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Devils complete second regular season with flawless record

Germantowns Orlando Hairston celebrates the Red Devil victory over Whitehaven to claim Distrct Champs

By Bill Sorrell
It didn’t happen.
The words on the field goal size sign Whitehaven cheerleaders held for football players to run through fell flat, “Pucker Up, Close Your Eyes, And Kiss Your Winning Streak Goodbye.”
Winning their 10th straight, Germantown toppled Whitehaven 37-19 on Friday to win the Region 8-6A championship and finish the regular season 10-0, both for the second straight year.
“The Whitehaven sign fueled the fire and let us focus in even more,” said Germantown kicker Marshall Ware. “It was definitely nice to win back-to-back region titles but more is planned and expected. We celebrated Friday night yet woke up Saturday knowing we are 0-0 in playoffs.”
In the first round of the playoffs at 7 p.m. Friday, the Red Devils will host Arlington (5-5), the fourth seed in Region 7-6A, while Whitehaven (7-3) will host Region 7-6A third seed Collierville (5-5).
“I think it’s pretty significant from where these kids came from four years ago. They really wanted to leave their legacy on the program. They accomplished one of their goals this season and now we have to go back to work. We have the playoffs,” said Germantown Head Coach Chris Smith. “We have got to be the best prepared we can possibly be for Arlington.”
Germantown H-back Conner Richardson said, “The best thing about winning the region is being a part of a great group of players and coaches that will do anything for each other. A lot of the work from the offseason and during this season has paid off.”
Completing 14-of-18 passes for 211 yards and three touchdowns, Germantown quarterback Ethan Payne hit Conner Richardson, Cameron Baker and Tyler Miller for touchdowns while T.J. Dorsey and Eric Foster ran for two more.
With Ware kicking four touchbacks, including one that came within 1 yard of rolling out of the end zone (69 yards), and a 41-yard field goal, special teams combined with an offensive line that led to 324 yards and a defense that held the Tigers to 34 yards rushing and 154 passing.
“I didn’t even know. This is the first time Germantown has gone undefeated two years in a row in the regular season. To be the quarterback both those years I’m blessed and humbled,” said Payne, a senior.
Ranked No. 7 among 6A schools by the Associated Press going into the game, the Tigers, with five NCAA Division 1 commits, cut into the Red Devils’ 16-0 second-quarter lead with a 6-yard touchdown pass from Keyshawn Harris to Mose Frazier and an Antonio Hall interception for a touchdown that went about 45 yards.
Harris’ 52-yard touchdown pass to Keveon Mullins, who has committed to South Carolina, pulled Whitehaven to within 30-19 in the third quarter.
The Red Devils recovered three of four Whitehaven fumbles that led to two touchdowns, extending leads to 16-0 when Ware kicked his field goal and 23-13 on Baker’s touchdown catch before halftime.
“That field goal was huge beause it allowed us to keep the momentum and the energy alive,” said Payne.
With Whitehaven on the Germantown 21 yard line with 7:07 left in the fourth quarter, the defense held on fourth and one.
Two plays later and after a penalty, Payne hit Baker with a 26-yard pass to the 41 and the Red Devils were on their way to their final score.
With Foster running for a first down on fourth and 1 at the Whitehaven 36 with 2:25 left, Foster later scored from 7 yards out with 36 seconds left for a 37-19 lead after Ware’s fourth PAT.
Germantown defensive end Ashton Pachucki said, “The game was very intense and the atmosphere was phenomenal. Our defense knew what it had to do and we had to shut it down and keep them out (of the end zone) to allow our offense to score and that’s what we did.”
Payne said, “Our defense had turnover after turnover after turnover. Those are six points. We stopped them on fourth and one at our end and that was a big turning point. It was 30-19. If they had scored that would have made it closer.”
Mistakes did cost the Tigers said head coach Rodney Saulsberry.
“The biggest thing is making mistakes. We made too many mistakes. The conditions in the beginning, the wet ball, wet field, we couldn’t hold onto the ball so it hurt us. We lost three fumbles,” he said. “We are going to have to be able to control our emotions. That is a life skill. Kids are emotional. Football is an aggressive game but you to know how to control that energy.”
The game was one of the most heavily penalized all season, 315 total yards. Germantown had 16 penalties for 170 yards, Whitehaven 15 for 145.
“It’s a myriad of reasons why there may be a lot of penalties so I won’t speak on that. We will just say we have to be 10 times better at all times,” said Saulsberry, in his 15th year as head coach.
Pachucki said, “Penalties were killing us. We recovered from it and fixed our problems but it was very difficult every play getting a penalty called on us.”
Smith said, “Our guys handled adversity. They really wanted to win this region title game and we’re proud of them. Some guys made big plays the first half. The defense did a great job of stopping them. That catch at the end (of the first half) by Cameron Baker, what a play with 14 seconds left.”
Baker’s 28-yard touchdown reception moved the Red Devils to a 23-13 lead.
“In the huddle, I told Coach Smith, ‘I’m done playing passive. Let’s throw it up. Our best player is better than their best player so we are going to throw it to Cam. He said, ‘All right.’ We threw it to Cam and that is the best play he has made all year,” Payne recalled.
While Saulsberry said that Baker, who finished with 9 receptions for 152 yards, made some great catches, his touchdown was a “momentum drain.”
Whitehaven captain and senior linebacker Tyler Hunter, who had 10 tackles, including 4.5 for loss and 2 sacks, said, “Cam Baker is pretty good. He is athletic, a very explosive receiver. Their deep ball and inside runs were pretty effective.”
Payne said, “All the receivers (stood out). He (Baker) is just effortless.”
“Whitehaven is one of the top defenses in the state of Tennessee,” he said. “He is making them look silly. Nobody on their team could guard him all night. I got to hand it to him. He has a been a great friend of mine all high school long. Not just him, my line has been great.”
Germantown’s offensive line of left tackle Charles Egbuniwae, left guard Henry Castillo, center Cole Cocroft, right guard Nick Ferri, right tackle Curt Garrett were movers and shakers along with defensive linemen nose tackle Trey Boyd, tackle Verquatice Hill, ends Pachucki and Jordan Kirby.
Ferri “was wrecking people on the line,” said Payne. “We couldn’t have done what we did without him. That goes for the whole O-line. I give all the credit in the world to them. They are very good.”
With Germantown defenders rushing Whitehaven quarterbacks, Smith said it made the Tigers “one dimensional.”
“We stopped the run pretty effectively. We made them have to throw. Their running game almost disappeared. That allowed us to drop another guy in secondary coverage,” Smith said.
Another factor was Germantown senior H-back/tight end Tyler Miller, a baseball player who is playing football for the first time.
Miller was wide open when he caught a 31-yard touchdown pass from Payne to increase the lead to 29-13 before Ware made it 30-13 with 6:17 left in the third quarter. It was Miller’s first touchdown reception of the regular season. He caught one in a spring game against Olive Branch.
“That was a great play call,” said Payne. “They thought we were going to run all the way.”
Smith said, “It was a critical play because it was fourth and four and they rolled a safety down in the box and nobody had the tight end. Ethan put it on him and Tyler ran all the way for a touchdown. It was a back breaker.”
Miller called Payne “a very smart quarterback” who makes good decisions in tough situations.
Although he is playing his first season, Miller is being recruited by Southeast Missouri, Central Arkansas and Cumberland. In baseball, where he plays first, third and pitches, he is being recruited by East Tennessee State, Middle Tennessee and Austin Peay.
“Now we head into playoffs, play as hard as we can and hopefully bring home a state championship,” Miller said.
While the Tigers had “so many guys that stepped up” offensively and defensively, more were needed, said Saulsberry.
On Payne’s 26-yard fourth quarter pass to Baker on the seal-the-deal drive, Saulsberry said, “It was a guy making a play. We had guys in position. When guys are in position they have to make plays. That is what football is, moments. You have to win those moments.”
Coming in during the second quarter, Harris “did a great job of stepping in and making some plays,” said Saulsberry.
Harris threw the touchdown to Frazier with 4:16.
The Tigers have a dangerous kickoff returner in Devin Boddie, who has committed to Vanderbilt. He returned three kickoffs for 134 yards (44.7 average) including a return from his 5-yard line to the Red Devils 24. That drive stalled on incomplete passes but the Tigers scored on Mullins’ 52-yard reception on their next possession with 3:16 left in the third.
“He does a lot of things for us,” said Saulsberry of Boddie. “He is a little down on himself right now because he put the ball on the ground a little bit but he is a great player and he is going to go on and do great things.
“In spite of ourselves were were down by 10 points at halftime and had every opportunity,” he continued. “As I told them all week we can’t be our worst opponent, we can’t beat ourselves.”
Saulsberry said that “10 or 15” players were suspended for the game because of academics.
“I told them a standard is a standard. If we don’t hold them to be student athletes we are doing a disservice to them. That (suspensions) is no excuse,” he noted.
The Red Devils got the job done with B.J. Gardner getting 39 yards on 19 carries, Dorsey 30 yards on 9, Foster 42 on 6.
Richardson finished with 19 yards on 2 catches, Miller 31 yards, Orlando Hairston 1 for 2.
Shomar Michael had 4 tackles, Tyrec Collins 3 tackles, t strip-sack, 1 tackle for loss, Dannie Towles 3 tackles, 1 forced rush, Kirby 1 forced fumble, Boyd 2 tackles, 1 forced rush, Keveon Ware 4 tackles, 1 for loss, 1 pass break-up. Marcus Askew had 1 tackle, 1 forced rush and 1 pass break-up.
For the Tigers, who previously lost to Lausanne and North Little Rock, were sparked defensively by Joshua Gray with 8.5 tackles, Tamarion McDonald 8, Martavius French 4.5, Sean Wilder 5.5. Bryson Eason 5.5
Richardson’s touchdown pass with 2:20 left in the first quarter capped a 54-yard drive. In the next scoring drive, Payne threw a 31-yard pass to Baker and Foster had a 13-yard run. Dorsey scored from the 1 with 9:41 left in the second. It was 13-0.
Ware’s field goal made it a 16-point game with 5:46 left in the second. The Red Devils had recovered a fumble at the Tigers 11.
A 45-yard pass from Harris to Mullins went to the Red Devils 30. Frazier’s touchdown cut it to 16-6. After Hall intercepted Payne and scored, Mamadou Anne kicked the PAT. It was 16-13.
With Boyd recovering a fumble at the Whitehaven 28, it set up Baker’s turning-point TD for the 23-13 lead.
Miller’s touchdown grab finished a 59-yard drive, giving the Red Devils a 30-13 advantage. A 10-yard run by Boddie was a big play in the the Tigers’ third touchdown drive that pulled them to withing 30-19.
A 17-yard run by Foster led to the Red Devils’ last score. Ware made it 37-19.
One of the best plays of the game came when Ware got a punt off that from his 25 that looked like it was going to be blocked in the third quarter. It rolled to the Whitehaven 22.
“For the most part I maintained calmness and rolled out to the left to avoid oncoming defenders,” said Ware, who has had a 71-yard touch back this season. “The touch backs are critical to keeping the opposition from having good field position.”
According to Payne, Ware was “huge.”
“It’s always big when your kicker makes the opposing team start deep in their own territory,” said Payne.
Hunter, who is being recruited by UT-Martin, Jacksonville State, said the loss was a learning lesson.
“We had a lot of problems with execution so we are going to get back in the film room and tweak some things. We were missing a lot of key guys but the show must go on,” he said.
A big difference in the game was emotion, he said.
“They did have a little upper hand but we did keep our composure at the end,” he added.
Richardson said that he was surprised by how much more disciplined Germantown was than Whitehaven.
“Our biggest concern was to let them come out and get ahead early,” he said.
The Tigers did make adjustments to the Red Devils’ screen game and tried to shut down their outside run game, which Hunter said they did.
“They have faced adversity this season,” said Hunter, describing himself as a man of Christian faith. “I attend church every Sunday. That is the way my momma raised me.”
Payne called Whitehaven one of the best teams in the state.
“They are athletic. They have five guys going to Power 5 schools,” he said. “They are going to be just as good as Henry County, probably better.”
Tight end/linebacker Cormontae Hamilton has committed to Ohio State. Lineman Melvin McBride to Tennessee and quarterback Vincent Guy to UT-Martin, a member of the Ohio Valley Conference.
Harris completed 9 of 15 passes for 156 yards with Mullins catching four passes for 105 yards. Airyon Page had a catch of 25 yards. Boddie led rushers with 23 yards.
Offensive linemen Courtney Sharp, running back Cameron Sneed and Guy also pace the offense.
The Tigers’ “old school” 50-defense is led by linebackers Bryson Eason, French, MacDonald, lineman Jacobi Rice, and defensive backs Wilder, Andre Gooden and Hall.
Saulsberry said that his team is “grounded in faith.”
“I trust and believe if I can’t see the stair case, I keep on stepping,” he said.
Payne said that the Red Devils will keep trusting the process.
“We have to believe in who we are as a team. We have to believe in each other. We have to keep doing the same things we have been doing, stay with our schemes. If we keep doing that I will be surprised to see a team that is going to match up with us,” he said.
Smith said a key will be staying focused.
“If you slip up in the playoffs you go home,” he added.
Germantown and Whitehaven could meet in the playoffs.
“We look forward to that opportunity,” said Saulsberry. “It is our job to make it happen. They had a better night but we will live to fight again.”
Friday night after Friday and in between, the Red Devils have forged a close bond with each other.
“Coach Smith always says do it for the guy next to you and go out on your shield,” said Pachucki. “To me that means make sure you leave it all out on the field, do it for your brothers and let each other know we have got their back.
“Being a four-year player on this team and growing a relationship with these seniors and juniors,” he added. “I don’t think people could understand that type of bond we have as brothers. Whitehaven has great players but I don’t think their team was willing to go ‘All Gas, No Brakes’ (Germantown motto) like we did.”

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