Doubt crept into Brian Coleman’s mind during his first year as Summit’s football coach when the Spartans suffered through a 0-10 season in 2014.
“I had come from Forrest, I was a head coach for one year at a 2A program and we went 7-3,” Coleman said. “But then you go to a 5A program and you’re, like, I don’t know if I’m … You question yourself and you question everything. Am I ready to be a coach at the 5A level and stuff like that?”
Coleman answered that question resoundingly last week when Summit (12-2) earned its first appearance in the Class 5A final in the nine-year history of the program with a 27-20 win over Dyer County.
The Spartans face defending champion Knox Central, another 12-2 team, at Tennessee Tech in Cookeville at 7 p.m. Friday.
A berth in the state championship must have seemed light years away in 2014.
“That’ll humble you, that’s for dadgum sure, when you go 0-10,” Coleman said. “That was the year we had 5A and 6A together during the region. They just broke off for the playoffs. We were the only 5A in that 6A region that year.”
Coleman made steady progress after that winless season, going 4-6 in 2015, followed by 7-4, 10-3 and 6-5 last year. Summit made its fourth consecutive playoff appearance this season, including a quarterfinal run in 2017.
Coleman believes the turning point came during Summit’s first playoff appearance, a 35-21 loss at Cane Ridge in 2016.
“We went to Cane Ridge in the first round of the playoffs as a four seed and we were actually up 21-0 at halftime,” Coleman said. “It felt like that game that the kids started getting a grasp of what we’re trying to accomplish and got a lot of experience from that loss if that makes sense. We learned a lot from it … and grew from that loss.”
Sophomore running back Keaten Wade scored the Spartans’ last two touchdowns against Dyer County, including an insurance score from 32 yards out with 9:15 left. He rushed for 173 yards on 15 carries.
“He hardly comes off the field,” Coleman said. “He’s a key player on our defense playing outside linebacker. Very tough kid.”
His twin brother, Destin, threw two TD passes to George Odimegwu in the first half out of the Spartans’ spread/wing-T offense.
The Wades, who are also star basketball players, both have football offers from Kentucky.
“Oh, man, they’re just unflappable,” Coleman said. “The kids rally around them, teammates love them. They’re just great teammates.”
Summit’s defense made a crucial stop in the red zone midway through the fourth quarter to protect the Spartans’ seven-point lead.
“The defense is the key to our run so far, I believe,” Coleman said. “Offensively, we’ve done great and good enough, but starting from the Gallatin game the front seven of our defense has been so physical and stepped up to the plate in every game.”
Summit upset Gallatin 27-14 in one of the state’s best first-round matchups.
The Spartans avenged both of their regular-season losses with a second-round win over Page and a quarterfinal victory over Shelbyville.
“Destin was out for the Page game with an ankle injury and then Shelbyville was just a game to forget,” Coleman said of the two losses. “We fumbled the ball, like, five times and they scooped and scored three, so it was just a bad game overall. That was a nightmare. We knew we could play better.”
Toughness and resiliency are the Spartans’ trademarks. Most of their games have been close as Summit grinds out wins.
“All in” has been the Spartans’ battle cry ever since the playoffs began on Nov. 8.
Summit will need contributions from everyone to dethrone Knox Central, which won its first eight before falling to South Doyle and Gibbs in the last two games of the regular season.
“They’re kind of in the same boat (as us),” Coleman said. “They had two losses during the year and they avenged both of those in the playoffs.”
Knox Central beat Henry County 14-9 to win the title last year after falling to Memphis East 27-3 in the 2016 4A championship.
“They know what they’re doing when they get there,” Coleman said. “They’re very multiple on both sides of the ball.”