Father Ryan advanced to DII-AA Sectionals and will hosts Chattanooga GPS (which beat BGA) Saturday at 2 p.m.
The DII Middle/East All-Region team included area players Mary Blythe Puryear, BA’s Kristin Adams, Enssworth’s Lauren Piana, Pope JPII’s Katie Collier, Harpeth Hall’s Marianna Weaver and Ryan’s Shannon Carr, Kristen Sharp and MVP Ellen Mullins.
In DI-A, DCA and Ezell-Harding both qualified for sectionals and will play Saturday, DCA will host and Ezell will travel. All of Saturday’s sectional winners advance to state.
The state tourney is at MTSU and Blackman High Oct. 28-30.
FRA has advanced to region final four Thursday at the USN River campus. The FRA football team clinched its first playoff berth since 2004. And CPA is hosting the Region 5-A/AA soccer tourney this week, with finals Thursday.
In Glencliff’s 14-13 win over Antioch, the Colts only had three first downs and 117 yards total offense against the Bears. But they scored their TDs on special teams with a 90-yard kickoff return by Dosha Mintlow and a 92-yard interception return by Michael Whittaker. If the season ended today, Glencliff (4-4), which was 2-8 last year, would be in the 5A playoffs.