The attitude was the same the last time that head coach Ron Crawford led the Brentwood Bruins to this point in the season.
Beyond the district and regional titles and the road trip to Cookeville for its first championship in 18 years comes the mentality that goes into each game. The overall record sported by the Bruins and any given opponent means little once the whistle sounds for the next game.
“As coaches, we talk a lot about being 1-0 for the end of that week,” Crawford noted during a recent Zoom media press conference to discuss the Blue Cross Bowl Class 6A Championship versus the undefeated Oakland Patriots (Saturday, 7:00 p.m.) “We have goals that we set out each season, and look to accomplish week-to-week. One goal is to win the region which is a reachable goal.
“For us, the goal is being grateful to get to play.”
It’s an issue that has ravaged sports on every level, with everyone forced to navigate around the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The Bruins were among the fortunate programs, only seeing one game this season canceled due to COVID-19. It came in Week 5, during a non-conference game and with Brentwood able to enjoy a healthy—in every sense of the word—schedule heading into the 2020 postseason.
One hiccup came along the way, with the Bruins falling short to Independence during a Week 9 conference game postponed by one day due to inclement weather. It was a rare week where Brentwood left points on the board, falling short 26-21 and briefly relinquish possession of first place, though quickly rebounding one week later in time to claim the 6A Region title and enjoy home field advantage throughout the regional playoffs.
The only other occasion this season where the Bruins’ normally potent offense fell well short—Week 6 versus Oakland, with hopes of this weekend faring much better than the 37-0 loss they suffered that night.
“2007 was the last time we were held to a shutout until then,” recalls Crawford, who has coached Brentwood for 16 seasons spanning two tenures including the school’s lone championship in 2002, his first season as head coach. “We just need to score some points. We also have to understand that when we’re down there, we have to punch it in.
“They’re not going to just let us score. They’re schooled on defense. That’s a part of their program where they don’t get enough credit. They match route very well. They can match us speed-wise. That will create a challenge for us, certainly. We got to continue to tweak and add, and get them to play our kind of football.”
Brentwood-style football has produced varying results throughout an 11-3 season, ranging from head-scratching defeats to blowouts to heart-clenching wins. The latter usually proves the most rewarding, look no further for an example than Bruins outlasting crosstown rival Ravenwood in a 28-21 overtime win in the first conference game of the season.
The best memory came in the second round of the playoffs. Brentwood rallied from an 11-point deficit to topple Independence 31-28, avenging a loss from three weeks prior. Senior, dual-threat quarterback Cade Granzow—who anchors an offense averaging more than 35 points per game—flipped a five-yard pass to Luke Fontechia with 0:18 to go, to move the Bruins one step closer towards the Class 6A championship.
That play made ESPN's SportsCenter Top 10 plays list.
Unfortunately, the rest of the ride would come without one of the school’s proudest supporters.
Pat Crawford, mother to Ron and adoring wife to defensive coach Tom Crawford, passed away on Nov. 17. The family matriarch battled pneumonia and COVID-19 before succumbing at age 80. Her passing came three nights before Brentwood’s 55-34 win over longtime rival Franklin Admirals, in a game which both programs dedicated in her memory.
“The cool thing about mon, before she was ill she had only missed three football games in 55 years,” noted Crawford. “She was a true football wife and football mom. We’re heartbroken but are grateful for the many blessings we have received throughout the community.”
With that comes the season’s final goal of bringing home its second-ever championship and first in 18 years. That cause was furthered with Brentwood’s decisive 24-14 win over Bartlett in the state semifinal round one week ago.
Oakland earned its place at the table largely by storming through the competition. All of the Patriots’ 12 played games have been decided by 10 or more points, none closer than 16 and most which were over by halftime.
The trip to the big dance saw Oakland take out defending state champion Maryville in a 49-7 rout to return to Cookeville for the third time in five years. The Patriots won it all in 2018, and head into Saturday’s game armed with a squad that can both light up the scoreboard and shut down opposing offenses.
“I give them credit, they don’t play defenses; they play defense,” Crawford says of his undefeated championship rival. “That’s what we’ll try to do. Some of the teams we’ve faced scheme it up from week-to-week. You’re going to get from Oakland what you see. They’re a well-coached football team.”
All that’s left for Crawford and his staff is to coach his boys well enough to get them to 1-0 just one more time.