JASPER, Tenn. -- At a time of the football season when coaches intently scan game tape, individual matchups and statistics for any perceived advantage, Mac McCurry's upper hand is the confidence of knowing how his team will react under the most intense pressure.
In his first season this year as Marion County High School's coach, McCurry's steady approach influenced the Warriors to execute calmly when the game was on the line, and they won all four games decided by a touchdown or less.
In each of its first two games, Marion rallied from a halftime deficit and held on for a one-point win. The Warriors defeated Lookout Valley by four and Copper Basin by eight in two shootouts in which both teams scored 40-plus points.
That experience of rallying and finding ways to win in trying circumstances likely will be needed Friday as the Warriors host Trousdale County in a second-round Class 2A playoff game.
"We certainly have experience in the close games," McCurry said. "If we're in that situation again this week, we can just go back and look at the ones we've already played that came down to the wire.
"I don't think our young men will flinch if we fall behind, nor do I think they will panic if it's a close game at the end. They won't get tight, because we already know how they'll react in a close situation. Confidence is a weapon. Every one of those close games we won, it builds more confidence and helps the kids believe they can win those type games."
After finishing a program-worst 1-9 and missing the playoffs for only the second time in 29 years last season, the Warriors made the biggest turnaround in the state this season, now at 8-2. That half of their wins came in the closing minutes is a testament to the job the coaching staff did in getting the players to forget last year's struggles.
"I'm so proud of the way our staff, players and the community have helped turn this thing around so quickly," said McCurry, who has a history of quick turnarounds at three previous head-coaching jobs. "We respect Trousdale, their history and tradition, but we're not awed by it. And I like the experience of knowing how our young men will react in a tense situation."
Trousdale County (8-3) earned seven wins by 19-plus points, and its three losses were all by at least 21. The only close game the Yellow Jackets have played was last week's 20-19 win over Jackson County, a first-round rematch of a Week Two double-digit win.
While Trousdale doesn't have the extensive experience of playing in close games this year, the teams are similar in several areas. Both run the wing-T offense and feature young rosters. Both programs also are among the state's most accomplished, with Trousdale owning eight state championships and Marion County four.
However, this will be the first meeting of the two proud programs and Trousdale uses a committee of runners, while Marion relies on sophomore battering ram Blake Zeman (5-foot-9, 205 pounds), who has rushed for 1,635 yards (9.2 per carry) and 20 touchdowns.
"We know they're a great team and I'm glad I'll get to play them as a senior, because we've always heard a lot about them," said center Jake Murphy, one of three 12th-graders on Marion's offensive line. "It's pretty awesome to go from last year having one win to this year having eight and being in the playoffs. I'm looking forward to the atmosphere.
"We're real proud as a line to see what Blake has done this year. It feels good to know we helped him get there and that if it's a close game this week, we have a guy like him to count on. Winning all those close games like we have has given us a lot of confidence to know we can win them."
Contact Stephen Hargis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6293.
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 20 years, starting at the News-Free Press as a 19-year-old reporter. He has been with the Times Free Press since its inception and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers in the nation ...