Defensive state title struggle goes against Webb late

COOKEVILLE — A slew of clutch defensive plays, including three turnovers forced, allowed Webb School of Knoxville to keep Lausanne’s powerful offense off the scoreboard for three quarters.

But the Memphis-based school, led by elusive quarterback Mario Nolan-Dillard, running back Eric Gray and superior overall size, put together a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown drives to edge the Spartans.

Lausanne won this Division II-A state title game at Tennessee Tech’s Tucker Stadium, 12-9, Thursday evening, Dec. 1.

Webb’s often lethal speed-and-power running attack was held in check. The Spartans [11-2] managed just 133 total yards — only 10 passing. The Lynx [14-0] ended with 321 total yards. “Our defense played great and their defense played great,” Webb head coach Dave Meske said. “It was a struggle for both offenses. … We just struggled to move the ball consistently. It had a lot to do with them. … With their front seven, as far as team size, they were probably the biggest we’ve played all year. And they also could run to the football.”

Webb led 2-0 after three quarters. Junior Bryson Glenn blocking a punt that went out of the end zone late in the first quarter.

Eighth-grader Elijah Howard’s 5 yards touchdown run with 4:59 to play put Webb back ahead.

Andrew Favaro’s extra point made it 9-6.

Morgan Ernst, Webb junior linebacker who led the Spartans in total tackles with 12 [nine solo], also helped stop two scoring drives with fumble recoveries — one he took away from Gray.

The other prevented a Lynx score near the goal line. A hit by junior defensive back Hunter Green dislodged the ball, and Ernst recovered in the end zone late in the second quarter.

Alec Boruff, Webb sophomore defensive back, killed another Lynx drive with an interception.

Jack Nadaud, senior defensive end, had seven solo and two assisted tackles. Davis Delozier, junior defensive back, added five solo and three assisted stops.

But the Spartans’ defense finally bent late.

Gray’s 14-yard touchdown run put Lausanne up 6-2 [missed extra point] with 10:22 remaining in the fourth quarter.

The Spartans answered, however, thanks to a partially blocked punt midway into the final quarter. Thanks to its biggest offensive threats on this day, Webb went 39 yards to retake the lead.

Two Ernst runs, 14 and 6 yards, set up

A 44-yard kickoff return had Lausanne at its own 48.

The game came down to a fourth-and-2 at the Webb 44 in the closing minutes. Nolan-Dillard faked a handoff up the gut to Gray and headed outside to the left, gaining 4 yards and a first down at the 40.

After Nolan-Dillard’s 32-yard pass to the Spartans 8, Gray scored two plays later from 5 yards with 2:31 to play. Ernst blocked the extra point.

Needing to pass late, Webb went 0-for-2 in the air — also giving up a sack — without a first down. The Lynx promptly ran out the clock.

A 29-yard pass from Green, also the Spartans’ quarterback, to Ernst early in the second quarter was wiped out due to a penalty.

Two other long passes that could have gone for touchdowns, one a running-back option pass, were dropped in the first half. Green finished 2-of-9 passing.

“When we did have a couple of opportunities to make plays, we just didn’t make the plays,” Meske said.

Looking back, “We had a great year,” Meske said. “To get to the state championship game was a great accomplishment. They worked hard to get there. They deserved to be there.

“They were great teammates and unselfish football players.”