By JESSE SMITHEY
One common thread wove its way through the Class 5A BlueCross Bowl press conference conversation Monday, and that was: just show similar finalists Powell and Page might be.
While much of that stems from their offensive prowess and dual-threat quarterbacks, they’ll match any and all commonalities at 7 p.m. Eastern time Friday on the field at Finley Stadium in downtown Chattanooga.
The winner gets its first state championship in program history.
For Powell and head coach Matt Lowe, Friday is a chance to ease any lingering pangs of defeat from a final-minute loss in the 2011 championship game. Lowe, a former Powell standout, left Powell as coach following the 2011 season and eventually wound up as football coach and athletics director at The King’s Academy.
He returned to Powell as head football coach in April 2018.
“Building the program back, this is always something that’s going to be very close to me and my family. My daddy played here. I played here. I’ve always called the Powell community home. This is alway going to be home for me. If there’s ever one school I could ever imagine winning a state championship with, it’s this one,” he said Monday. “Because most of the people in the grocery store and most of the people sitting in front of me or behind me in Sunday service, I’ve known and grown up with. So there’s nothing better than having that tight-knit community and community support.
“And for a kid who grew up in this community, maybe this is one of those small ways to give back to the community and give them something to be proud of.”
To do that, Powell (12-2) undoubtedly has been game-planning this week on somehow slowing the Page offense. The Patriots, much like Powell, put up prodigious passing numbers and did this past Friday in the state semifinals. Down by 17 midway through the fourth quarter, Page (13-1) stormed back to win in regulation, 56-52, over 5A power Henry County.
Starting quarterback Jake McNamara, a Colorado State commitment and younger brother to Michigan starting quarterback Cade McNamara, led the charge. He threw for more than 400 yards and seven touchdowns. He has 39 TDs this season and more than 3,200 yards passing.
McNamara poses plenty of problems for any defense, Lowe said. The 5-foot-11, 185-pound senior QB is the team’s second leading rusher.
“You’re not going to shut it down. You’re not going to stop it,” said Lowe. “You have to find ways to take advantage of missed opportunities. Eventually, he’s going to make a bad throw. We have to have someone there when he does.
“He’s going to make plays with his feet,” Lowe added. “He’s going to make plays certainly with his arm. But more importantly, what jumps off at me on film is: he’s a very smart quarterback. He understands how to read defenses. He knows where all the holes are. He knows if you leave a spot open, he’s going to put a guy in it. If that happens, it happens. Sometimes the offense is going to make a great call for what you have called defensively. When that happens, it’s OK. You roll it up and move on to the next play. We’re going to try to limit those (big plays) as much as possible. We have to take advantage of mistakes. At the same times, we can’t be upset that really great players are making great plays.”
Powell quarterback Jordyn Potts is causing pregame concerns for Page’s staff, as well. A Mr. Football semifinalist in 2020, Potts has only gotten better this fall, throwing for 3,480 yards and 33 touchdowns while completing 66 percent of his passes and rushing for 431 yards and a team-high 12 touchdowns.
He, like McNamara, can deliver in or out of the pocket.
“That’s the been the conversation in the coaches room during film break down: is how similar Potts and McNamara are. They both move around. They both can throw the ball on the run. They both keep their eyes downfield. They both look like they’re great leaders of their teams,” said Page head coach Charles Rathbone, who grew up in Blount County and attended William Blount High School.
“For these two quarterbacks to finally meet up and lead their teams onto the field, it’s a great honor. I just hope we can tell which team is which. Having seen these two quarterbacks play, they’re so much alike.”
If there is one difference between the two teams it’s that Powell’s defense has been much better and consistent the last couple months of the season than Page’s. The Panthers have allowed just 7.8 points per game over its last 10 outings — a far cry from when it allowed 48 and 52 points in Weeks 1 and 2, respectively, to Anderson County and Maryville.
Having Walter Nolen, a 6-foot-5, 325-pound defensive tackle and consensus top-five recruit in the Class of 2022, helps. As he rounded into form midway through the season, so did Powell’s defensive intensity. And with him drawing double teams, sophomore defensive end Steven Soles has had plenty of opportunities to get into the backfield with his speed and agility. He has 16 sacks and 41 quarterback pressures.
“We definitely changed our (defensive) mindset throughout the season,” said Powell defensive back Carson Whitehead, who has 22 pass breakups and three interceptions.
“We definitely started coming together as a team and made it work. At the beginning, it was kind of a new team for us, with Walter coming in and bunch of guys leaving from last year. We had to adjust. Once we got the hang of things, we definitely have been rolling.”
But Lowe said Page’s offense is “as good as an offense as you’re going to see anywhere in football” and that Powell’s defensive discipline will be tested.
Page essentially said the same about Powell.
One team will prove better — and different — than the other soon.
“We have to do everything that we can possible to prepare for Powell,” said McNamara, “so we can go out there and play our best game and show the fans what they want to see.”
Powell (12-2) is in the state championship for the third time, having finished runner-up in 1991 and 2011.
ROAD TO STATE: def. Ooltewah (42-0), def. McMinn County (49-7), def. Rhea County (27-13), def. West (35-7)
Jordyn Potts (QB, junior, 6-0, 175): 263-397 passing, 3480 yards, 33 TDs, 10 INTs; 71 carries, 431 yards, 12 TDs
Walter Nolen (DT, senior, 6-4, 325): 84 tackles, 26 TFLs, 15 sacks, 35 QB Pressures, 4 forced fumbles; 7 carries, 5 rush TDs; Texas A&M commitment
Jarvis Stockton (RB ,senior, 5-8, 185): 160 carries, 930 yards, 10 TDs; 14 catches, 90 yards, 2 TDs
Adarius Redmond (WR/DB, junior 6-1, 185): 52 catches, 963 yards, 7 TDs; 24 tackles, 5 PBUs; Power 5 prospect
Ayden Greene (WR/DB, junior, 6-3, 175): 64 catches, 852 yards, 11 TDs; Power 5 prospect
Jayden Collins (WR/DB, senior, 5-8, 175): 40 catches, 597 yards, 7 TDs, two INTs
J.J. Foust (WR/LB, junior, 5-10, 200): 47 catches, 457 yards, 4 TDs; 59 tackles, 10 TFLs, 4 sacks, 2 INTs
Carson Whitehead (DB, senior, 5-9, 165): 83 tackles, 22 PBUs, 3 INTs
Cannon Lusby (LB, senior, 5-9, 205): 113 tackles, 6 PBUs
Steven Soles (DE, sophomore, 6-2, 205): 70 tackles, 12 TFLs, 16 sacks, 41 QB Pressures
PAGE (13-1) is in the TSSAA BlueCross Bowl for the first time in program history.
ROAD TO STATE: def. Wilson Central (34-14), def. Nolensville (20-15), def. Green Hill (31-14), def. Henry County (56-52).
Jake McNamara (QB): 24-367 passing, 3290 yards, 39 TDs, 7 INTs; 97 carries, 304 yards, 4 TDs; Colorado State commitment; brother to Michigan starting QB Cade McNamara.
Ethan Cunningham (RB, sophomore, 5-10, 190): 115 carries, 678 yards, 9 TDs
Michael Mayer (WR, senior, 6-0, 165): 42 catches, 861 yards, 11 TDs
Boyce Smith (WR, junior, 5-10, 180): 49 catches, 833 yards, 15 TDs
Max Collins (WR, 6-3, 200): 52 catches, 784 yards, 8 TDs
Issac Heymeyer (DL, senior, 6-2, 190): 71 tackles, six sacks, six TFLs
Colin Hurd (LB, junior, 6-0, 205): 71 tackles, eight TFLs, three INTs, two forced fumbles
Owen Sacks (OL, senior, 6-2, 295): Butler commitment