Many times in the last 18 years, when the Cookeville Cavaliers beat the Warren County High School football team 17 times, the question before the game usually was if it would be close, not if the Pioneers could win.
Tonight’s District 6-AAA showdown between the Cavaliers and Pioneers doesn’t have the same feel as many of the previous meetings between the two teams.
With the top spot in the district on the line when Warren County visits Cookeville at 7 p.m. tonight, Pioneer coach Tommy Johnson expects to see his team come out and give the Cavaliers more of a game than the host school has been accustomed to in the rivalry.
“I’m ready for the game and the challenge of taking on Cookeville,” said Johnson. “They’re a good team, but we have been improving each week. We need to keep doing the good things and limiting our mistakes.”
Coach Johnson saw his team stand toe-to-toe with the district powerhouse last year, albeit for one half.
Playing at Nunley Stadium a year ago, Warren County battled Cookeville to a 10-10 tie at halftime before losing 38-16.
Finishing a full game against the Cavaliers has been the rally cry at practice this week. Coming out with energy and continuing to make strides offensively could make a big difference in this year’s game.
“Our offense has shown some promise over the last few weeks,” said Johnson. “We’ve been able to establish the run and make some plays. Continuing those things, while finding ways to make stops, will be the key.”
Each team has followed the same course to enter tonight’s game with matching 1-3 records. Both teams lost their first two games on the road, with Warren County falling 50-0 to DeKalb County and 47-13 to Shelbyville and Cookeville losing 28-0 to Brentwood and 37-24 at Tullahoma.
The Pioneers and Cavaliers bounced back with wins in Week 2 of the high school season as district play began.
The Pioneers defeated Cumberland County two weeks ago 37-13, while the Cavaliers squeaked by White County 21-14.
Both teams followed their first wins with big losses on the road, as Warren County lost 47-7 last week to Smith County and Cookeville was blown out by Beech 56-0.
If neither team can make the quick fix on defense before tonight, the game could turn into a shootout. Cookeville’s defense allows 33.8 points per game, while Warren County has allowed 39.3 points per game.
Last week, the Cavaliers surrendered over 300 yards and four touchdowns to star Beech running back Jalen Hurd in the first half. The Pioneers plan to pound the ground game against Cookeville this week in hopes of another woeful Cavalier defensive performance against the run.
Helping Warren County’s cause will be the emergence of running back Cameron Lusk. Lusk has began to assert his dominance in the last two weeks has he has piled up 115 yards per game against Cumberland County and Smith County. Lusk could be a workhorse again tonight as coach Johnson plans to feature his big tailback.
Quarterback Lee Carden and wide receivers D’Andre League, Kendall Rutledge, Mitchell Ashford and Jeremiah Lance will also be trying to make plays in the passing game for the third week in a row. Warren County has gotten 300 yards from its air attack the last two weeks and Carden has thrown four touchdowns.
On defense, the Pioneers will be trying to corral a trio of Cookeville running backs. Desmond Pincheon spearheaded the Cavalier ground game last week with 77 yards against Beech, while Phillip Vinson added 45 yards. Alex Sklavenitis also had a number of carries against Beech, but he sustained an injury which may hold him out of tonight’s action.
Ryan Eberle is a dual-threat quarterback who the Pioneers will have to contain in the pocket as the speedy senior scored last year against Warren County as a wide receiver.
Tonight’s District 6-AAA showdown in Cookeville is one of two matchups in district tonight. Coffee County will make its district debut when it plays host to White County in Manchester. Both games will start at 7 p.m.