Grinning ear to ear, Corn Elder had the look of someone who just finished the most enjoyable week of his sports life last Friday.
With 304 yards rushing and four touchdwns, Corn (short for Cornelius) had just led his Ensworth High School team into state football playoff semifinals for the first time the Tigers (8-2) dismantled rival Montgomery Bell Academy 35-14.
Last Tuesday, Elder (back) and teammate Keenan Crenshaw (line) were named finalists for Mr. Football in DII.
“Yes, I think this would have to rank right at the top,” he said after putting up the gaudy numbers against a good MBA defense. “To get two players from our team for Mr. Football is really something. I’m very surprised (at being named a finalist).”
True to his demeanor, Elder deflected credit to everyone else.
“The line blocking was great, we had receivers who had a great game with catches, and our quarterback (Drew Parker) was outstanding,” he said. “What was best was that we got to the (playoff) semifinals for the first time.”
Ensworth was 0-3 in quarterfinal games the past three years, including a keenly disappointing 27-24 loss to MBA last November.
Elder, a 16-year-old sophomore, has put up senior-like numbers – not just against MBA but throughout the season.
The 5-10, 160-pound star has quick moves at the line, then breakaway speed once he hits the secondary. He rarely ever gets caught from behind and, for opposing teams, it is virtually impossible to simulate his speed in practice.
On Friday, Elder’s first three touchdowns went for 56, 63 and 52 yards, respectively. His elusiveness is reminiscent of former Tiger backs Tavarres Jefferson and Orleans Darkwa, who were recent Mr. Football finalists.
“Just to be mentioned with players like that is special and something I’m trying to live up to,” Elder said.
“Honestly, we haven’t even mentioned it (Mr. Football finalists) to our team at all, we’ve just been concentrating on practice,” coach Ricky Bowers said.. “Corn is a really special young man, very humble and gives others the credit.”
Heading into a semifinal rematch at home Friday against Brentwood Academy, Elder has rushed for 1,566 yards and 22 touchdowns.
Two more wins would give Ensworth its first football title. The school has won team championships in both boys and girls basketball, along with last month’s volleyball title.
Parker packs a punch
Ensworth unveiled a couple of surprise plays against MBA, notably a fake reverse pass from Parker to Cory Batey for 26 yards on the very first play.
“We watched film, we had two weeks to practice, and we put in a couple of trick plays, and our guys did a great job of execution,” Parker said. “We’ll get an opportunity next week to get better when we play an outstanding BA team.”
Asked to describe Elder, Parker said, “phenomenal.”
Batey was spectacular as well with six catches for 85 yards. In the first quarter alone, he had four receptions for 60 yards and set up the first two touchdowns.
“Drew did a great job of reading the defense,” Batey said. “And (tight end) David Dingess did a good job of receiving, too. We’ll work hard this week getting ready for BA, a very athletic team.”
Asked how he got his uniform No. 1, Batey said, “my receivers coach told me that I’d have to deal with the significance of having a number like that. I told him I would completely take care of that.”
Ensworth edged Brentwood Academy 21-14 back on Sept. 30. On the game’s final play, Elder intercepted a pass in the end zone and ran it out to preserve the victory.
“That was in the top five greatest high school games I have ever been a part of,” Bowers said. “You literally didn’t know who would win until the last play.”
Nashville has had at least one DII-AA finalist every year since 2005, and will have at least one again this year. The Ensworth-BA winner claims one spot, and if BGA can upset Baylor Friday, it will have both.
MBA, which wound up 9-3, had some bright spots, notably from two of its captains, defensive tackle Connor Caldwell and defensive Joe Riegle, who led the Big Red in tackles. Also, Tyler Franks led MBA with 82 yards rushing and one touchdown. It was the final high school game for all three.
• Nashville matchups in two quarterfinals: David Lipscomb will stage a rematch with No. 2 ranked Maplewood in the Class 4A quarterfinals.
The Panthers beat Lipscomb 31-13 in Week 3. Lipscomb avenged a playoff loss to Giles County last year when receiver Benjamin Haynes made an off-balance touchdown catch in double coverage with eight seconds left Friday for a 28-24 win.
Also, Pearl-Cohn, which scored a shockingly easy 40-0 second-round victory at Smith County last Friday, travels to Goodpasture in the 3A quarters. The two did not meet during the season.
• Moore captures another title: Perennial powerhouse J.T. Moore regained its place atop Nashville when the Matadors (8-0) won their seventh Metro Middle School football championship in the last nine years last Thursday.
Moore jumped to an early 12-0 lead and beat the Donelson Jets 30-18 at Hillsboro High.
Coached by Gregg Wigginton, Moore won six straight championships from 2002-2007 when the Matadors built a 48-game winning streak. They lost in the finals in 2008 to Goodlettsville and in 2009 to Smithson-Craighead.
• Hoops have arrived: Basketball tips off around the area this week with a lot of Hall of Champions jamboree two-quarter games on tap.
According to the TSSAA web site, some of the area schools hosting games are: Brentwood Academy (Tuesday, Thursday), Cane Ridge (Friday, Saturday), CPA (Thursday), Lipscomb (Tuesday, Thursday), DCA (Tuesday), East Lit (Friday), Ensworth (Wednesday), FRA (Tuesday), Glencliff (Friday), Overton (Tuesday, Friday),
Ravenwood (Tuesday), USN (Tuesday, Friday) and Whites Creek (Thursday).
Most of the regular season opens next week.
• ‘Battle of the Best:’ Two of the country’s best high school basketball teams square off in the ‘Battle of the Best’ event at Tennessee State’s Gentry Center, Friday, Dec. 3.
Memphis Melrose (ranked No. 1 by Sporting News and rivals.com) will meet Oak Hill Academy, Va. (ranked No. 1 by MaxPreps.com) in the feature game at 8 p.m. It will be preceded by two star-studded games – Central Park Christian (Ala.) vs. Arlington Country Day (Fla.) at 5, then Marshall County, Tenn. (which has Vanderbilt signee Kedron Johnson) vs. Lee (Ala.) at 6:30.
For info, go to www.battleofthebest.net.
• Overton's Betts picks UT: Overton High standout and three-sport letterman Mookie Betts has announced he will sign a letter-of-intent with the University of Tennessee for baseball.
The star second baseman and leadoff batter hit .549 with 37 RBI last season. He chose UT over Vanderbilt. UAB and Mississippi State also recruited him.
Betts also lettered in basketball and bowling.
Blackman at Smyrna
Lipscomb at Maplewood
Pearl-Cohn at Goodpasture
BGA at Baylor
Brentwood Academy at Ensworth
ECS at Knoxville Webb
Davidson Academy at St. George’s