Gatlinburg-Pittman wants to slow CAK attack
Gatlinburg-Pittman hasn’t faced Christian Academy of Knoxville since 2008 but Highlanders senior Jeremy Odom views Friday night’s meeting as a rematch.
It’s an opportunity for Odom and his teammates in the defensive backfield to prove what they can do against the passing game three weeks after being torched by Carter.
“We should’ve beat Carter,” Odom said. “I guess it’s kind of a rematch for us. It’s not Carter but it’s a throwing team.”
The Highlanders (8-2) welcome the two-time defending state champion Warriors to Gatlinburg Friday night at 7 p.m. The opening-round game in the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association’s class 3A playoffs will be a challenge even if the Warriors are just 4-6. Those six losses include defeats to playoff teams like Webb, Alcoa, Catholic and Grace Christian.
CAK comes in averaging more than 230 yards per game through the air. The Warriors have posted 42 points each of the last two weeks just to reach the playoffs. Highlanders coach Benny Hammonds said his defense needs to shut down the passing game to avoid a repeat of the game with Carter where the Hornets threw for 410 yards and scored 49 points.
“Our forte is good, strong defense with the linebackers and down people and also running the football,” Hammonds said. “Probably our weakest part of our team is our secondary. We spent a tremendous amount of work on it. We’re getting better. But then that goes against the strongest part of their team. Hopefully we can limit what they do and outscore them with a good, strong running game.”
CAK sees the running game as critical for its success, too. Coach Rusty Bradley said he’s putting an emphasis on balance this week. He said the Warriors need to be physical to compete with the Highlanders and keep pressure off its freshman quarterback.
“We’ve got to establish the run and stay balanced so teams can’t just bring pressure and get to our quarterback,” Bradley said. “In order to run the ball we’re going to have to be as physical as they are.”
Playing physical football, though, isn’t what worries Hammonds. It’s slowing down the Warriors no-huddle, air attack. Hammonds said Bradley is good at calling in plays from the sidelines and the coaching staff in Knoxville is also good at picking up things from the press box and exposing weaknesses in the midst of a drive. That sound a lot like what Carter did three weeks ago.
“I guess (Carter) saw something on film and they did it a lot,” said defensive end Riley Trotter. “They picked us apart.”
A big part of limiting CAK will be getting pressure on rookie QB Cole Smith. Bradley insisted his team can’t abandon the run and depend on Smith to win the game. That’ll be even more important if G-P can apply the kind of pressure it wants to up front.
Odom said that’s the critical component, not just improved play from the secondary. The entire defense must play better against the pass for the Highlanders to advance.
“If they can’t throw it, then they can’t do anything,” Odom said. “If we can stop them from playing their game, they’re going to have to play our game.”