Last week: 2-0
This week’s Pick ‘Em is a unique one since there is only one Montgomery County team remaining after Kenwood lost last Friday.
The Clarksville Wildcats pulled off an improbable upset on Friday to beat the Munford Tigers in the first round of the TSSAA playoffs.
Their reward? A date with Region 7-5A champion Henry County.
Yes, the same Henry County that has been the class of the region for years, and the same Henry County that beat the Wildcats 35-13 in Clarksville earlier this season.
“It’s fun to go play them,” said Clarksville coach Isaac Shelby. “If you’re trying to figure out how good you are, you measure that playing Henry County. You don’t measure that playing anybody else. If you talk about Middle and West Tennessee in this class, they’re the premier program right now in our region and the western half of our state.”
The two teams last matched up on Sept. 20. Since then, the Wildcats have gone 6-1 and the Patriots 6-0. Clarksville’s average margin of victory in those games is 21 points; Henry County’s is 31.
Simply put, both teams are rolling.
However, in their last meeting, the Wildcats were without senior running back/linebacker Seth Phillips. He returned the following week and helped spark the team on their six-game win streak.
“We have a lot of confidence,” Phillips said. “Definitely playing them (earlier this season) and holding them to only 14-7 at halftime in the regular season and letting that go, walking to the locker room and seeing those guys break down, it showed that (we) had a chance to beat them this season. Just getting a chance to go back there and be able to have your mindset that, ‘Hey, we can do this.’
“We got this. In past years we’d think, ‘We’re going to have to play perfect.’ This year it’s like ‘We’ve got to play good enough.’”
There is no lack of confidence in the Clarksville locker room, and against a powerhouse like the Patriots, confidence is half the battle. They understand the stakes – if you don’t win, you don’t get to play anymore.
For a team that loves one another the way they do, this becomes another major factor in their willingness to beat their region rival on Friday.
“I think the best thing about this team is that the seniors get along,” Shelby said. “There’s not one guy that’s kind of outside the group. They love each other and play hard for each other. That’s what’s fun, and that’s what helped us the other night. They just play hard for each other.”
As if all of that weren’t enough, the Patriots barely scraped past 6-5 Ridgeway at home last weekend, beating them 10-6. For the Wildcats to see a team that typically runs over their opponents by several scores play such a close game against a team they should roll, they know that they’re capable of getting over the mountain.
But that obviously does not mean it will be easy. Henry County is the top team in the region – and one of the best in the state – for a reason. They’re 9-2 and have not just coasted on their reputation. This is the same team that beat Brentwood in September and gave undefeated Beech its second closest game of the regular season.
Everybody knows they’re going to run the football and dare the Wildcats to stop them. Their fans are going to bring the noise in Paris and force their foes to match it or go home.
Clarksville is not intimidated, though. In fact, they’re ready to show Henry County exactly who they are and prove that these aren’t the same Wildcats they beat by three scores a few months ago.
“It’s hard to win there, but I think that with their crowd, we’re going to bring a good crowd too,” said senior lineman Blake Hundley. “I think we’re going to match their excitement, their physicality, and we’re going to bring that drive and that train mentality.”
Believe me: I want to pick the Wildcats here. Seeing the way they’ve played, the passion this squad has for the game and their dedication to one another makes them a difficult team to pick against. Henry County is just a good football team – and I think they’re too good to simply ignore.
Here’s hoping I’m wrong about this one, Wildcats.
Prediction: Henry County 27, Clarksville 24