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For the second week in a row the Hornet faithful came out to support their Friday Night Lights team at home. The opponent this week was the Anna-Jonesboro Wildcats led by former NCHS alum Brett Detering. After a nice ceremony where coach Detering was presented with a football helmet sporting the Nashville “N” as well as the AJ logo on each side, it was time for business.
NCHS won the toss and elected to receive. The thought process was to get the ball, take the lead, and make Anna, who does not have a quick strike offense, play catch-up. However, the script was flipped, and AJ was the aggressor. After a quick 3 and out by the Hornets, Anna took the ball down field, running their characteristic option attack to perfection, scoring on a 16-yard run by senior QB Peyton Denny making the score 7-0. Nashville received the ball and after a couple of runs by Noah Miller, quarterback JT Malawy stared down his receiver on an out route, and AJ stepped in the throwing lane, intercepting and running the ball for a pick six and a 14-0 lead at the 1st quarter end.
Coach Koz and his coaches had a long talk between quarters with the NCHS squad, and the Hornets came out with a new plan of attack. It was officially Miller time on the third drive of the game. Miller was given the ball to run between the tackles for chunk yards, and when AJ stacked the box, the next calls were sweeps to Miller around the ends. The drive ended with Miller finding himself in the end zone, making the score 14-8 after an Isaac Blazier 2-point conversion, but Anna was still leading. Now with some rest and a change in the defensive schemes, the Hornets defense was ready to play. Some of the big plays came from some big bodies up-front. Devin Schill, Brynner Inman, and Griffin Bochantin slowed down the AJ option led by Denny, then Dakota Bannert came up big on a hit to Denny on second down, knocking him out for a play and slowing him down for the remainder of the game. Bochantin got a sack on the next play, forcing a punt. Nashville began their drive deep in their own territory when a bubble screen to Samuel Kollbaum was called. The AJ defense was caught looking for Miller to get the ball, but instead Kollbaum caught the ball behind the line of scrimmage and had several NCHS offensive linemen in front of him. After using those blocks from his linemen, Kollbaum showed his speed and split the secondary and had one guy to beat. This is where things got weird. Kollbaum attempted to switch arms to stiff arm the last AJ defender, and the ball fell to the ground for a fumble. However, Breckin Baum, who was hustling down field, jumped on the ball at the same time as an AJ defender and the ball popped out and went right to Kollbaum, who scooped it up and ran another 15 yards for a 67-yard TD pass. This made the score 16-14 Hornets with a few minutes left until half.
AJ received the kickoff and ran several plays to get the ball down the field and had themselves in field goal range. Rylan Frazier, the AJ kicker, was booting the ball on kickoffs to the goal line and was making 40 plus yard field goals in pre-game. On third down, on the AJ 21-yard line, a hurt Denny flipped the ball to running back Evan Hall and cornerback Blaine Emrick was shot out of a cannon and tackled Hall for a 6-yard loss. The field goal attempt was now 42 yards instead of 36. As time was expiring in the half, Frazier booted the ball with accuracy but left it just short of the crossbar and NCHS went into the locker room up 2.
The third quarter was quick, and both NCHS and AJ leaned heavily on the running game. Miller continued to run hard for yards but another poor snap, which created a turnover, killed the Hornet drive. When Nashville got the ball back from AJ on a 4th down stop, the game had already entered the 4th quarter. Nashville was driving down the field behind the O-Line and with the help of Miller’s legs. Malawy hit a beautiful play action pass to a wide-open Will Diedrich for a 30 yard plus touchdown. However, 40 yards from the play, there was a yellow flag on the field, indicating a hold on the Hornets, negating the touchdown and eventually forcing a punt. After stopping AJ again on 4 plays for a turnover on downs, the Hornets were grinding out the clock in the fourth quarter with short passes by Malawy and hard runs by Miller. Nashville found themselves in the red zone, trying to put the Wildcats away for good when Nashville once again fumbled the ball to the Wildcats, on a read option between Miller and Malawy. The defense was called onto the field to stop the Wildcats not only from scoring a touchdown, but with the leg of Frazier, the defense had to keep AJ out of field goal range. The Wildcats were moving the ball, and they crossed over the 50-yard line. On the next play AJ mishandled the snap and it was recovered by Schill with less than 2 minutes left. Nashville moved the ball on a few more runs by Miller, who had to come out of the game with a minor injury. Kollbaum filled in for Miller and on his second touch, the line opened up a huge hole and Kollbaum sprinted into the end zone for a 8 yard run. This made the score 22-14 in favor of Nashville. The game ended 30 seconds later with the same score. With the win the Hornets are 3 – 1 on the season and 1-0 in conference.
Defensively, Schill and John Blumhorst had a sack, Bochantin had a sack and a tackle for loss, and Emrick had several tackles and a tackle for a loss. Blumhorst led the team in tackles. Offensively, Miller was the workhorse, as he carried the ball 27 times for 169 yards and a touchdown. Kollbaum had 5 carries for 44 yards and a touchdown and 2 catches for 97 yards and a touchdown. Malawy threw for 177 yards on 12 of 14 passing with an interception and touchdown. Rounding out the Hornet offense was Blazier with 5 catches for 75 yards, Emrick 2 catches for 17 yards, and Daven Hug and Maddox Ritzel each chipped in with a catch.
Coach Kozuszek gave V104.7 a few thoughts after the win against AJ. Coach Kuz stated that any win is a good win, no matter how pretty or ugly it is, and Friday night was far from pretty. Moving the ball was not the problem, it was holding on to it. The self-inflicted wounds on offense must stop if we are going to have any success moving forward. I thought our defense did a decent job of adjusting and settling into the game, as AJ did not score past their second possession. However, our physicality must improve on that side of the ball.
Nashville will go for their 3rd consecutive win this Friday against West Frankfort. It’s Homecoming, and we hope to see all the fans and community out to show your continued support for your boys of fall. Go Big Blue.
Caption: Quarterback JT Malawy prepares to hand off the ball on Friday, September 15 against AJ.