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Simmons Says - Renewed hope for Pioneers

Nobody backs the Pioneers into fourth-and-long. Not if they want to win.

Warren County flipped Friday’s game with a pair of huge fourth-and-long conversions, each going for touchdowns during the second half when the Pioneers blew out the visiting Fayetteville Tigers.

Coach Tom Moore showed the ultimate trust in sophomore QB Bryson Elrod, who was making his first start, midway through the third quarter. It may have been a blowout late, but when Moore decided to go for it on fourth-and-22, Warren County was clinging to a 13-7 lead.

Elrod had eyes on just one guy – fellow sophomore CJ Taylor. Taylor added to his highlight reel – shorter than it should be due to injuries – with a grab down the sideline. Sighs of relief were coming from the stands as fans worried Taylor may get flagged for pass interference.

It turns out it’s not a penalty to be bigger, stronger and faster than your opponent. It’s been awhile since Warren County has been in that dominating position.

The Pioneers were big and fast in their first two games, splitting against DeKalb County and White County. In the last five, they’ve been on the other side.

When you have those advantages, you can make riskier calls. Coach Moore went to the well again in the fourth quarter, giving the ball to Eric Haywood on a fourth-and-16 end around. Haywood looked three steps faster than any Tiger, blowing through for a 30-yard score.

Haywood is one Pioneer who seems like he belongs no matter the opponent. The senior is averaging 105 yards per game on the ground, keeping him on pace for the team’s first 1,000-yard rushing season since 2010. Sadly, he only has two more games of eligibility.

His replacements may already be in place though.

Coach Moore noted after the game that his team’s numbers are heavily skewed to his sophomore class, many of who were part of an undefeated run through the CTC at Warren County Middle School in 2016. They’re starting to show up on Friday nights too.

Taylor has six touchdowns this season in limited action. He’s rushed for three scores, caught two more and added a crucial punt-return TD in Sparta. He’s not the only young playmaker stepping up.

Elrod showed plenty of arm strength Friday. If he can grow as a signal caller, it could help free up Clay Thompson – the team’s starter for the first seven games at QB – to move to other positions. As a freshman, Thompson was one of the team’s top WRs.

The returns of Xander Lee and Jay Rozier, a junior, have been huge too. They’re both bruisers with the ball, the perfect complements to weaken a defense and keep a heavy toll from falling on Taylor’s shoulders in the future.

There will still be growing pains. Finishing with Riverdale and Oakland won’t be easy.

For the first time this season though, the Pioneers started revealing what the future may hold.