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’06 champs’ Gray-Wilks tandem awaits Bearden in state semifinals

In a dogfight of similar breeds in Smyrna Friday, beware the Gray-to-Wilks connection that helped earned a state title in 2006.

That quarterback-receiver connection fuels the Smyrna Bulldogs (10-3 record), defending Class 5A state champions, who host a Bearden Bulldog team (12-1) coming in as puppies in terms of state semifinal playoff experience.

Opening kick-off in Smyrna’s Robert L. Raikes Stadium is 7 p.m. CST, 8 p.m. EST, Nov. 30.

Though first-year BHS skipper Brad Taylor’s BHS Bulldogs are heavy on senior experience, no Bearden football team in school history has ever come this far.

Smyrna’s top receiver, 6-foot-1, 210-pound senior Rod Wilks, is a University of Tennessee commitment. “He’s good, and they try and get him the ball, but they distribute the ball a lot to all their kids,” Taylor said. Wideout Jonah Hendricks is another SHS threat.

“Offensively, they’re balanced, they can run and pass,” Taylor said of the SHS’s basic shotgun, one-back offensive set with three and four receivers.

About Smyrna quarterback Sonny Gray, a senior, “he’s got a real strong arm,” Taylor said. “He’s got a lot of experience.”

Freshman runningback Jeremiah Bryson rushed for 178 yards in a 28-10 SHS win against Cookeville in round one of the playoffs. After a 91-yard effort to help whip Lincoln County 43-16 in round two, Bryson led a 111-yard rushing attack in Smyrna’s 17-7 victory against Wilson Central last Friday.

“They’ve got a good little runningback, he’s quick, reminds me of a combination of Marshall kid at Ooltewah [Brian] and the runningback at William Blount [Darren Garner],” Taylor said.

Taylor said the SHS offensive line “has good size” but isn’t huge, adding his defensive line matches up well size-wise.

“We’re going to have to have guys making plays in the secondary, and we’re going to have to have linebackers and D-linemen getting to the football,” Taylor said. “Getting to the quarterback, pressuring him and making tackles on that runningback.”

Taylor said the SHS defense is a base 44 alignment (four defensive linemen, four linebackers). “They play cover three and man-three [pass coverages] behind it,” the Bearden coach said. “They’ve got some real good athletes on defense, but they’re not real big ... not necessarily one standout.”

Quentin Allen, 6-foot-3, 268-pound senior defensive tackle, defensive end Jeremy King and Hendricks at defensive back could be three to watch.

“We’ve got to be balanced, and take care of the football,” Taylor said. “I think if we’re able to throw the ball on ’em some, we’ll be able to open up some stuff in the running game.

Smyrna’s three regular season losses were to Lebanon (31-28) and to perennial powers Brentwood Academy (17-13) and Riverdale (36-32).


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