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Dropping the ball
WC fumbles costly in close loss
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Photos courtesy of Painted Barn Media Nate Elrod wrestles the ball away during Friday's matchup with Siegel. The teams combined for seven fumbles in a game the Stars were able to pull out 21-18.
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Photos courtesy of Painted Barn Media Alex van Vuuren had 158 yards passing Friday, the most for the Pioneers since CJ Taylor threw for 179 yards against Rockvale in 2020.

At this point, the Pioneers may be the best 1-5 team in the state. Don’t expect coach Matt Turner or Squad 54 to accept the consolation prize though.

Warren County suffered yet another close lose Friday, falling 21-18 to the visiting Siegel Stars. The Pioneers have now lost four games by 12 combined points, all coming in painful fashion and leaving fans and the team wondering "what if."

Coach Turner couldn’t hold back his frustration after the game, knowing his team is so painstakingly close to having another magical season.

“We’re tired of being the team that has potential. We want to be the team that wins,” said Turner. “We have to get Warren County out of the way. We’re the only ones stopping us anymore.”

The latest play haunting the Pioneers was one from the first quarter Friday that proved to be a 14-point swing. Warren County mounted a nine-minute march out of the gate, getting all the way to the Siegel 8. 

After a pair of penalties, the Pioneers were backed up and new QB Alex van Vuuren (who didn’t start, but played the majority of the snaps at signal caller) was stripped trying to make a play in the red zone.

Xavier Randolph scooped the ball and rumbled over 80 yards for the score, swinging all the momentum to the Stars before the visitors ever took a snap on offense.

It was one of four turnovers for the Pioneers, who outgained Siegel by 123 yards and possessed the ball nearly 30 minutes at Nunley Stadium.

“I saw some emotion tonight. These kids are finally getting tired of losing,” said Turner after the game. “We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing, but we have to carry that emotion and passion into practice and know the little things we work on is important.

“They have to value the importance of clamping down on the ball and get a few more reps every day. I don’t know if it would have been a different outcome had we held onto the ball, but it would have made a difference.”

Siegel (4-2) had issues with turnovers as well, putting the ball on the deck three times. Nate Elrod and Braylon Grayson both had plays where they stripped the ball and recovered it defensively, while PJ Truax dove on a bad snap for another big Pioneer stop.

The Stars upped their lead to 14-0 midway through the second quarter, getting on the board on Cory Sims’ one-yard plunge. It capped an 11-play drive for Siegel after they recovered a Jaythan Pleasant fumble on the first play of the second quarter.

The teams swapped turnovers again late in the first half, first with Elrod getting stripped and then Truax diving on a loose ball at the Pioneer 42 with 3:46 to play before halftime.

The Pioneers finally held onto the ball on the ensuing drive and it resulted in points. Van Vuuren hit Pleasant on a 16-yard pass that moved the ball inside the Siegel 10 and Dawson Haley punched the ball in with a 4-yard run to make it 14-7 by the break.

Warren County was able to stop Siegel on its first drive of the third quarter, highlighted by Grayson making a huge defensive stand in the red zone where he ripped the ball out and dove on it to give his team possession. 

The Pioneers proceeded to take up the final 8:44 of the third, highlighted by a 23-yard catch and run by Elrod on fourth down near midfield. The Pioneers pushed all the way down to the Siegel 6 by the end of the period, but were facing fourth down by the time the clock hit zero.

To start the fourth, coach Turner elected to kick and senior Beckham Scott nailed a 23-yard field goal to make it 14-10.

Siegel had the answer though. The Stars went 77 yards in eight plays, with Sims busting a 33-yard run during the drive and capping it with another one-yard score to give the Stars some breathing room at 21-10.

Warren County showed it had fight left down the stretch, but another fumble proved costly. Van Vuuren and Pleasant had a miscommunication on an exchange at the Siegel 22, putting the ball on the ground and the Stars pounced on it with 6:18 left.

The Pioneers forced a punt with 2:54 to play and van Vuuren was able to give his team a little life by engineering an 80-yard drive. The junior QB, who had a career-high 158 yards passing, hit Elrod for completions of 13 and 38 yards and Grayson capped the drive with a 10-yard TD run with 1:03 left. Van Vuuren added the two-point conversion on a run, making it a three-point game.

The ensuing onside kick was swallowed up by Sims at midfield, effectively ending the game as the Stars ran out the final minute to preserve their fourth win.

Grayson led the way with 77 yards rushing and a score for the Pioneers, while Sims finished with 100 yards on 15 carries and two scores. Elrod, who thrived at receiver, had four catches for 79 yards while Pleasant snagged three passes for 54 yards. 

Leaving the stadium, coach Turner stressed to his team that there is still plenty to play for, starting with homecoming against Coffee County. "We have three big region games coming up. All our goals are still on the table. We just can’t accept losing and translate it to every play."