For a team that has won just three games in the past two seasons, any type of victory is big. But for Nashville Christian School, this one seemed a little more important.
The Eagles provided coach Jeff Brothers with a milestone first win at his new school last Friday with a 21-14 win over host Ezell-Harding.
After a tough 7-6 loss at Hillwood in the opener (the Eagles dominated the stats) and with another tough game in progress, doom and gloom could have seeped in. Instead, NCS evened its record at 1-1 and created optimism for the coming weeks.
“Sometimes, games like these are the ones which are the hardest to pull through, it’s just trying to get over the little negatives, guarding against the ‘here we go again’ type of mindset,” Brothers said. “It’s changing the little bad habits. Winning gives you that confidence boost, that belief that if you do it once, you can do it again.
“All the good programs have that belief that, somehow, no matter what, you’re going to win the game. That’s the mindset of what we’re trying to establish here. I don’t want to use the word monumental for the win, but I would say significant. It’s something that can kick start success, a catalyst to get us going.”
Test of wills between evenly matched teams
Both NCS and Ezell-Harding (a 13-7 winner in its opener) went into the game looking for some needed early season momentum in the wake of hard times in recent years. It was a matchup of even teams and, in many ways, a test of wills.
After NCS senior quarterback Matt Ogle scored on a six-yard run midway through third quarter, a missed extra point left the door open for Ezell. Sure enough, after Austin Binkley scored, Justin Mitchell’s kick put the Ezell ahead 14-13.
NCS then went three-and-out. But Thomas Knoblach, who caught five passes for 79 yards, made his team’s biggest defensive play on defense when he intercepted a pass at his own 30 on the first play of the fourth quarter and set up the game-winning drive.
“It was something I needed to do, make a play to help my team win,” Knoblach, who finished fourth in the state in receiving yards last year, said. “We were able to finish this one off, and I hope we can use this for momentum for the next game.”
Eight plays later, Brandon McCoy scooted in from the 8, and Ogle slithered through left tackle for a key two-point conversion with 7:55 to go.
Ogle sparkles on offense
Besides his key two-point extra, Ogle connected on 7-of-13 passes for 96 yards and rushed for 18 more. Nick Weiss (85 yards, one touchdown) and McCoy (67 yards, one touchdown) led the rushing attack.
“This was a huge boost for us,’’ Ogle said. “This is the type of win to show we believe in ourselves and can us on through the rest of the season. Our defense stepped up and made a stand.”
That stand came after Ezell took the kickoff that followed Ogle’s two-point conversion and started a lengthy drive from its own 20. It converted three fourth-down plays, and a 19-yard pass from Blake Mitchell to Justin Mitchell got the ball to the NCS 5 with 44 seconds left. But after two spikes to stop the clock, Blake Mitchell misfired on a pass into the end zone.
“Heartbreaking,” coach Jeff Phillips, a former Ezell standout who played guard and linebacker in the mid-1980s, said. “We had a touchdown (on the opening drive) called back, and we couldn’t get the ball in there at the end. Penalties (95 yards) are an issue, and you have to credit NCS, as well.”
Two of Ezell’s leaders are the Mitchell duo of quarterback Blake and cousin Justin, a wide receiver who catches a big haul of Blake’s throws.
Both seniors, they also shine on defense. On an NCS pass to the end zone in the second quarter, Blake tipped the ball, and Justin intercepted it for a touchback.
At quarterback, Blake hit 18-of-28 for 218 yards and one touchdown.
Next up for NCS is its first region test at home, Friday against Clarksville Academy. The Cougars edged NCS 7-6 last year.
If NCS has designs on the playoffs, a win over CA is crucial as the Cougars are one of just three Class 1A region foes NCS faces in the region.
Ezell (1-1) hosts defending DII-A state champ and powerhouse Knox Webb.