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Title time, again?
By Bryan App -
Matt McKean/TimesDaily
Lauderdale County linebackers D.J. Simmons and Hunter Haney flank defensive lineman Tyler Smith as they prepare for Friday night’s game against Madison Academy in the Class 3A semifinal.

Lauderdale County’s football team has drawn some special attention during its playoff run.

Among those packing the stands in Rogersville have been members of then 1974 team, owners of the school’s, and the county’s, only state championship.

This year’s group, which will make the program’s first semifinal appearance since 1995 on Friday at Madison Academy, has drawn some comparisons to that title team.

Both share strong rushing offenses and punishing defenses, with the latter, especially, causing Tigers fans to step back in time.

“It’s an honor,” linebacker D.J. Simmons said of the comparisons. “It means a lot to us to have a shot at making history. It’s something we’ve been dreaming about since we were freshmen. And to have those (1974) players coming out here, it motivates us a lot. It means a lot to us, and it means a lot to them, too.”

How does this defense stack up to its predecessors? Players don’t care to speculate.

However, numbers show it’s right up there.

This group’s 10.5 points allowed per game ranks 14th best in records available for Lauderdale County’s 90-plus years of football.

It’s the lowest average allowed since the 1995 state semifinal season.

It’s also one of the six lowest marks since the ‘74 team’s 9.6 points per game allowed.

But the Tigers’ don’t mind saying how their defense compares to last year’s.

“It’s better,” lineman Tyler Smith said. “We’ve got a better defense this year.”

That one allowed 12.1 points a game but gave up 35 in a quarterfinal loss to Madison Academy.

One starter graduated from that group, but it was a significant loss in all-state middle linebacker Vic Gilbert, who now plays at Grambling Sate.

Ethan Cox, a senior, has stepped up in that role.

The defensive players feel like they’re playing their best ball of the season, having allowed a total of 23 points in three playoff games.

“We’ve gotten better each week since the beginning of the season,” linebacker Hunter Haney said. “We’re creating more turnovers and we’re doing a better job hitting gaps and making a wall.”

That was apparent in a 21-7 quarterfinal win against Deshler last week, stopping Deshler five times in the red zone, three times inside the 5-yard line and twice more inside the 10.

“Every time they got down close to the goal line, the crowd was behind us, everybody,” Smith said. “It was intense.”

Added Haney, “We got in a frenzy.”

Preventing big plays will be a focus this week. They played a significant role in a 24-10 Week 2 loss to Madison Academy.

The Tigers outgained the Mustangs 333-222 in that game, but gave a 49-yard kickoff return, which set up a 30-yard Kerryon Johnson touchdown run, and had an interception returned 94 yards for a touchdown by Johnson.

The Tigers defense kept Johnson relatively bottled up at running back, but the sophomore still accounted for all three Mustangs touchdowns.

“We just can’t give up big plays,” Simmons said. “And we have to make the, throw the ball. We just need to do our jobs every play.”

Do that, and this defense might take another step toward 1974.

Bryan App can be reached at 256-740-5730 or Follow @bappster on Twitter.

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