It’s a lengthy 374 miles from Greenback to the upper northwest corner of Tennessee — the location of Tiptonville and Lake County High School.
Yet, several Cherokees and their head coach have some familiarity with the Falcons.
In May, Greenback’s baseball team defeated Lake County twice in its run at the state tournament to earn the TSSAA Class 1A championship.
Like Greenback with Greg Ryan, Lake County is led in both sports by the same coach. Josh Puckett is 59-26 in seven years leading the football team.
Many of the starting nine for the Greenback baseball champions graduated but Lake County’s two losing pitchers will be in Cookeville for today’s football championship game that kicks off at noon (11 a.m. CST).
Both are key players for Lake County (14-0) on the gridiron.
Middle linebacker Campbell Puckett (6-foot-2, 260 pounds) and quarterback Tanner Snyder (6-foot-3, 240 pounds) were selected for the Tennessee East-West All-Star Classic on Dec. 13, but the two hope to first extract some revenge on Greenback (12-2) at Tennessee Tech’s Tucker Stadium.
Snyder, a Mr. Football semifinalist, is the heart of the potent run-oriented Falcon attack.
“(Lake County) is definitely a run-first, pass-second team,” Ryan said. “(Snyder) is very capable of hitting guys wide open, but they obviously want to run first. If you take that away and force them to throw, you’re playing pretty good defense.”
The Falcons complement the hard, physical running of Snyder with what Ryan terms the “scat-back, fast guy” style of tailback Larry Tubbs. Tubbs leads with 1,954 yards on 189 carries, and Snyder has 1,457 yards on 131 rushes.
“When you’ve got a 6-foot-3, 240-pound tailback playing quarterback, you really have to wrap up,” Ryan said. “Arm tackles are not going to get the job done. We have to really tackle well and rally to the football because it’s going to take more than one guy to get him down.”
Snyder’s leading receivers are T.J. Morgan and Izaiah Matheny. Ryan said in game film he studied, the Falcons pass only about one of four plays. Snyder has 1,252 yards and 22 touchdowns off 75 completions in 126 attempts.
Those passing statistics would stack up well against most Class 1A teams, but wane against the aerial assault Greenback features.
Class 1A Mr. Football winner Holden Willis set a state record for touchdown receptions in a season with 28. His 27th and 28th scoring catches in last week’s 27-26 win over South Pittsburg.
Willis (72 receptions, 1,722 yards) and Duke Stinnett (46 catches, 1,066 yards) have been just the forefront of receivers available to quarterback Braden Carnes. The senior has tossed 52 touchdowns and amassed 3,983 yards on 188 of 286 passing.
Lake County has run a 3-4 front on defense, led by leading tackler John Wilson and Puckett at linebacker, with mostly man-to-man pass coverage.
In preparing offensive schemes, Ryan faces a problem similar to what he experienced before the semifinal win and in several games each season.
“The worst thing, like every week, I haven’t seen film of anybody playing (Lake County) that resembles anything like what we do,” Ryan said. “So, can they play us in man coverage and put pressure on our quarterback, or will they play something I haven’t seen them do, some type of zone? I don’t know.”
The kicking game seems one area where Greenback has an advantage. Lucas Holmes is dependable on extra points and kickoffs, and the punting production has been solid.
Lake County goes for two points after every touchdown, indicating a lack of kicking skills.
“When they punt it’s probably less than a 20-yard average, so they’re struggling in changing field position any time they have to punt,” Ryan said. “But they haven’t had to punt a whole lot. When you’re that good and going down and scoring touchdowns, well, there haven’t been a whole of punting situations.”
Ryan said any decision on whether the Cherokees will stick with kicking extra points or try to match Lake County with two-point conversions will be an in-game decision.
“It’s a lot harder to make 2-point conversions than to kick it,” Ryan said. “Hopefully they won’t score a lot so we won’t have to worry about it.”