NASHVILLE, Tenn. - As 2017 winds down it's always fun to think back on the year that was. This year was filled with the city's greatest playoff run ever and many other fabulous games and plays that will be remembered long after we ring in the new year.
Over the next few days I'll count down my (very unscientific) list of some of the top plays, performances, games, teams and stories we saw in the middle Tennessee sports world in 2017.
There were no polls taken for this and, as with any subjective sports list, there is certainly room for disagreement on these choices. But this is one man's look back on the top moments of the year based off a few notes at the time of the event and my memory of them now, in some cases many weeks or months later.
So without further ado, here are my top 10 middle Tennessee sports plays of the year.
10. Aberg's Game 5 Goal Vs. Ducks
It's easy to argue that Pontus Aberg's pretty toe-dragging, top shelf goal to start game two of the Stanley Cup Final was his best goal as a Predator, but no goal meant more than his third period goal in game five of the Western Conference Final in Anaheim. Playing without top line center Ryan Johansen for the first time after he suffered a season-ending injury, the Predators appeared in dire straits heading to California for a pivotal game in a 2-2 series. But the youthful Aberg rose to the occasion in just his 11th playoff game, scoring as he tumbled to the ice in front of the net off a feed from Filip Forsberg midway through the third period. That goal proved to be the game-winner in a 3-1 victory over the Ducks.
9. Casey's Hit Leads To Woodyard TD
I didn't have to test the memory bank too much for this one. On Sunday Titans defensive tackle Jurrell Casey blew up a Rams run play, leading to a fumble and a defensive score. With Los Angeles backed up near its own goalline, Casey split a pair of linemen delivering a highlight reel hit on quarterback Jared Goff, jarring the ball loose. Linebacker Wesley Woodyard scooped up the fumble and returned it four yards for a touchdown. It is the only non-offensive touchdown of the year for the Titans.
8. Murray's Long TD Run Vs. Seahawks
In an early season showdown game against NFC West power Seattle, Titans running back DeMarco Murray broke the game open in the fourth quarter with a 75-yard touchdown run. The veteran back took a pitch to the left and got to the edge, receiving a host of solid blocks, including three from fullback Jalston Fowler on the way to the end zone. The play is tied for the longest of the season for the Titans and came on the heels of a 55-yard touchdown pass to Rishard Matthews moments earlier that helped Tennessee to a 33-27 win.
7. Providence Stuns Belmont at Buzzer
After starting the season 4-1, including a win over Vanderbilt, Belmont hit the road to try to capture another victory over a NCAA Tournament team from a year ago. A pair of backdoor plays to Dylan Windler helped the Bruins first tie the game in the final minute, then take a two point lead with just over four seconds to play. But Kyron Cartwright took the inbounds, sprinted up court and sunk a running 23-footer as time expired to give Providence a 66-65 buzzer-beating win.
6. Murray's Game-Winning TD Vs. Bengals
The Titans have four game-winning scores in the fourth quarter and overtime this season, but none were more dramatic than Murray's touchdown in week 10 against Cincinnati. Trailing 20-16 in the final minutes, Marcus Mariota drove the Titans to the Bengals seven-yard line. Facing third down with time winding down he dumped it into the flat to Murray, who surged forward between two defenders and lunged for the goal line for the game-winning TD with just :36 left in a 23-20 win.
5. Neal's OT Winner Against Ducks
The Predators first ever game past the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs required more than 60 minutes to be decided. Tied 3-3 in overtime against the Pacific Division Champion Ducks in the opening game of the Western Conference Final, Mattias Ekholm outhustled everyone for a loose puck in the corner and passed it to P.K. Subban who shoveled a perfect feed to James Neal for a shot from just off the face off circle to the right of the net. The shot hit an Anaheim defender and trickled past goalie John Gibson for the game-winning goal.
4. Fiala's Heroics Give Preds Commanding Lead on Hawks
After sweeping a pair of games in Chicago in their first round playoff series against the Blackhawks, the Predators were forced to rally from behind in game three. Forsberg scored twice in the third period to force overtime, but it was Kevin Fiala's patient, silky smooth goal in front of the net 16:44 into overtime that gave the Preds a 3-2 win and complete control of the series on the way to a four-game sweep of the Western Conference's top seed.
3. Williams Shoots MTSU to CUSA Crown
Middle Tennessee's quest for a regular season conference title went down to the final weekend of February and a trip to UAB. With the game tied in the final seconds, the Blue Raiders went to Birmingham native JaCorey Williams. The Arkansas transfer rose up from just inside the top of the key and buried a jumper with just 4.4 seconds left, lifting Middle to a 66-64 win. Williams was named Conference USA Player of the Year and helped lead the Blue Raiders to the league tournament title and a berth in the NCAA Tournament as well.
2. Hail Mary in The Swamp
A defensive slugfest turned into a shootout as Tennessee and Florida combined for 37 points in the fourth quarter on a steamy September day in Gainesville. But with the game tied and seemingly headed for overtime in the final seconds, Gators quarterback Feleipe Franks heaved the ball nearly 70 yards in the air and found Tyrie Cleveland, who somehow managed to get behind the Vols' defense, at the goal line for the game-winning touchdown as time expired, sparking a wild celebration in The Swamp following the 26-20 win.
1. Fisher's Assist Sparks Preds
Trailing the Penguins 2-1 entering game four of the Stanley Cup Final, the Predators looked to even the series in front of their raucous home crowd. Perhaps no cheer in the playoff run was quite as loud as when Neal stole a puck along the boards in the Nashville defensive zone and shuttled it ahead to captain Mike Fisher who made a diving stick pass that hit Viktor Arvidsson perfectly in stride for a breakaway goal. The Swedish star's wrist shot past Matt Murray gave the Preds a 3-1 lead on the way to a 4-1 victory that evened the series 2-2.
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