Nolensville senior Dan Rickert was living the dream Friday night.
While most defensive lineman can only fantasize about finding the end zone, Rickert scored not just one, but two, touchdowns while helping the Knights maintain their perfect record with a 23-10 victory over Maplewood on senior night at Nolensville.
Rickert’s two touchdowns — which came on an interception and punt block — coupled with three field goals by Luke Jenkins accounted for all the scoring for Nolensville (8-0, 4-0) in the pivotal Region 4-4A contest. It was Nolensville’s first win over Maplewood (3-6, 2-2) in the brief history of the program, and enabled the Knights to extend their best-ever start.
Nolensville led 20-0 at the half and then hung on through a wild series of twists and turns. The teams combined for 21 penalties in the game, including 12 against the Knights.
“I’m proud of our kids, proud of the way we kept fighting,” said Nolensville head coach Paul Derrick. “There are a lot of things we need to improve on if we are ever going to reach our potential as a football team. But one thing I have to say for this group is that they believe in each other, they stick together and they fight. And those are good characteristics to have.”
Rickert was the star of the show in the first half.
Listed at 6-foot-1, 250 pounds, he showed his athleticism — and yes, his agility — on each of his touchdowns.
His first big play occurred less than four minutes into the game when he stepped in front of a screen pass on Maplewood’s opening possession and returned it 12 yards for a touchdown with 8:48 remaining in the first quarter.
Rickert struck again in the second quarter when he blocked a punt — perhaps even before it was actually punted. It looked more like he grabbed the ball while the punter was still in the process of attempting to kick it. Either way, Rickert ended up with the ball in his hands and raced untouched 10 yards for his second defensive touchdown of the night, extending the Knights’ lead to 17-0.
Rickert, who finished with a team-high six tackles, said it was surreal to find himself in the end zone. Again.
“It was weird,” he said. “As soon as I got in there, it was almost like I didn’t realize what had happened. Then I was like, wow, I just scored another touchdown. It was really cool.”
Rickert said he didn’t so much block the punt as smother it.
“I beat my guy off the line, and when I got to the punter, he kicked it right into my stomach,” he said. “And I was able to hang on to the ball, and I just ran.”
The Nolensville defense forced five turnovers in the victory.
The win was also fueled by a terrific performance by the Knights’ special teams. In addition to Jenkins’ three field goals — which came from 24, 33 and 24 yards — punter Nick Beattie averaged 41 yards on his five punts, including two that were downed inside the 10-yard line.
“Field position was huge tonight, and our kickers did a great job flipping the field,” Derrick said. “Our kicking game has complimented our defense all year long.”
Nolensville quarterback Ryder Galardi completed 12-of-22 passes for 98 yards with no interceptions. Tim Coutras, who has established himself as one of the top receivers in the area, finished with six catches for 60 yards, and Jeffrey Weisel added three catches for 18 yards.
Defensively, Louis Kondolios and Coutras both came up with interceptions, and Brayden Clark, C.J. Ware and Rickert each recovered fumbles.
Derrick said he was excited about his team’s defensive effort, but he admitted he wasn’t anticipating two touchdowns from the Nolensville noseguard.
“That wasn’t exactly in the gameplan, but we will take it, for sure,” Derrick said with a smile. “Dan has been a phenomenal player for us all season. He’s been very active. And what a great way to go out in your final regular-season home game — picking off a pass and returning it for a touchdown from the noseguard spot, and then taking a punt off the punter’s foot and scoring another touchdown. I’m really excited for him. I think there are a lot of colleges that are missing the boat on him in the recruiting process.”
Rickert’s two touchdowns, along with a pair of field goals by Jenkins, sent the Knights to the locker room with a 20-0 lead.
The second half, though, was not smooth sailing for Nolensville.
After Maplewood received the second-half kickoff, the Panthers fumbled on three consecutive plays. Maplewood recovered each time, but the accumulation of lost yardage resulted in a fourth-and-36 from their own 5-yard line. The Panthers then endured a poor punt, which left Nolensville in favorable field position. However, the Knights were called for roughing the kicker, giving the Panthers an automatic first down. Three plays later, they scored on a 68-yard pass from Anthony Johnson to Marzeion Jones. Maplewood also added the two-point conversion.
Things continued to go sour for Nolensville moments later when the Knights had a rare mistake on special teams. Attempting to punt from their own 5-yard line, the snap sailed out of the end zone, resulting in a safety and trimming Nolensville’s lead to 20-10 with 2:03 to play in the third quarter.
On its ensuing possession, Maplewood drove inside the Nolensville 10-yard line. But on first-and-goal from the 7, the Panthers fumbled the ball away — their fifth turnover of the night.
After dodging that bullet, Nolensville was able to gradually re-establish control of the game, and Jenkins helped seal the victory when he added his third field goal.
“We hit a little lull, and the momentum shifted,” Derrick said. “And I think it took us a series or two to get it back. But we stayed after it and the kids stuck together.”
Maplewood 0 0 10 0 — 10
Nolensville 10 10 0 3 — 23
1Q (8:53) — Nolensville: Dan Rickert 12 INT return (Luke Jenkins kick)
1Q (2:58) — Nolensville: Jenkins 24 FG
2Q (9:43) — Nolensville: Rickert punt block return (Jenkins kick)
2Q (0:45) — Nolensville: Jenkins 33 FG
3Q (7:53) — Maplewood: Marzeion Jones 68 pass from Anthony Johnson (David Southerland)
3Q (2:03) — Maplewood team safety
4Q (7:25) — Nolensville: Jenkins 24 FG
First Downs (Maplewood 10, Nolensville 8)
Rushing Yards-Attempts (Maplewood 32-107, Nolensville 25-54)
Passing Yards (Maplewood 96, Nolensville 98)
Comp-Attempts-INTs (Maplewood 6-17-3, Nolensville 12-22-0)
Penalties (Maplewood 12-81, Nolensville 9-115)
Punts-Ave. (Nolensville 5-41.6)
Fumbles/lost (Maplewood 5/2, Nolensville 3/1)
Maplewood — Anthony Johnson 6-17-3-1 — 96
Nolensville — Ryder Galardi 12-22-0-0 — 98
Nolensville — Ryan Pistulka 9-40, Tim Coutras 3-17, Samson Johnson 6-2, Galardi 7-(-5)
Nolensville — Tim Coutras 6-60, Jeffrey Weisel 3-18, Gage Skipper 1-15, Jack Loveridge 1-1, Pistulka 1-4