One hot day in late spring, Matt Turner picked up the phone and made a program-defining phone call. He dialed up Rick Stewart and asked him to visit Warren County.
Stewart was renowned for his ability to revive struggling offenses, so much so Turner believed he could do the same for the Pioneers. It was just going to take some time and patience.
After eight weeks, it seems Warren County has finally found its groove.
The Pioneers rolled up 400 yards on the ground against Coffee County, the most this sports editor has seen since starting to cover the team in 2010. Even more impressive, it wasn’t CJ Taylor destroying teams by being faster than everybody else. Instead, the Pioneers did it by executing over and over, always seeming one step ahead of the Red Raiders.
Stewart is a Pistol Wing-T guru, but his ultimate gift was leaving Warren County with one extra formation – a full-house backfield that could be employed near the goal line. Nearly half of Taylor’s 15 touchdowns have come using it.
It’s not a complex play. Turner has described it in the past as, “our best 11 against theirs and we’ll see who is better.” More often than not, Warren County has been bigger, stronger and better when using it.
Coffee County found out on the first play it wasn’t ready for the smash-mouth style the Pioneers were going to hit them with all night. Xander Lee pounded forward for six yards, the first of 57 carries Warren County would employ to put up a season-high 42 points on senior night.
Lee and Taylor both eclipsed 100 yards rushing, while Lacedrick “Red” Cox and Malachi Rippy both had career highs while combining for 153 yards.
Turner and his staff should be commended for sticking with the run game.
When the Pioneers debuted against DeKalb County, they put up a solid, yet unspectacular, 147 yards and three touchdowns on 41 carries. The next week, they were only able to generate 151 yards and a single TD in a disappointing loss to Cannon County.
In the past, struggles like that have shaken the coaching staff, leading to wholesale changes in philosophy. It’s not been long ago I saw a Pioneer team rush for 300 yards one week in a loss, then pass for 300 yards the next week (in another loss).
Turner wasn’t doing that.
“We stuck with it and didn’t get away from it when it wasn’t working. We sputtered a bit, but we didn’t run back to the drawing board. We trusted and believed in the system,” said Turner.
More so, the offensive line does. Ask Austin McBride, Noah Martin, Kaden Jordan, Douglas Wells or Dillon Haley about running the ball and their eyes immediately light up. They love firing off the ball and breaking the opponent’s will, just like they did Friday against Coffee County.
The only calls more profitable than Turner’s call to Stewart has been every time he sends in the big guys. More often than not, you can start putting six points on the board.