Homecoming had the Pioneer faithful buzzing at Nunley Stadium Friday night. Fans showed up in bunches hoping to see feathers fly as the Warren County High School football team took on the Smith County Owls.
An alarming trend showed up again though. The Pioneers gave up a touchdown in the opening minutes of the third straight game and a rout ensued. The Owls scored on the third play and would pile on seven touchdowns in the first half on their way to claiming a 51-0 win over Warren County.
Coach Tommy Johnson, who saw his team surrender 517 yards to the Owls while only gaining 151, may be heading back to the drawing board following the big loss.
“We played a very solid team that executed well,” said Johnson. “We’ve got to get back in the weight room and on the practice field and continue to get better.”
It nearly took Smith County only one play to find the endzone. Talented tailback Jalen Manning took the opening kickoff and raced 74 yards to the Pioneer 7. Two plays later, Manning would finish what he started by plunging in from two yards out to make it 6-0 after 30 seconds. The extra-point attempt went in, making it 7-0.
The Pioneers went three-and-out on their first drive, giving Smith County the ball back at its own 20. It took only two plays for the Owls to score again. Gage Spurlock hit Truman Tuck on a short pass that turned into a 63-yard gain. On the next play, Spurlock called his own number on a quarterback sweep which resulted in a 17-yard touchdown.
A missed PAT, one of five in the game for Smith County, left it at 13-0 with 8:36 to play in the first quarter.
Warren County’s next drive began with a new formation, but ended after one play. D’Andre League, who was a star offensively last week with 154 yards rushing and a touchdown, lined up in the shotgun running a wildcat formation.
League faked a handoff to Austin Fisk, who came in motion, then ran up the middle. League was stuffed at the line and, during his attempt to fight for yards, fumbled the ball. Smith County recovered at the Warren County 26, setting up a five-play scoring drive.
Spurlock hooked up with Beau Carr on a 23-yard touchdown pass following a holding penalty on the Owls. The PAT was partially blocked and missed and the Owls led 19-0 after five minutes.
Warren County’s offense showed signs of life on the ensuing possession when sophomore Hunter Mullican hooked up with Mitchell Ashford on a 25-yard passing play to convert a second-and-19 into a first down. The drive stalled though, leaving Ricardo Duenas to come on the field to punt.
Duenas pinned the Owls deep in their own territory, but Manning led his team to another touchdown. Manning had a 25-yard reception to move the ball past midfield, then went back to the ground to score. Manning took a handoff off the left side of the line and weaved through the Pioneer defense for a 42-yard touchdown, giving him two touchdowns on two carries.
Smith County would convert the extra point to take a 26-0 lead after one quarter.
The Pioneers began the second quarter terribly. Facing a third-and-nine on the first play of the second quarter, Mullican overthrew his intended target and hit Smith County’s Tyler Dennis in the chest. Dennis returned the pick deep into Warren County territory, but a block in the back moved the ball back to midfield.
If the first play of the quarter was bad, the second was worse. Spurlock ran the triple option to perfection, faking a dive up the middle and taking the ball outside. Spurlock ran untouched 50 yards for Smith County’s fifth touchdown. Another made kick made it 33-0 after only 32 seconds had ticked off in the second quarter.
Manning capped a seven-play, 50-yard drive with a seven-yard run on the Owls’ next possession to make it 39-0.
The Pioneers answered with a promising drive, highlighted by Mullican finding fellow sophomore Lee Carden for 20 yards, but Warren County was forced to punt once again.
Smith County had one big play left in the tank right before the half. Spurlock dropped back on a first-and-10 at his own 40 and looked deep for Jamison Stevenson. Junior cornerback Tyler Worthington ran stride-for-stride with Stevenson and seemed like he had stopped the play when he batted the ball up in the air.
Worthington’s tip went straight to Stevenson and the Owls wide receiver took the ball in the endzone to make it 45-0 going into halftime.
With a running clock the entire second half due to TSSAA mercy rules, the Pioneers and Owls only had the ball two times each.
The Pioneers first drive ended on a failed fourth-down try. The second squandered a potential touchdown. Warren County moved 70 yards, most of which came on a 49-yard run by Cameron Lusk, and began the fourth quarter with the ball on the Smith County 4.
Mullican tried connecting with League on a toss, but the pitch missed the target. League couldn’t recover the carom and Smith County took over at its own 10. Justin King concluded a 16-play, 90-yard drive with a five-yard touchdown to make the final score 51-0.
It was the fourth loss in a row to start the season for Warren County. The Pioneers will try to break the streak next week against a District 6-AAA opponent. Warren County plays host to the Cookeville Cavaliers at Nunley Stadium. Kickoff next Friday is set for 7 p.m.