SMYRNA – D.J. Williams’ senior season debut was a memorable one Thursday at Robert L. Raikes Stadium.
The Smyrna two-way starter picked off three passes, returning one for a touchdown, and caught a TD pass to lead the Bulldogs to a 28-7 opening-night win over North Rutherford rival La Vergne in the Army National Guard Rivalry Game.
“I’m not worried about those picks,” said Williams, who had a 7-AAA high six interceptions in 2013. “I’m just glad we won.
“It was a good achievement. It’s a good way to start the season.”
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Williams intercepted Drew Howard’s first pass attempt and returned it 49 yards for a touchdown on the second play of the game to give the Bulldogs (1-0 overall, 1-0 in 7-AAA) a 7-0 lead 57 seconds into the game.
The win was the 16th straight in the series, which Smyrna leads 27-1.
“Any time you beat La Vergne, it’s special,” Smyrna coach Matt Williams said. “To do it in Week 0 catapults you into next week, and puts some pep in your step.”
But it was just the start of a dominating defensive effort that held the Wolverines (0-1, 0-1) to 141 total yards, including just 68 in the first half. Howard threw four picks in the game and the Wolverines had six turnovers total.
“Hats off to Smyrna,” La Vergne coach Stanton Stevens said. “They came out and played, and did what they needed to do.
“Their big-time players made big plays. That’s what you have to do to win. We didn’t play well enough to win. We settled and played better in the second half, but we needed to do that in the first half.”
Neither team scored in the second half. However, La Vergne senior Quin Jernighan had two jump ball catches in the end zone called back on the same drive for penalties in the third quarter.
“That would have gave us a chance,” Stevens said. “We had opportunities. The problems we had (Thursday) are correctable things. We need to do a better job protecting the football and get healthy.”
Stevens said Jernighan is playing with a lower leg injury. Center Daz Dillard left the game with a potential MCL sprain in the second half. Jernighan, who had 800 receiving yards a year ago, was held to two catches for 11 yards.
Roshea Grays led La Vergne with 95 yards on 19 carries. Maleik Gray was held to 25 yards on 10 carries.
The Wolverines answered the Bulldogs’ first score by driving it 67 yards on 14 plays, capping it with Gray’s 1-yard TD run with 4:50 left in the first quarter.
(L to R) back row Oakland’s Kyle Oliver, Oakland’s Jack Jones, and Oakland’s Josh Smith, Front Row Blackman’s Jauan Jennings, on Saturday August 2, 2014.
Smyrna sophomore quarterback John Turner found Jordan Ligon on a 5-yard TD pass to take a 14-7 lead with 59 seconds left in the first quarter. Turner also had pass completions of 36 and 32 to Ikenna Okeke on the drive.
“I know (Turner) is young, but he’s been working in the offseason to put it where I can go get it,” Okeke said.
Turner finished the game 6-of-10 passing for 127 yards with one interception and two touchdowns. Kyle Smith, who transferred from Mt. Juliet in the offseason, had 122 yards on 23 carries.
The lead ballooned to 21-7 with 3:36 left in the first half when Austin Brown bullied his way in for a 4-yard TD run.
The ensuing kickoff bounced off Roshea Grays’ chest and Smyrna’s Ian Cleveland recovered at the Smyrna 30. Five plays later, Williams caught a quick slant from Turner with the Wolverines blitzing and sprinted 15 yards for the score.
Grays fumbled the ball back to Smyrna two plays later with less than a minute remaining. But the drive ended when La Vergne linebacker Fred Furlow intercepted Turner’s pass in the end zone.
Contact Tom Kreager at 615-278-5168 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kreager.