By Bill Sorrell – Photo by Kevin Lewter
Friends since third grade, opposites with the same dream met at the 50-yard line. One’s football career had ended, the other’s still unfolding. Neither want high school to be their last hurrah.
After Houston tied a school record with its 11th win with a 56-12 victory over city rival Germantown in the first round of the TSSAA playoffs on Friday, Mustangs running back Lincoln Pare and Germantown wide receiver Duane Akon greeted each other.
“Lincoln, Lincoln,” Akon yelled trying to get Pare’s attention after the game. “I told him best of luck on their season. I have known him since I was in the third grade. That boy is something great.”
A finalist for Mr. Football and Region 7-6A Offensive Player of the Year, Pare tied a career-high five touchdowns and scored five different ways including a goal-achieving 95-yard kickoff return, his first in high school.
Rushing for 138 yards on 14 carries, Pare scored three rushing touchdowns, caught a 5-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Ethan Burns, ran a 2-point conversion and passed to Ben Stegall for another 2-point conversion.
“He always amazes me. Tonight was another one. He is proving once again he is a special player,” said Houston head coach James Thomas.
Pare continues to chase the school record of 2,601 rushing yards in a single season set by Abe Felix in 2001 and who in 2002 became the school’s only Mr. Football winner.
Pare has 2,235 yards, third in the state. He is 6 yards behind James Moore of Nashville Startford and 134 behind Kemari McGowan of Middle Tennessee Christian.
McGowan’s season ended in a playoff loss to Fayette Academy while Moore’s team plays Giles County this Friday.
The most important record for Pare, who went to Ivy League Dartmouth
over the weekend for a visit, is wins.
“The most satisfying thing is 11-0. Our school has never been 11-0. It feels amazing. This was a great tone setter for the playoffs. It was definitely a statement for us. We are going to try to win state, we are not just here to play. I have the mindset of winning.
“It’s always a goal (to set the rushing record) but I don’t go into every game I have to do this or I have to do that, I go in to try to do the best, do what I need to do for my team and try to win as a team,” said Pare, who has been offered a scholarship by Navy.
“The drive to get to state, we are going to take every game serious like it could be our last.”
Advancing to the playoffs’ second round, the Mustangs host White Station (7-4) at 7 p.m. this Friday. Germantown ends its season 2-9.
The victory was Houston’s first over Germantown since 2016. After the game Houston players wore black caps with silver letters “2019 City Champs,” given by a parent.
Thomas, named Region 7-6A Coach of the Year for the second straight season and a senior on the 1998 team which finished 11-3 losing in the state semifinals to Hendersonville, told his team after the game he was proud of them.
“A lot of these kids have felt a sense of failure when they have played Germantown in their careers. This one was special for the seniors. They went through some beatings. They felt good about beating Germantown.”
Houston tight end/linebacker Carter Gibson said, “It was quite a night. Last year and the year before Germantown went 10-0 (in regular season) and they were the self-proclaimed City Champs. They are giving over the throne as they rightfully should. I love the hat.”
Named First Team All-Region 8-6A Tight End and Second Team All-Region punter, Germantown senior John Paul Penn called the 10-0 seasons “great memories.”
“It is a little bittersweet. I really enjoyed my time at Germantown. I have had a good four years. Our senior season sadly wasn’t what we wanted it to be. This season was hard. I am proud of our guys working hard day in and day out,” said Penn.
“I was expecting to play as hard as I could and leave the results up to God. I wanted to give one last good showing for all of our fans, my parents (William and Julie Penn), all these guys. Even though the results weren’t the way we wanted them to be, I have learned not to give up. Being my senior senior I wanted to give it my all.”
Akon, First Team All-Region 8-6A Wide Receiver, said, “It’s a surreal feeling. I thought I would never have to face playing my last high school game. Obviously it didn’t go the way I wanted it to. Most of the season hasn’t but I made memories with the boys. I made brothers out here. It is something I will never forget.”
The Red Devils have played three of the state’s top 5 ranked teams, No. 1 Oakland, No. 3 Whitehaven. Houston is ranked No. 5 in the final Associated Press 6A poll.
“All three of them are really good football teams,” said Germantown head coach Tommy Ferrill, who finished his first season as head coach.
Thomas wanted the Mustangs to start fast against the Red Devils.
“When you are facing a team that hasn’t had a lot of success like Germantown this year, you want to give them a reason to quit. I think our guys put it on them real quick. They got a score on us and kinda shifted momentum and here comes Lincoln’s kickoff return, first ever. He took it 95 yards to the house and gave us the momentum back and we never relinquished it from there.”
Houston got 220 passing yards from Burns, a senior named Second Team All-Region 7-6A quarterback. He threw 10 of 14 completions and four touchdowns hitting Grayson Hitt, Hank Pearson, Carson Goold and Pare.
Pare praised Burns, Pearson, R.H. Frankland, Hitt and Deion Harris for their play as well as the entire team.
“Our defense holding them to 6 points that was huge. Our offense capitalizing on almost every drive was great,” said Pare, first team all-region running back. “Everyone was flying around trying to be great athletes.”
A senior nose guard, Harris was named Region 7-6A Co-Defensive Player of the Year and first team defensive line.
“It means a lot to get the recognition around the region. That is not really the big picture. I want to perform as well as I do for the team’s sake instead of my own,” said Harris, who visited Delta State on Saturday.
“Whenever we win it’s a team thing. I am pretty pleased with everybody. I’m always happy with the whole team when we win. Lincoln is just dominate. I have never seen anybody better. It’s all forward on offense. Ethan and Grayson you can tell the chemistry they have by the way they connect on passes. Grayson doesn’t look too quick in practice but in the game he’s running a cool 4.4. It’s a beautiful thing to watch.
His goals are working toward completion.
“I wanted to be part of the first 10-0 team at Houston and we accomplished that. It’s all about firsts this year. I want to bring Houston their first state championship.”
While Harris’ best game came against Bartlett when he got three sacks, the 50-45 victory over Southwind Nov. 1 was a”whirlwind” he said. “It gave us a wake-up call and brought us back down to earth.” (Ironically Houston lost to Southwind 50-45 in 2013).
Named First Team All-Region 7-6A are Ben Stegall linebacker, Will Stegall defensive back, Hitt wide receiver. Cade Young was second team all-region at linebacker.
The offensive line has created holes for Houston running backs all season. Named First Team All-Region 7-6A offensive linemen were Nathan Havrda and Morgan Scott. Pearson is first team all-region tight end and R.H. Frankland second team all-region.
Thomas said, “Deion is always a terror. Ben and Will Stegall, they are a couple of bulldogs out there. Cade Young is a warrior. He’s been battling his shoulders all year. Josh Mathis played well. Carson Goold really came out of his shell tonight and made two great plays. We need to be that threat on the other side of Grayson. Grayson sees a lot of double coverage.
“Carson is getting to see a lot of one-on-one. He is taking advantage of that which makes it so much better. We can get Goold going, we have Grayson on the other side, we’ve got Lincoln in the backfield, we are tough to stop.”
Tough to stop was Penn (6-1, 210). Right before halftime he took a jarring hit.
After the game a Germantown fan told him, “You took a hit like a man, you hear me.”
Penn said, “We had one more play. I just shook it off. I took a hit like that last weekend.”
He also had a kick return for about 25 yards in the second quarter.
“I was so into it. I broke a couple of tackles. I remember I was really tired after that,” said Penn.
Quarterback Will Fisher said, “J.P. runs the ball hard and isn’t afraid to stick his head down and run over anyone.”
A junior, Fisher will be one of three quarterbacks the Red Devils will build with in 2020. T.J. Tate is a junior and Malik Young, who transferred from Harding Academy and was eligible for the first time this year in the Houston game, is a sophomore.
“We are three completely different types of quarterbacks so I think we can add to our offense in different ways that will help us,” said Fisher. “I grew more confident in my decision making and throwing the ball. I need to build on my ability to run the ball and sticking in the pocket.”
A scrambler, Young’s 3 of 3 passes went for 29 yards including a 9-yard touchdown pass to Mike King on the last play of the game. Young rushed for 76 yards.
“Malik is an outstanding athlete. He is a really good football player. He is a really smart guy. He knows football and where everybody is supposed to be. As smart and good of a football player as he is, he’s an even better kid,” said Ferrill.
Fisher said, “Malik played really well. He ran the ball really well. Marcus Askew stepped up and played really well.”
Askew recovered a punt that Chris Williams blocked in the first quarter that got the Red Devils within 14-6. Askew, a senior, is First Team All-Region 8-6A safety.
“Scoring that touchdown was great. All I was thinking ‘Chris really blocked the punt,’” said Askew, who plans to play college football but does not know where yet.
“It was my last year and I had to show that I could play on the college level. I learned this season about myself that I am not a quitter. Even though our record was bad I was going to keep playing my hardest.”
Another building block for the Red Devils is Cole Cocroft, a 5-11, 255-pound junior named First Team All-Region 8-6A offensive lineman and defensive end.
“My senior year I will have to bring the team even closer. After a big loss like this in a playoff game and losing seniors, it is most important to bring the whole team back and just grind, get ready for the off-season and play for my boys,” said Cocroft.
“I couldn’t do it without God. Pushing every day. Keep grinding in the weight room. Getting bigger, faster, stronger is all I can do.”
Houston’s can-do attitude began in the first quarter. Pare scored on a 39-yard touchdown at 9:35. Recovering a Germantown fumble, Burns threw a 22-yard pass to Hitt to the Germantown 19. Pare’s third run of the drive was a 7-yard touchdown with 6:21 left. Pare threw a 2-point conversion to Ben Stegall for a 14-0 lead.
A 21-yard run by T.J.Dorsey, part of the 56 yards he got on 10 attempts, put the Red Devils on their 46-yard line. On fourth and 6, Fisher threw an incomplete pass to King.
Houston took over and on fourth down, Burns punted. Williams’ block and Askew’s touchdown with 2:42 left in the first narrowed it.
“Stats show most of the time if you block a punt you win the game but that wasn’t the case tonight,” said Ferrill.
Taking the ball at his 5, Pare then galloped 95 yards for his own history-making touchdown with 2:23 left. Carson Richards, named All-Region 7-6A second team place kicker, booted the PAT for a 21-6 lead.
Penn’s 20-yard kickoff return put the Red Devils on their 41. Tate got a first down at the Houston 48. Another fourth down conversion attempt failed.
A first down run by Ben Stegall got to the Germantown 19 after five runs by Pare, including an 11-yarder. Burns then threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to Pearson with 8:18 left in the second for a 27-6 lead.
Nine straight runs by Young, including one for 16 yards, marched the Red Devils to within scoring position. However a fumble recovered by Houston’s Mathis, ended the drive.
Pare ran 17 yards, Burns passed to Goold for 9 yards, Frankland made an excellent 56-yard reception from Burns and then Burns passed to Pare for a 5-yard touchdown with 24 seconds left. Pare ran the 2-point conversion for a 35-6 lead.
At halftime Thomas told the Mustangs to play smart the rest of the game.
“A lot of times you can get chippy in the second half because one team’s season is over and they are not happy about it. I asked them all week to play smart. It’s about us, not about them. It’s what we do. For the most part they have done a good job with that.”
A block below the waist nullified Burns’11-yard touchdown pass to Goold but from the 26, Burns hit Goold again with the same play for a touchdown and a 41-6 lead with 10:39 left in the third quarter. Richards’ PAT was good.
Darby Smith intercepted a Fisher pass at the Red Devils 45 and returned it 7 yards. On the next play Pare ran 38 yards for a touchdown and a 49-6 lead after Richards’ kick. There was 6:52 left in the third.
The Red Devils fumbled the kickoff and later Burns threw a pass to Hitt who ran to the Red Devils 16. Houston got to the 2 after a Red Devils penalty but Gerald Salter sacked Burns for a 14-yard loss.
On the next play Burns threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to Hitt for a 55-6 lead. Richard made it 56-6 with 8:45 left.
Young’s 49-yard run from his 33 to the Mustangs 18 set up Young’s 9-yard pass to King for Germantown’s final score of the season.
King, a junior, was named All-Region 8-6A Second Team. Making first team all-region for Germantown were defensive tackle Myles Saulsberry, offensive lineman Curt Garrett.
Making second team all-region were wide receiver R.J. Garrison, offensive lineman Jaylen Grissom, inside linebacker Dannie Towles.
All-region honorable mention were kicker Izzy Cobos, offensive linemen Chad Cocroft and Josiah Tucker.
“Turnovers were a big factor. I was always taught the team that makes the fewest mistakes wins. That is what ended up happening tonight,” said Cole Cocroft.
“We came in with a good strategy. We have learned how to fight through adversity. We kept trying to do the things we know best so we could dominate at that. When we defer from what we know we start messing up and making more mistakes.”
Akon said, “We couldn’t keep our defense off the field. The defense got tired.”
Hitt caught 3 passes for 60 yards, Pearson 1 for 19, Goold 3 for 75, Frankland 1 for 56. Hitt had a 28-yard punt return.
For Germantown, Marrieon Claybrooks rushed 4 times for 5 yards, Tate 5 rushes for 9 yards, freshman J.D. Davis 4 for 54. King had 3 receptions for 9 yards, Penn 1 for 5.
Gibson said the Mustangs’ preparation was “just insane. Our coaches have done a great job with us getting good practice.”
Fisher said, “Their biggest resources were definitely Lincoln, Grayson and Ethan. They played really well.”
Said Penn, “They have a bunch of guys who do a really good job. They are a really tough team. I have played with a lot of these Houston guys since I have been young. Lincoln is a hard worker.”
Cocroft said, “Lincoln is a hard runner. He can handle his own. I glorify him for that.”
Pare’s touchdown total is what the team expects from him said Gibson.
“I didn’t expect anything less from him. He is that good. We know the offense is going to do their job. The defense still needs to improve some.”
While Thomas expects Pare to get other FBS offers, Thomas said the Naval Academy would be a great atmosphere with “a great program, a great institution. It would be a great place for him to go. The Ivy League interest, talking about a first-class education, you are setting yourself up for life. The great things he has options.”
Seniors on both teams have goals along with memories.
“I have been working a long time to come to this moment to where I can play on Friday nights and making the most out of every situation,” said Akon, whose favorite game this year was a 20-13 victory over Father Ryan and playing Olive Branch (now 8-3) closer than excepted (20-13 loss). “That was our best game to me.”
Fisher learned how to battle through adversity this season.
“We didn’t start off the greatest. We had to get through it,” he said.
Penn said, “With the coaching switch during spring practice (former head coach Chris Smith went to Brownsville Haywood and has guided the Tomcats to a 10-1 record and region championship and play Ripley in the second round Friday), we didn’t have coaches until mid-June. That was really hard. We had to adjust to a new system, almost everything new. We battled through it and we kept playing.”
Penn plans to train for college football and possibly play soccer this spring.
The Red Devils’ off-season program will start on Monday.
“We’ve got to get in the weight room and get stronger. We are not strong enough,” said Ferrill. “We have to play better. It starts at the top. It starts with me. We’ve got a long way to go. We’ve got good kids.”
Thomas will look for more depth.
“We are not as deep as I would like for us to be right now but the guys we have participate in every down. They are strong kids. They are getting the most out of their bodies and that is a credit to Coach (Raheem) Shabazz,” said Thomas.
“We have accomplished a lot of goals. There is still one big one. The goal each week is to continue and advance. Getting out of the second round is another one. Every week you advance in the playoffs the kids are excited because they get to play another week.
“I don’t look too far down the road. Next week we play White Station. They are going to be a tough team. They have a good coaching staff and some good kids. We are going to lineup against them and see what they are made of.
“If we end up facing Oakland or Whitehaven we will see how much we match up against them,” he said. “I like our chances. We are a hard offense to stop and when our defense plays well we are going to be a tough team to beat.”