Christian’s concerns have merit. Bearden quarterback Collin Ironside, who missed the first game against D-B, is back behind center. The Bulldogs (5-6) — who started the season 0-5 — beat McMinn County 23-6 in the first round after losing to the Cherokees by 24 points earlier in the season.
“When Ironside is in there, he’s a heck of a football player,” Christian said. “He can throw it, run it, and they do a lot of power read with him carrying the ball, much like Alcoa did. It’s tough to prepare for.”
A positive for the Indians (9-2) is how they controlled the line of scrimmage in their 39-14 win over the Bulldogs on Sept. 6. Tyler Tesnear rushed for 163 yards and two touchdowns and Phillip Armitage added another 105 yards and two touchdowns.
Christian, however, noted that the Tribe’s 323 rushing yards that night came with Bearden missing some key personnel.
“They were clicking. Some of that probably had to do with Bearden missing their two inside linebackers, Christian Spining and Ty Seritt, when we played them the first time. They also didn’t have their safety, Reed Fredrick. Now that they’ve got them back, they’re a way different looking defensive team than they were the first time,” Christian said.
“We know it’s playoff time and you have to be able to run the football. If you can get a hat on a hat and run it between tackles, your chances of success increase.”
Both starting quarterbacks have shown remarkable efficiency.
D-B junior Zane Whitson has thrown for 1,695 yards with 21 touchdowns against just one interception while spreading the ball around. He threw for four scores in the Tribe’s 35-7 playoff-opening win over William Blount.
Rayshawn Simmons became D-B’s latest big-play threat after hauling in a 41-yard touchdown catch last week, and the Tribe receiving corps has Dalton Harkleroad (24 catches, 326 yards) and Cam Williamson (10 catches) back healthy. Hayden Sherer (19 catches) is a solid go-to guy in the slot, and Ben McCluskey (10 catches) can get downfield from the tight end position.
The Indians — behind an offensive line of center Caleb Burleson, guards Aiden Neale and Seth Hale, and tackles Kyler Banks and Blake Collier — show balance with an average of 178.5 rushing and 154.2 passing yards per game.
Ironside has thrown for 630 yards, seven touchdowns and no interceptions in the past four games and has 1,278 passing yards and 14 TDs for the season. He threw a 54-yard TD pass to Makai Williams and ran for a score against McMinn County.
Williams was a workhorse in the first round, carrying the ball 25 times for 141 yards and a touchdown. In the regular-season meeting, D-B’s defense limited the 5-foot-9, 180-pounder to seven rushes for 24 yards.
Kenneth Parker-Smith is an explosive receiver who had three catches for 143 yards, including a 91-yard TD, for Bearden against the Tribe.
Despite missing time, Spining and Seritt lead Bearden with 62 and 61 tackles, respectively. Jaquez Bolland has 55 stops, Fredrick 48 and Hayden Candela and Jackson Biggs 39 each.
McMinn County’s six points were the fewest Bearden has allowed all season. Spining was a beast with 18 tackles, and Julian Kendrick had an interception and a fumble recovery.
D-B’s defense has been spectacular this season, holding opponents to an average of 8.8 points per game.
Nate Whitley had a herculean 15-tackle effort against William Blount. Braxton Kulbacki and Whitley lead the team with 80 and 79 tackles, and Jackson Martin (71 tackles, nine sacks) and Jet Harris (68 tackles, nine quarterback hurries, seven sacks) add to opposing offenses’ misery.
The play of defensive tackles Ricky Wagner, Fonzo Booker, Jesse Greer and Collier contributes heavily.
On the back end, safety Isaac Ratliff has 55 tackles and Sam linebacker Josh Romero has 36. Trent Cody, Williams, Thomas Church and Ratliff are good in coverage, boosting the Indians’ tally to 75 tackles for loss.
The Tribe looks to have an advantage in special teams. Kicker Jaden Alderson is 9-for-11 on field goals and hasn’t missed on all 47 extra-point attempts. He’s also put opponents in tough field position with 44 touchbacks on 62 kickoffs.
Christian said all three phases of the game need to be on point.
“It was impressive the way they responded last week. ... To come out last week, control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, we did a good job of that,” Christian said of his players. “We kept their running game in check and we’ve got to do the same this week.”