Ask any high school football coach across the country and they'll tell you that success on the offensive side of the football all starts with a physical and talented front line.
Throughout the 2017 season, that has exactly been the case with the O-line of the Mount Zion High School football team, which has paved the way for play-makers like C.J. Ackles, Kareem Walker, Que Beasley and others to deliver stellar performance after stellar performance throughout the campaign.
Anchored by center Cade Barrow, guards Brendon Spradlin, Chase Zachery and Jake Porterfield and tackles Cade Hill and Chandler Parker, the MZ front has provided the protection for an offense averaging 32 points per game, most of those scores coming on the ground.
And now they find themselves practicing during Thanksgiving week in preparation for a trip to No. 1 Manchester this Friday at 7:30 p.m. for the Class A Public state quarterfinals. For the senior Barrow, it doesn't get any better than this.
"We're ecstatic that we're still here," Barrow said. "I'm very happy for my team because all of us wanted this real bad. And we still want to keep going all the way and win it all for our school, our community and ourselves."
The Eagles (9-2) making it this far into the postseason would be considered a surprise to some considering the team lost 19 of their 22 starters from last year, which included virtually the entire offensive line. Their standing as one of the final eight teams in the entire state is a testament to how quickly they embraced the next-man-up mentality.
"If feels good, especially after graduating a lot of seniors last year," said the senior Parker. "A lot of people didn't think we would go this far this year, so it's really great to be in this position."
Over these past three months of the season, the unit saw itself steadily improve as MZ soared to a 6A-A championship.
"I would say we did a good job of coming more together as a unit and did a better job of reacting together," Hill said. "We move off the ball better and communicate."
Barrow added that the offensive line truly is an Eagle brotherhood.
"We watch each others backs and are there for one another on the field and off," Barrow said.
MZ is coming off a close, 20-12 second-round victory over Marion County last Friday where defense played a huge factor for both ballclubs. It wasn't the best performance of the season for the Eagle offense and they understand that there's certain aspects that need to be cleaned up in preparation for the season-defining showdown at Manchester on Friday.
"We basically just have to clean up play execution and get more second efforts at things," Barrow said. "We just have to clean some things up and we'll be set for Manchester. Hopefully, we come out with a win, as well."
The Eagle offense will have its biggest challenge of the season on Friday upon going toe-to-toe with a stout Manchester defense. The Blue Devils have only yielded 11.6 points per game this season and pose to present several problems for the MZ front.
"They were up 50-0 at one point in their last game (versus Washington-Wilkes), so they definitely have a lot of confidence going into this game against us," Barrow said. "I think that if we just stick together, execute our plays and keep putting the pressure on them, I think we can pull out a win."
Knocking off the No. 1 team in the state on Friday would be a historic occasion for MZ as it would catapult the Eagles to their first Class A state semifinal appearance in school history. Like the rest of their teammates, the O-line knows history is at stake and it fuels them to keep charging forward.
"That's what's really driving us," Parker said. "It's pushing us forward and keeping us going knowing that we can do what no one else has at Mount Zion."
Friday night's contest will broadcast live on Great Classics 98.9 FM.