Whitehaven High School head football coach Rodney Saulsberry Jr. told all would-be challengers in the preseason that if they were going to get the Tigers, this was the year to do it.
So far, the defending Tennessee Class 6A champs are still standing even though few observers expected that they would be so deep into the year. Last Friday night, White Station High School’s Spartans gave Whitehaven all it wanted for three and one half quarters before falling 41-20.
The Tigers will travel to Nashville on Friday (November 25) to play Cane Ridge, which is coached by former Melrose High School football coach Eddie Wood. This is the fourth straight year that Whitehaven has made it to the semi-finals of the 6A state playoffs.
“We are young … we still make mistakes sometimes, but we fight through it. These guys encourage each other. That is what we work on,” said Saulsberry.
Looking at his team in a broader social context, Saulsberry talked of the need to teach his players conflict-resolution skills and about how to overcome adversity.
“That is what we are trying to teach them, how to overcome adversity. Life is going to throw things at you,” Saulsberry said. “I told them earlier, there are going to be some ups and downs in this game. They are going to get some plays and we are going to get some plays, but you have to keep fighting to the end. If you keep fighting to the end, all things will work out fine.”
The White Station Spartans’ regular season (3-7) was nothing special. The team’s magic kicked in during the post-season, with Spartans racking upsets en route to the game at Whitehaven Friday night.
The game was tied 20-20 early into the fourth quarter and White Station had the football with second and goal from the five-yard line. That drive ended abruptly when Spartans quarterback Drew Lyons’ pass was intercepted by future Vanderbilt Commodore Rayshad Williams on the one-yard line.
From there the Tigers drove 99 yards on five plays to take a 27-20 lead when Keyshaun Lewis scored from five yards out with 6:33 left in the game. The Tigers followed with a three-play, 78-yard drive on the next offensive possession. The big play was quarterback Vincent Guy’s 75-yard sprint to the end zone.
After the Whitehaven defense stopped the Spartans on White Station’s 15-yard line, Lewis scored the Tigers’ last touchdown on a seven-yard carry.
The Tigers finished the game with 342 rushing yards. Cameron Sneed led the way with 115 rushing yards, Chris Witherspoon had 77 yards and Guy had 89 yards. Lewis had 34 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Guy completed two passes, including one for 40 yards and a touchdown to Williams.
Lyons finished with 178 passing yards on 6 completions for the Spartans. Running back Greg Williams rushed for 103 yards and had a rushing touchdown.
“I am proud of our efforts on how we finished the season,” Spartans coach Joe Rocconi said. “I am sad it ends and to see the seniors go. We have a great group of kids, parents and fans. We will be back next year.”
One positive is that Whitehaven has a lot of returning players, he said. Another is the the resolve the team showed. “When people counted us out; these guys did not buy into that. They got better each week.”