Nashville Christian junior defensive back Slater Howard had an eventful night in the Class 1A state football quarterfinals Friday.
Slater picked off two Wayne County passes and broke up three more to help the host Eagles hold off the Wildcats 34-21 to advance to the state semifinals. The Eagles will play host to Peabody (11-2) in Friday’s semifinals.
“(Wayne County) has a great passing game, but we were fired up for it and ready to go,” Howard said. “They didn’t throw it downfield as much as they did on film, but they did a good job.”
Wedged between Howard’s big defensive night was an interception of his own. As the team’s punter, he fielded a bad snap and tossed the ball in the air, where it was picked off by Wayne County’s Camden Floyd inside Eagle territory.
That was one of a handful of Nashville Christian (12-1) mistakes that included two interceptions, three fumbles (none lost) and 110 yards in penalties.
However, the biggest miscue of the night came when Wayne County (12-1) muffed a punt deep inside its own territory with the Wildcats trailing just 28-21 with 6:26 remaining. Nashville Christian cashed in on the turnover as Mareio McGraw scored from the 9 to all but seal the win.
“(Wayne County) was physical — they would hit you in the mouth,” said McGraw, who had 103 yards rushing and a 52-yard touchdown reception on the last play of the first half. “It feels good (advancing to the semifinals), but we want to get to the big dance.”
Quarterback Kyle Tidwell had a touchdown run and touchdown pass — both in the first half. Howard’s 40-yard interception return for a TD gave the Eagles a 20-7 lead, and after Wayne County cut it to 20-14 on quarterback Preston Rice’s 2-yard run, the Tidwell-to-McGraw connection put the hosts ahead 28-14 at intermission.
The Wildcats cut it to 28-21 early in the third on a 10-yard scoring run by Logan Cole.
Nashville Christian limited Rice to 156 yards passing and 24 yards on 13 carries.
Blake Barfield added 80 yards and a score for Nashville Christian, while Tennessee commitments Daniel Bituli had 11 tackles — three for losses.