JANUARY 2014 | FOOTBALL
Fall Awards Winners 2013
Donnie Hunter, Yates Abernathy Sportsmanship Award; Deion Jones, Belmont Drug Co-Best Defense; Tyler Bray, Dr. Wade Breeland MVP; Daishon Davis, Belmonst Drug Co-Best Defense; Jaquan Brooks, Bennie Cunningham Most Improved
Taylor Ginn, Dr, Eddie Lineberger Best Blocker; Tanner Muse, Rollins Inssurance Most Versatile; Josh Perrigo, Gerald Courtner Character, Leadership, Scholarship Award; Jacob Hoyle, Bobby Brown Unsung Hero Award
Ryland Etherton, JV Co-Offensive Player of the Year; Nolan Wilson – JV Co-Offensive Player of the Year
Not pictured: Tyler Hall, JV Defensive Player of the Year.
2013 Shrine Bowl Slideshow - Pictures of Tyler Bray and Coach Phil Tate
2013 NCAA Division II Championship Slideshow - Pictures of the game and players
Former Red Raiders Justice and Forney join Bears in Muscle Shoals for Division II Championship
December 21, 2013
Champions in the Shoals
Anchoring the northwest corner of Alabama is an area fondly known as the Shoals. Florence, Muscle Shoals, Sheffield, and Tuscumbia make up the Shoals and each community perfectly exemplifies what we have come to recognize and appreciate as "Southern Hospitality." Historically, it is the birthplace of Helen Keller, and as museums, festivals, and theatrical recreations suggest, hers was a spirit of determination that continues and is shared among the people native to the area. The Shoals are considered to be (and as this account will sustain) the birthplace of the "blues". W.C. Handy, oft referred to as the "father of the blues" was born in Florence and the area is only too eager to associate with his memory as well. It is this pride of their past and their contribution to society that causes the Shoals to extend an open invitation to all visitors of myriad interests. But, for one overcast Saturday in December, that invitation may have been open exclusively to those with a single-minded, athletic focus, to witness the crowning of a champion!
The northern most city, Florence is the largest of the four that make up the Shoals. It is the home of the University of North Alabama. It is the home of Braly Municipal Stadium. It is the host of the NCAA Division II Football Championship. It would be the site of Lenoir-Rhyne's 2013 NCAA Division II Football Championship. It would be…except…
The Road Improbable…
The 2013 Lenoir-Rhyne Bears had a South Point influence as former alums, and Red Raider football greats, Josh Justice and Jordan Forney were listed among the 97 players (excluding "scout team" freshmen) on the roster. Justice and Forney were no strangers to championship football as both were members of South Point's 2009 NCHSAA 3AA State Championship team. Justice led the team at quarterback, an experience that would serve him well, albeit late, in his college career. Forney anchored a solid defense as a sophomore linebacker. His effort in the state championship game earned him defensive player of the game honors. The teammates were together once again for a championship run on a bigger stage, a collegiate national championship!
Although used sparingly, Forney, a redshirt freshman, made good on his opportunities on the field. He tallied 8 solo tackles and 7 assists in ten games for the Bears. The effort was enough to earn playing time in the national championship game, an accomplishment rarely experienced by many players on the collegiate level and an encouraging sign for the future of this Raider turned Bear!
The Dream Takes Shape…
The run to the championship became a dream come true for Justice. Listed third on the quarterbacking depth chart, Justice's career had been marked by sparse play and then, often on the defensive side of the ball (about as far away from "star quarterback" as one can get). The senior, thankfully, bided his time and like Forney, in true Red Raider fashion was eager, ready, and able to perform when called upon. Trailing the Carson-Newman Eagles, 20-13, late in the third quarter of a second round playoff game, the unthinkable happened. Second string Lenoir-Rhyne quarterback, Teverrius Jones, like opening day starter, Miles Freeman, suffered injury. Justice entered to attempt to save the Bears' season. Out of the gate or off the bench as it were, a nine yard rush and a seven yard pass completion surely helped to settle the nerves of the backup's backup! But then again, this wasn't just any backup quarterback; this was a former Red Raider, a proven winner on and off the field! Justice led the Bears on a 9-play, 74 yard drive to knot the score at twenty. The drive ended the third quarter and left either Carson-Newman or Lenoir-Rhyne with but 15 minutes to go in their season. A drive of 10:11 that put the Eagles at the Bears' four yardline would surely culminate in points and leave little time for an L-R answer. But a fourth down field goal attempt was blocked and the Bears took over deep in their territory. As he had done at the end of the third, Justice engineered a drive of eleven plays that covered 92 yards and ended with a ten yard pass completion for the go ahead score. Lenoir-Rhyne held on to defeat Carson-Newman thanks to the efforts and leadership of Justice. The Bears advanced to face the aforementioned North Alabama Lions, a program that had been no strangers to The NCAA D-II championship as they had won three straight in the mid-1990s.
Justice would start the North Alabama game, again due to injuries suffered by his predecessors. L-R played inspired football throughout. An interception on the games second play from scrimmage put the Bears up and the Lions on their heels early. North Alabama battled back and mustered a pair of touchdowns in the first half, but the Justice-led Bears kept the pace, building a 28-14 halftime advantage. With possession of the ball to begin the third, Justice would carry in from two yards out on a drive that advanced the lead to 35-14. The Lions continued to fight and after a touchdown, a field goal, and a touchdown with a two-point conversion, the lead was cut to three at 35-32. The last North Alabama touchdown had come on a 48 yard pass play following a Justice fumble. The dream appeared to be nearing an end. And it seemed to fade even further after a failed field goal attempt by the Bears on the ensuing possession. But Justice was not going to let his team fail. After a defensive stop, the former Red Raider champion drove his team 53 yards in seven plays. The drive culminated in a touchdown on Justice's 22 yard run! The score was enough to allow Lenoir-Rhyne to hold on to defeat the Lions, 42-39, and advance to the semifinals against the West Chester Golden Rams.
Again Justice would be given the ball and the start in the semifinal contest. He had, after all, proven himself to be a winner. The West Chester game would turn out to be an amazing statistical accomplishment for Justice. In fact, the matchup would turn out to be not much of a contest at all. Justice rushed for 175 yards, scored three touchdowns, three two-point conversions, and in the process rekindled the dream! To put the exclamation point on the decisive 42-14 victory, Forney is credited with making the special teams tackle on the Bears' final kickoff. The former Red Raiders had put their emphatic stamp on Lenoir-Rhyne's ticket to the NCAA Division II Football Championship.
The Storm in the Shoals…
Saturday, December 21, 2013, a cloudy, windy day in the Shoals. Braly Municipal Stadium had as yet been spared the coming storm. The Lenoir-Rhyne Bears, with the support of an impressive fan base, were about to face a different kind of storm. This one was blowing in from Maryville, Missouri. At 14-0, The Northwest Missouri State Bearcats boasted a robust 45 points per game average while surrendering an average of 16 points per game. A mid-western force had arrived in Florence, Alabama and the Lenoir-Rhyne Bears stood in its way.
Lenoir-Rhyne received the opening kickoff and to the surprise of the fans, Justice did not take the field. Rather, Jones began the game under center for the Bears. Justice had injured an ankle in practice just days before and was in pain even as the game began. He had taken pregame snaps and appeared to be at whatever "full speed" is for pregame warm-ups, thus the confusion and questioning among the crowd. The Bears mustered little offense on the opening drive and would be forced to punt after a possession of 1:30. The mighty Bearcats wasted little time flexing their muscle. A 30 yard touchdown pass opened the scoring, putting the Bearcats ahead 7-0 with 11:38 remaining in the first quarter. L-R was quickly forced to punt again on their second possession of the game. NW Missouri State benefitted from good field position, beginning both of their first quarter drives from their forty-one yardline (it was about to get better). Their second drive ended with a field goal that pushed the lead to ten (10-0). Undaunted, the Bears took to the field once again. It was beginning to become obvious that the lack of playing time was costing Jones. It seemed that it would just be a matter of time before his triple option reads were accurate and his pitches were precise. And although time was not yet a factor, the level of concern was about to be bumped another notch. A mishandled pitch was recovered by the Bearcats at the L-R twenty-one. At this point the short field and the length of time that the Bears' defense had spent on the field was taking an early toll. NW Missouri State scored again to up their advantage to 17-0. Ten minutes into the national championship game and Lenoir-Rhyne's title hopes were fading…fading with Josh Justice on the bench. Before the end of the first quarter, Jones managed to lead a drive that resulted in the Bears' first points of the contest. With the score now at 17-7, the Bears' faithful hoped that this would be the turning point. And in fact things looked brighter when the defense held the Bearcats, forcing a punt at the quarter's end.
To begin the second stanza, a Lenoir-Rhyne possession seemed promising with the Bears picking up positive yardage on several plays. Unfortunately, the drive stalled, ending on downs, and thus served only to keep the ball out of the hands of the NW Missouri State offense. The Bears were better on defense and the Bearcats were forced to punt on their first possession of the second quarter. The fortune of field position still had not turned for L-R. Beginning a drive from their eleven, the Bears suffered consecutive plays for losses and were forced to punt from the back of their endzone. The punt was blocked, adding two points to the Bearcats tally. They would receive the free-kick leading 19-7 with 5:56 remaining before the half. Momentum had again swung in favor of NW Missouri State as before the intermission they would score three more on a field goal that gave them a 22-7 lead.
Lenoir Rhyne fans had tried to remain optimistic but the only thing they knew for certain was that their quarterback, like the defense, had struggled and it was obvious that the only way the Bears would climb back into the game would be by putting points on the board every time they had the ball. It would not be the first time a coach's decision had been question; neither would it be the last time. And of course the fans in the stands haven't access to the locker room or training room so they can only form opinions based upon what they see on the field. What L-R fans saw on the field was a capable quarterback on the sidelines without a chance to work his magic. Chants of "Josh, Josh, Josh" had begun to rain down from the stands late in the second quarter and they would continue into the third.
The calm before the storm came on the teams' first two possessions of the third quarter. The L-R defense held the Bearcats on downs breathing life and hope into the Bear faithful. But a fumble gave the ball back to the Bearcats and in an instant, momentum had been recaptured. With the ball resting at the NW Missouri State forty-five, the Bearcats completed consecutive passes of 12, 13, and 30 yards for a touchdown and a commanding 29-7 lead. The chants for Josh grew. On the ensuing drive, Jones rushed for four yards but was injured on the play. He was helped from the field and there was a lull, even a hush that fell over the stadium. Coaches had gathered as there was stirring along the sidelines. Suddenly the L-R side of Braly Municipal Stadium erupted! Josh Justice donned his helmet as he trotted onto the field!
The Wind Shifts…
A Red Raider in a national championship game is a great story that becomes unbelievable after two plays. On his third play from scrimmage and the ball at the Bears' 41, Justice delivered a perfect spiral down the middle of the field, over the heads of the linebackers, and in a position where only his receiver had a chance to catch the ball. The receiver tipped the ball once as he and the defender were making contact to gain position. He tipped the ball again, this time to himself as he created separation. He grabbed the ball, tucked it away and sped to the endzone! Justice had been in the game for three plays and the Bears had scored! A former Red Raider quarterback had just thrown a touchdown pass in a national championship game! Asked later about the connection, Justice in true Red Raider character would only applaud the effort of his receiver. "That was a great catch", he said. Asked again about his part in the play he would only offer, "He made a great play on the ball!" Such humility speaks volumes.
The score remained 29-14 as the fourth quarter began. NW Missouri State continued to have success against the L-R defense. They built their lead to 36-14 with a quick strike offense. But Justice would not let the Bears give up. With 11:36 to go in regulation, he engineered another scoring drive that ended with a halfback pass to cut the Bearcats' lead to 36-21. The Bears were looking good but it would be too little too late. They traded scores with their opponent as time ran down. Trailing 43-21 after another NW Missouri State touchdown, Justice drove his team 75 yards in seven plays before himself diving in from one yard out to end all scoring and make the final 43-28. The Bearcats ran out the clock and closed the book on the Lenoir-Rhyne season. Josh Justice's amazing dream had come to an end. Jordan Forney's college career, though brief to this point, had just come up short at the pinnacle of success. Each were given time with family and friends following the game, disappointed but remarkably strong and proud. Forney admitted that he would have three more years of eligibility, no doubt a reference to his determination to return to the field on which champions play.
As the site for the NCAA Division II National Football Championship, Braly Municipal Stadium in Florence, Alabama would host a champion. But there wasn't just one champion crowned on this overcast, windy Saturday in December. The nature of sport demands that a trophy be presented to those who manage more points on a scoreboard. But real champions are proven by the nature of their character. Josh Justice and Jordan Forney, two L-R Bears, two Red Raiders, two Real Champions!
Go Bears! Go Big Red!