COOKEVILLE — Despite two missed field goals, a turnover on downs and two punts, Montgomery Bell Academy trailed Memphis University School by just 10 points at halftime.
Down just 10 points to a team that came in with a 12-0 record. Down just 10 points to an Owls squad that had won 25 straight and was the defending Division II Class AA state champions. Down just 10 points to a team ranked sixth in the nation by Rivals.com.
With that being said, a 10-point loss at Thursday night’s BlueCross Bowl at Tennessee Tech’s Tucker Stadium wasn’t any easier to swallow for the Big Red.
“It just hurts to know that we couldn’t finish what he had planned on doing for so long,” MBA’s sophomore wide receiver Bryan Oslin said. “We had a great run.”
The 27-17 loss to MUS ended a magical stretch for the Big Red, who were 5-4 just a month ago. They reeled off four straight wins, including a 27-24 stunner over rival Ensworth in the quarterfinals and a 42-41 nail-biter in double overtime against Brentwood in the semifinals.
“Once we really gelled,” MBA Coach Daniel McGugin said, “we started to play like we knew we were capable of playing.”
Miscues hard to overcome
Thursday, however, earlier mistakes hindered the Big Red (9-5) — most notably two missed field goals and a botched snap on a third attempt in the first half.
MBA’s defense kept MUS from pulling away but the Owls still converted on a couple of the Big Red’s miscues for a 10-0 halftime lead.
“We had some things that killed our drives that we don’t normally have,” said McGugin, whose squad fell to MUS in last year’s semifinals. “They executed better than we did.”
MBA came out of halftime with a good, long drive but it didn’t end the way they wanted it, settling for a field goal.
After taking 6:16 off the clock and driving 51 yards to MUS’ 12-yard line, MBA couldn’t punch in a score. On third and 11, the Owls’ Jake Rudolph broke up Aaron Simonis’ pass in the end zone that was intended for Oslin. That brought on William Tanner, who kicked a 29-yard field goal to cut the lead to 10-3 with 5:44 left in the third quarter.
MUS responded with a quick drive and, more importantly, a touchdown. The Owls marched 80 yards in eight plays and took just 2:14. Keith McBride capped it off with a seven-yard touchdown scamper but quarterback Barry Brunetti’s arm did most of the damage, completing four of five passes for 59 yards.
The Big Red, who captured a state crown in 2007, countered with its own scoring drive. Senior Fitz Lassing, who finished with 126 yards rushing, scored on a nine-yard run just 34 seconds into the fourth quarter to end a 57-yard drive that took 12 plays and 4:05.
The big play, though, was just a play before on fourth and nine. After a timeout, Simonis scrambled long enough to find Holden Mobley at the nine-yard line, where he scooped up the pass off his shoelaces for the first down.
“Our guys have been making plays like that all year, especially this past month,” McGugin said. “Anything those guys do is nothing too surprising. Obviously that was a great play.”
Just when momentum had turned the Big Red’s way, the Owls snatched it back — more specifically McBride took it back. On the first play of the ensuing drive, the 6-foot, 209-pound senior eluded several MBA defenders and scooted 38 yards into MBA territory.
“I think it gave them a little bit more (momentum),” Oslin said. “They were up only seven, we had a lot of the momentum and then they get that big run. Then they are back to thinking they are going to win this ballgame and not it’s a toss-up.”
Five plays after the big run, Brunetti tossed a five-yard pass to tight end Bryan Crenshaw, who snagged it away from a Big Red defender in the end zone. That put MUS up 24-10 with 8:57 remaining.
“We just wanted to stay on them,” McBride said. “They had players going both ways so we knew they were getting tired. We just wanted to wear them out and pick up the pace. I think we did that effectively.”
The Owls put the game away late in the fourth quarter when they recovered a muffed punt by Oslin with 6:15 left. Hill knocked in a 20-yard field goal nearly four minutes later to seal the victory.
Lassing added a late score for the Big Red as he ran in from three yards out with 26 seconds left. He finished with 126 rushing yards on 25 carries. Through the air, Simonis was 15 of 27 for 141 yards. Seven of those passes were caught by Mobley, who finished with 82 yards.
On the other side, McBride rushed 18 times for 141 yards. Hill caught six passes for 76 yards and a touchdown. But Brunetti, a West Virginia commit led the way, completing 21 of 27 passes for 247 yards and two touchdowns. The 6-foot-1, 205-pounder, who earned the Division II-AA Mr. Football Back Award Monday, finished his senior season with 2,778 yards, 36 touchdowns and, most importantly, his second straight state championship.
The Owls are now the first Shelby County high school team to post back-to-back undefeated seasons since 1969, when the TSSAA began its current state playoff system.
“This is a great feeling,” Brunetti said. “Making history like this, nothing can top this.”
MBA fell to 6-2 in state-championship game appearances since 1969. The school's nine state titles are the fourth-most in state history behind Maryville (11), Brentwood Academy (10) and Alcoa (10).