MURFREESBORO – La Vergne football coach Stanton Stevens believes a lot is riding on tonight’s season opener for his football team at Smyrna High’s Robert L. Raikes Stadium.
“A lot hinges on us winning the Smyrna game as to how many total games we can win,” Stevens said. “We have to change our mentality to an expectation of winning as opposed to a hope of winning.
“Beating Smyrna would confirm that they’re good enough to win. Once they believe that, we won’t blow fourth-quarter leads. If we’re even in the fourth quarter, we won’t find a way to not win. We’ll find a way to win.”
The two teams kick off at 7 in the first prep game involving area teams.
Smyrna holds a commanding 26-1 series advantage over its North Rutherford rival, including a 56-14 rout a year ago.
La Vergne finished the season 3-7, but had three games in which it led or was tied in the fourth quarter before eventually losing the contest.
Smyrna’s win against the Wolverines a year ago started a four-game win streak to begin the season for the Bulldogs, which went 6-5 a year after winning just one game — against La Vergne — in 2012.
As big of a rivalry contest as it is, Smyrna coach Matt Williams has told his team all week that this isn’t the biggest game of the season.
“What I told our team is it’s not our Super Bowl,” Williams said. “We have to just worry about the next snap, not the outcome. We cannot worry about the scoreboard.
“If we take care of business on each snap, the game will take care of itself.”
Smyrna’s offense is vastly different than a year ago when the Bulldogs were primarily in the I-formation. The Bulldogs are now a spread team.
Sophomore John Turner takes over at quarterback, replacing the graduated Matt Rodell. He’ll also have a new face in the backfield in running back Kyle Smith, a transfer from Mt. Juliet. Two of the Bulldogs’ top three receivers also graduated from a year ago.
La Vergne also will start a new quarterback in junior Drew Howard, who replaces C.J. Fore. However, Howard has Quin Jernighan back at receiver. Jernighan had 800 receiving yards, most among returning District 7-AAA players. The Wolverines also return sophomore Maleik Gray, who ran for 393 yards as a freshman. Gray has college offers from Florida State and Alabama.
“He’s an extremely talented athlete,” Williams said. “We’ve worked all week on containing him. That’s what scares you with him. If he gets free, he’s gone. But they have other weapons.”
Contact Tom Kreager at 615-278-5168 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kreager.
Week 0 Schedule
(All games at 7 p.m. unless noted)
La Vergne at Smyrna*
Mt. Pleasant at Eagleville
Riverdale at Siegel*
Ravenwood at Stewarts Creek
MTCS at Cannon Co.**
Monroe Acad., Ala. vs. Lancaster Chr. at Smyrna Middle, 6 p.m.
Oakland at Blackman, 11 a.m.***
*WGNS (1450-AM, 100.5-FM, 101.9-FM)
**WBRY (1540-AM, 96.7-FM)
***ESPN2, WGNS (1450-AM, 100.5-FM, 101.9-FM)
La Vergne at Smyrna
When: 7 p.m., today
Where: Robert L. Raikes Stadium, Smyrna High
Records: La Vergne is 0-0. Smyrna is 0-0.
Radio: WGNS (1450-AM, 100.5-FM, 101.9-FM)
Last meeting: Smyrna defeated La Vergne 56-14 in 2013.
Key players to watch: La Vergne: RB/S Maleik Gray (393 rushing yards, 303 receiving yards in 2013), WR/S Quin Jernighan (800 receiving yards, 8 TDs), LB Fred Furlow. Smyrna: WR/S: D.J. Williams (six interceptions, 121 receiving yards), RB Kyle Smith, LB Dallas Padgett (56 tackles).
Keys to the game: La Vergne’s offensive line must find a way to open holes for Gray and teammate Roshea Grays. If it does, La Vergne’s offense should move the field effectively. Smyrna needs some early success on offense after struggling at times at the jamboree. It the Bulldogs’ offense needs some early success to gain confidence and momentum.