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More heartbreak
Cavs clip Pioneers in home opener
Photos courtesy of Painted Barn Media Jaythan Pleasant went flying while trying to pick up extra yards during Friday's matchup with Cookeville. The Pioneers fell 21-14 in their home opener.
Photos courtesy of Painted Barn Media Braylon Grayson was fired up after forcing a fumble that helped the Pioneers tie the game in the second half.

Even being at home couldn’t stop the Pioneers from suffering another heartbreaker this year. Warren County wasn’t able to complete an epic comeback Friday at Nunley Stadium, falling to Cookeville 21-14 in its Region 3-6A debut.

The Pioneers rallied from a 14-0 halftime hole to tie the game in the third quarter, but Mace Thomsen’s 19-yard TD pass to Mason Taylor with 8:15 left proved to the difference as Cookeville beat Warren County for the first time since 2019. It gives the Cavaliers a crucial leg up in the race for a top-four finish in the region, what all five teams are hoping for to earn a bid into the playoffs.

After the game, coach Matt Turner struggled to find a way to sum up yet another stunner for the Pioneers. Warren County has now lost three games by one possession when the opponent took the lead for the good in the final quarter.

“I’m at a loss for words. We had our chances and just couldn’t execute,” said Turner, who is now 2-2 as Pioneer coach against Cookeville. “We have to stop making excuses and just get it done. And that’s everybody, me included. There’s no more, ‘if we did that’ or ‘if this didn’t happen,’ to help us. These are region games. We have to win them.”

Warren County (1-4) had one final chance to tie, or go for the win, when it got the ball back with eight minutes to play. The Pioneers, led by Alex van Vuuren as he took the reins of the offense in the second quarter, moved the ball all the way to the Cookeville 21 with under six minutes left.

The Pioneers stalled from there, getting stuffed on first down for no gain and then tossing two straight incompletions before getting sacked on fourth down to give the ball back to the Cavaliers with 4:37 to play.

Cookeville (2-3) iced the game with a pair of first downs, both converted on third-down throws by Thomsen. The senior QB finished 14-of-19 for 172 yards and two scores to lead his team to victory.

Warren County had a chance to get off to a hot start after forcing a quick three-and-out after kickoff, but Nate Elrod was sacked on the first play and fumbled on the hit, giving the ball right back to Cookeville. The Cavaliers, taking over at the Pioneer 23, needed just four plays to find paydirt, capped off by Caden Outlaw’s 5-yard TD run.

The Pioneers tried to answer back with a big drive that pushed all the way to the Cookeville 14, but Elrod was picked off on his first pass by Taylor at the goal line to stop the drive and stall the scoring.

The points dried up until 27.6 seconds left in the first half when Cookeville hit a deep ball on fourth-and-15. Thomsen connected with Brock Owen on a deep fade down the left sideline, pushing his team up 14-0 entering halftime.

After the break, the Pioneers rode van Vuuren’s legs to their first score. The new signal caller didn’t need his arm to lead an 80-yard march. Instead, van Vuuren busted a 54-yard run right after a touchback, picked up 25 yards on the next play and followed with a 1-yard keeper to make it 14-7. Van Vuuren finished with a team-high 109 yards rushing, his first career 100-yard game as a Pioneer.

Momentum kept flipping toward the Pioneers when senior linebacker Braylon Grayson delivered a bone-jarring hit on Outlaw near midfield late in the third, knocking the ball loose. PJ Truax pounced on it, coming out of the pile with possession to give the Pioneers a chance to tie.

Warren County went on a quick 43-yard march, highlighted by two 11-yard runs by Grayson and a third-down conversion by Jaythan Pleasant where he was able to find the edge and weave his way to a six-yard pickup.

At the goal line, Elrod went back to quarterback to take a snap under center and easily dove in on a keeper. Beckham Scott’s second PAT tied the game with 1:23 left in the third.

It stayed that way until Thomsen made something out of nothing late. On the game-winning TD, it looked like Thomsen was bottled up in the backfield, but he was able to escape the pocket and locate Taylor before crossing the line of scrimmage. Taylor was wide open when he made what would be the difference after the Pioneers couldn’t find an answer late.

“It’s tough to be here again knowing we had our chances to win and just couldn’t make it happen. It’s kind of been the story of our season. It’s not just going to change on its own though – we have to make it happen for ourselves. This is a talented team and I know we can take another step, we just have to believe we can do it,” said Turner.

Warren County will be back home this Friday to play Siegel, which comes in at 3-2 after a 42-0 loss to Oakland.