Buses will still arrive at Warren County High School Friday, but they won’t be going far. The Pioneers are finally going to be under the lights at Nunley Stadium and coach Matt Turner hopes his group gets a hero’s welcome at home.
Warren County is set to take on Cookeville Friday night in a pivotal Region 3-6A battle between the old rivals. It will be the first time the Pioneers get a chance to play in front of their home crowd after a scheduling quark left them with four road games to start 2022. Now back home, Turner knows Squad 54 should send a roar through town when it takes the field Friday.
“We needed this in every way. It’s rare for college or pro teams to play a full month away from home, much a less a high school team that is so tied into the community and draws energy from that home crowd,” said Turner. “There’s a reason we make it a point to start every fall camp at Nunley Stadium – that’s our home and we protect it. It’s going to be a great game and I hope our fanbase is looking forward to being back as much as we are.”
Warren County (1-3) would have been home for the Ridgeway game two weeks ago, but because the Pioneers had to miss last year’s trip to Memphis, they had to travel this season. For that reason, the Pioneers are playing their latest home opener in decades.
At Nunley Stadium, the Pioneers will be looking for their third three-game winning streak over the Cavaliers ever. The teams have been meeting every year since 1970, just a year after Warren County consolidated schools. It was first a matchup with Putnam County, then it became yearly battles with the Cavaliers. Cookeville leads the series 37-15 after the teams split the first 24 meetings. The Cavaliers had won 25-of-26 meetings from 1993-2019 before the Pioneers had a dominating 24-0 victory at home in 2020.
They backed it up with last year’s 21-14 win in Cookeville, one which propelled the Pioneers to the playoffs in 2022. Another victory Friday would give Warren County the leg up to punching its third-straight ticket to the postseason.
“There’s plenty of talk around that game – it’s our first home game, it’s Cookeville, it’s a rivalry – but when it comes down to it, it’s important because it’s the next game on the schedule and it’s a region game. If we want to play in November again, these are the games we have to win,” said Turner.
Contrasting styles will clash Friday. The Pioneers, as usual, want to pound the ball, while the Cavaliers are coming off a 54-point performance in a loss against Sparta because of their air-raid offense.
Warren County’s rushing attack is bolstered by its backfield trio: Jaythan Pleasant, Braylon Grayson and Nate Elrod. Pleasant is coming off his lowest output this year, but still leads the Pioneers with 350 rushing yards and four scores. Grayson has 250 yards and two TDs while Elrod has totaled 191 rushing yards and scored three times as the team’s signal caller.
There’s a good chance Alex van Vuuren, who got a long run at quarterback in last week’s 41-0 loss at Mt. Juliet, will be a part of the Pioneer game plan as well. Van Vuuren is the team’s leading receiver (seven catches, 126 yards, two TDs) and could be asked to sling it too.
Cookeville is definitely going to throw it with senior Mace Thomsen running the show. Thomsen is coming off a 457-yard, six-touchdown performance in last week’s shootout and averages 221.5 yards through the air every game. His favorite targets are Brock Owen (23 catches, 304 yards, 4 TDs) and Presley Jared (11 catches, 267 yards).
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. Tickets will be available through GoFan. Fans can also purchase tickets with cash at the gate beside the RA building for $8.