Sending out 21 seniors with a victory is the goal Friday night at Nunley Stadium. Looking at the stats though, the Warren County High School football team would have better odds of accomplishing its goal if the game was played elsewhere.
Warren County (3-6) enters Friday’s season finale against Cumberland County on a nine-game losing streak at home. The Pioneers last won at Nunley Stadium on senior night in 2012 - a 55-35 blowout victory over Soddy Daisy.
Since then, the Pioneers have lost in every way imaginable at home. There’s been blowouts, fourth-quarter collapses, an overtime loss and two bitter defeats on homecoming - most notably this year’s 40-34 shocker on the final play against Stone Memorial.
Changing the trend won’t be easy, but the Jets may be the perfect opponent to snap the streak.
Cumberland County enters the game winless this season and only 3-36 in its last four years. Unfortunately, two of those victories came against the Pioneers, including last year’s 41-35 come-from-behind victory by the Jets.
Warren County held a 22-point lead in Crossville last year, only to see turnovers and penalties cost the team dearly. The Pioneers were up 29-7 at halftime, but self-combusted in the second half. Aided by 21 Pioneer penalties and four turnovers, the Jets stormed back to steal the game in the final seconds.
Coach Scott Smith and his bunch will be trying to stay away from beating themselves Friday. The Pioneers average 9.7 penalties per game and have lost 10 turnovers this year. Warren County has protected the ball better of late and avoided the yellow flags, especially in its comeback victory over Smith County three weeks ago on the road.
Having an extra week to prepare has only helped the Pioneer cause. Coach Smith has spent two weeks on a game plan against the Jets, who come to town hoping to ride quarterback Jordan Buckner to an upset.
Buckner is the engine that makes the Jet offense go. Buckner combined for three touchdowns (two passing, one running) last week while nearly bringing the Jets back in a 44-36 loss at Grundy County. The senior quarterback threw a 70-yard touchdown pass and ran for another score in the fourth quarter to tie the game before Grundy County pulled away in the final minutes.
The Pioneer defense will have eyes on Buckner at all times. Senior defensive end Chayse Frye, who tops the team in sacks, will try to apply pressure. Senior linebacker Tristan Reish will be responsible for keeping the Warren County defense aligned.
Offensively, Warren County will have an opportunity to put up big numbers against a Cumberland County defense which is allowing 35 points per game. The Pioneers score 21.1 points per game, but there should be more opportunities to reach the end zone this weekend for quarterback Christian Wilkinson and his crew.
Wilkinson is having one of the most accurate passing seasons in Pioneer history. The junior signal caller is connecting on 56.5 percent of his passes this year and has only thrown one interception. Most of Wilkinson’s passes have been hauled in by players who will be honored before Friday’s game.
Senior Adrian Lusk has already set the school record for receptions in a season with 52 catches, while fellow senior Malik Ladet is second on the team with 28 grabs. Ethan Fliss, the third senior in the wide receiving core, has eight catches and hopes to take the field after missing the Rhea County game two weeks ago with an ankle injury.
Friday’s game begins at 7 p.m. Senior night festivities are set to begin at 6:30 p.m.