COOKEVILLE -- Critical lapses in the Dresden kicking game helped pave the way for Friendship Christians lopsided 34-0 victory over the Lions Saturday afternoon in the Class 2A BlueCross Bowl at Tucker Stadium.
Dresden, a Cinderella team from upper West Tennessee, saw their balloon burst thanks to three punts of 12 yards or less and one that was blocked by Commander tackle Connor Gaines.
The goofs in the kicking game left Friendship playing on the short field -- opportunities Coach John McNeals team converted into short touchdown drives of 18, nine and four yards.
Special teams all year have been good for us, said McNeal. I think we have one of the best punters in the state (Cale Mitchell), and hes gotten us out of some jams. Weve had a few long returns as well, so that phase of the game has been a big key for us all year -- not just today.
The championship was the first-ever football title for FCS (12-3); the Commanders lost 19-13 to Jackson Christian in 2006 in their only other appearance.
Ive been here a long time, (23 seasons) and its a long road, McNeal said. Weve had some ups and downs, and this is definitely the best season for the kids.
Friendship wasted no time getting on the board, holding Dresden to a three and out, then driving the ball 57 yards to paydirt on eight consecutive runs.
Senior Dekolas Reeves, who was voted Offensive MVP, took it the final 12 yards off left tackle for what was in effect the game-winning score.
Hunter Andersons booming PAT gave the Commanders a 7-0 lead with 7:25 left in the first quarter.
Following the kickoff, the FCS defense allowed Dresden (12-3) just two yards out to the 22 yard line -- another three and out.
Colin Kanehl shanked a punt just 11 yards, setting FCS up in business at the Lion 33 yard line.
However, Friendship stalled out and Mitchell punted Dresden in the hole back to the 10 yard line.
The Lions couldnt muster any offense on this possession and QB Gatlin Hatchel attempted a quick kick out of the shotgun set -- an attempt that was blocked by Gaines and returned to the Dresden 11 by Stefan Remus.
Senior quarterback Tallon Mehlhoff skirted left end from 18 yards out on the first play of the drive -- running the score to 13-0 with :07 remaining in the first quarter.
For all practical purposes, the game was over for Dresden.
We knew wed be OK if we just went out there and played like we had been in our other playoff games, said Defensive MVP Dalton Patterson, who was in on 12 tackles and intercepted a pass.
They had a lot of formations we hadnt seen all season, so we stayed pretty much in Cover 2 -- that way we could leave our corners in the flats.
Those corners, Zach Lo and Steven Hollis came up with eight tackles each. Lo had a tackle for loss and Hollis intercepted a Lion pass.
Senior linebacker Kyle Wood had two tackles for loss and forced a fumble that was recovered by LB Ian Putman. A senior, Putman registered the only quarterback sack of the day for FCS -- spilling Hatchel for a seven-yard loss.
The second and third quarters settled into a back and forth game of field position as McNeal was content to nurse a 13-0 lead.
We felt like with the way we were playing defense, wed be OK as long as we didnt turn the ball over, McNeal said.
The Commanders came up with three more touchdowns in the fourth quarter on drives of nine, four and 51 yards.
Wood scored twice, then handed off to freshman wingback Austin Taylor for a nine-yard run out of the Wildcat formation with 2:16 remaining in the game.
By TOMMY BRYAN, The Wilson Post firstname.lastname@example.org