How do you determine the bigger impact?
Do you ignore a season’s worth of brilliant play, record-setting accomplishments and a handful of “firsts” for a football program?
Or do you toss aside a school’s historic playoff run that ended one game away from Cookeville and a potential state championship victory?
The easiest answer would be that you can’t ignore neither.
Rossview and Northeast had two distinctly different experiences from the start of the 2013 football season until the end. But the similarity of success rang true for both programs.
While Rossview dominated the regular season, won more games than at any time in the school’s history and rushed for more yards in a season while taking second in District 10, Northeast had an uneven regular season, finished 5-5, lost to Kenwood to end the regular season but then exploded in the playoffs, reaching the school’s first ever Class 5A state semifinal game.
Hawks coach Ron Lambert and Eagles coach Isaac Shelby were at the helm for their programs and both have been honored as The Leaf-Chronicle/Legends Bank All-Area Football Co-Coaches of the Year.
The award is voted on by the newspaper’s sports staff while The Leaf-Chronicle/Legends Bank All-Area Football Team is selected by the area’s athletic directors.
“After the season was finished, we had a chance to look back and evaluate what we were able to do,” Lambert said about his Rossview team. “I think we all appreciate the hard work that was put forth and we all feel great about the season. But in no way are we satisfied or are we going to rest on our laurels. This was a stepping stone for us. It was a huge step up and we’ve got to keep on climbing.”
Lambert’s teams began to show signs of a turnaround last year. After a 2-8 season his first year and a 1-9 record his second, Lambert got his team to 5-5 last year and was one loss away from reaching the Class 6A playoffs. Springfield knocked off Rossview and kept the Hawks out of the 2012 postseason.
But this year would be vastly different.
With quarterback Charles Talleyrand and tailback Isaiah Johnson, Rossview rolled through the regular season that included a three-point win against Shelby and Northeast. The Hawks’ only loss came against Henry County by only two.
“I’m not sure people realize how tough our league is,” Lambert said. “You’re talking about great teams in Henry County and Northeast and then you have Clarksville High, Springfield and Kenwood. It’s a very good league and every game is a fight.”
Both Talleyrand and Johnson ran for more than 1,000 yards this year while Johnson set a school record for rushing yards in a single season with more than 2,000 yards. In the process, Rossview eclipsed their record wins mark by two games and reached the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
“Our goal was 15 games,” Lambert said. “We fell short of that but that’s why you set goals like that. You put that out there and then let your kids try to get to that point. We use that as motivation. Our goal every year is to win a state championship and that’s why we work so hard and set those lofty goals.”
Northeast lost quite a bit from last year but returned several key starters. Quarterback Montrell Pardue and tailbacks Nick Green and Dontavious Fort-Merriweather allowed Shelby to basically keep his offense running smoothly. However, the regular season didn’t go quite as smooth.
“We played some very good 6A schools like Franklin, Centennial and Smyrna early on,” Shelby said. “We knew we’d probably take our lumps but we also knew it would make us better down the road. Those are the kinds of things that you deal with early in the year and you try to use it as a learning tool to get better later in the year.”
The Eagles have had better 10-game stretches. the first six weeks were spent trading a win for a loss. Northeast didn’t put together its first win streak until back-to-back weeks of October 4 and 11. The Eagles followed those two wins with two straight losses, including a 44-21 loss to Kenwood to end the regular season.
Most would have thought the Eagles’ steam had run out. But Northeast regrouped and recorded three playoff victories on the road, winning at Lincoln County, at Hillsboro and at Gallatin to set up a matchup against District 10 rival Henry County in the state semifinals. The Eagles had actually held a 21-10 hafltime lead against the Patriots during their lone regular season matchup in Paris earlier in the fall. Henry County would pull away late for a 32-28 win. And in the rematch, the Patriots ran away with a 43-14 victory to advance to the 5A state title game.
But it was the first time, since Kenwood’s 1998 team, that a school in Montgomery County advanced to the state semifinals. The Knights and Eagles are the only two public schools to advance to that round and Northeast’s game was the first time this city hosted a state semifinal contest.
“We had our ups and downs but from our program’s standpoint, the playoffs were nothing but up,” Shelby said. “Despite the loss to Henry County we took a great deal away from that experience. I’m really proud at how we dug deep during the postseason.”