N. MT. JULIET – Dearrius Morton scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter – one on a 77-yard return of a field goal attempt he blocked – as Mt. Juliet beat city rival Green Hill 26-19 on Friday to win the Region 5-5A championship in front of an estimated crowd of over 4,500 fans at Green Hill.
Mt. Juliet (8-2), the No. 1 seed from Region 5-5A, will play host to Lincoln County (2-8), the No. 4 seed from Region 6-5A, in the first round of the playoffs next Friday.
Third-seeded Green Hill (6-4) will play at Page (8-2), the No. 2 seed from Region 6-5A.
The two winners advance to play Friday, Nov. 11 at the higher seed, setting up a possible Green Hill - Mt. Juliet rematch at Mt. Juliet if both teams survive their first round contests.
Green Hill, last season’s region champion, would have shared the region title and received the No. 1 playoff seed and a home playoff game if it had defeated Mt. Juliet, whose only two losses were to Class 6A opponents Gallatin and Lebanon.
After the game, the Golden Bears – the only 5-5A team to win all six of its region games -- received the Mayor’s Cup from Mt. Juliet Mayor James Maness, who was wearing a grey shirt with the logos of both teams on it.
It was the first time the trophy has been awarded to the winner of the football game.
Green Hill won the first meeting of the series last year 25-21 by scoring two touchdown passes in the final minute of regulation.
It was also the first time the game had been played at Green Hill.
Nearly 90 minutes before the game started, the Mt. Juliet Police Department issued an alert that the parking lot was full and advised fans to park at W.A. Wright Elementary and take a shuttle to the high school.
“This game was a win for the city of Mt. Juliet,” Golden Bears coach Trey Perry said.
“We have had two different regional champions from the city in two years. It was just great for football in the community.”
A little more than three minutes into the fourth quarter, Green Hill’s Sam Crickmar lined up to attempt a 31-yard field goal that would have given the Hawks a two-point lead. Crickmar had made field goals of 20 and 32 yards in the first half. He had made two field goals in the previous nine games.
Morton blocked Crickmar’s kick, picked up the ball and ran down the sideline for the 77-yard scoring play.
The 2-point run attempt failed, giving the Golden Bears a 19-12 lead with 8:27 remaining.
“On the first two field goals for them I thought if I lined up a little different, I could block it,” Morton said.
“I told my coach and I lined up inside for the last one and got it.”
One play after the kickoff, defensive lineman Sam Oliver knocked the ball out of quarterback Cade Mahoney’s hands and William Czerniak recovered it for Mt. Juliet at the Green Hill 14.
Morton ran the ball three consecutive plays out of the Wildcat formation and scored on a 4-yard run on the final try.
Morton, a senior who sat out the 2021 season as a transfer from MBA, finished with 12 carries for 57 yards.
Morton also intercepted a pass midway through the second quarter to start a drive that ended with Jon’Mikael Crudup’s 10-yard touchdown run to give Mt. Juliet the lead again at 13-12.
Crudup led the Golden Bears with 116 yards rushing on 18 carries.
Midway through the second quarter Green Hill took a 12-7 lead on Brax Lamberth’s 7-yard run.
Lamberth, the Hawks’ leading rusher with 729 yards coming into the game, gained 61 yards on 14 carries and injured his shoulder on his only carry of the second half.
Lamberth fumbled on the play, although multiple replays showed he likely hit the ground before the fumble.
Mahoney was the Hawks’ leading rusher with 107 yards on 19 carries. He completed 6-of-8 passes for 153 yards and one interception. He scored Green Hill’s final touchdown on a 1-yard run with 3:29 remaining in the game.
Sean Aldridge, one of 23 Green Hill seniors who were recognized before the game, had six catches for 149 yards.
Green Hill leading receiver Kaleb Carver did not catch a pass but rushed for 56 yards on four carries, all in the first half.
Mt. Juliet got another touchdown from its special teams to start the game when Osize Daniyan returned the opening kickoff 93 yards. That helped the Golden Bears with field position the rest of the game as Crickmar popped up the rest of his kickoffs between the 30- and 40-yard lines where Mt. Juliet made fair catches.
That was one of the few early highlights for Mt. Juliet, which ran just three plays (Green Hill had 21) in the first quarter.
The Golden Bears did not have a first down until the 7:02 mark of the second quarter and that drive ended when Green Hill’s Heath Monast recovered a fumble at the Hawks’ 15.
“We talked all week long about the importance of special teams in this game,” Perry said.
“I am proud of the way they performed tonight. They (Green Hill) kept our offense off the field in the first half with their offense so we needed special teams.”
Green Hill coach Josh Crouch also praised the often-loud enthusiasm on both sides of the stadium.
“You definitely got your price of admission with this one,” Crouch said.
“This was a fun game to coach and just an awesome environment. Tonight’s game was a lot more respectful (than in 2021) and played between the lines.
Mt. Juliet 26, Green Hill 19
Mt. Juliet 7 6 0 13 – 26
Green Hill 3 9 0 7 – 19
MJ – Osize Daniyan 93 kickoff return (Daniel Echeverria kick), 11:43
GH – Sam Crickmar 20 field goal, 9:24
GH – Crickmar 32 field goal, 9:58
GH – Brax Lamberth 7 run (pass failed), 7:34
MJ – Jon’Mikael Crudup 10 run (pass failed), 2:11
MJ – Dearrius Morton 77 return of blocked field goal (run failed), 8:27
MJ – Morton 4 run (Echeverria kick), 6:51
GH – Cade Mahoney 1 run (Crickmar kick), 3:29