It wasn't the season Ben Matheney envisioned when he took the Warren County Middle School coaching job last winter, but the lessons learned should carry over into the future.
The Pioneers finished off a winless season Tuesday, falling at home 30-16 to visiting White County. Despite not coming through in its final effort, Matheney saw something from his team he had hoped for when he started spring practice.
“From the start of spring to the end of the final game, they were working,” said Matheney. “I told the players at the start of the season that I would be judged by wins and losses, but I would gauge them by their effort and willingness to take coaching. In aspect, we didn’t lose a game this year. They were always giving effort.”
The no-quit attitude around the Pioneers was never more apparent than in Tuesday’s finale. Warren County fell behind 18-0 early, with the Warriors taking advantage of early Pioneer miscues to build a cushion.
White County took the opening kickoff and marched straight down the field for a score. Caden Mitchell capped the drive with a one-yard burst, though the Pioneers were able to stop the two-point conversion.
On the ensuing kickoff, White County was able to pounce on a squib kick, leading to another scoring drive. Tripp Pinion pushed his team up 12-0 on a two-yard run.
When Warren County finally got the ball, it was only able to hold on for one play. The Pioneers fumbled away their first carry, which proved to be the team’s lone offensive play in the first quarter.
White County turned the turnover into more points, with Mitchell scoring from three yards out early in the second quarter to make it 18-0.
“We came out flat. I was disappointed in the first quarter, but super proud of our play the rest of the way. The boys came back and were fighting,” said Matheney.
Warren County began its comeback attempt by mounting an eight-play, 70-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter. Quarterback Gavin Blocker had two longs runs during the march – a 16-yard gallop for a first down and a 16-yard sprint for a touchdown.
On the scoring play, Blocker initially fumbled the snap, but was able to pick it up, split two White County defenders and bounce off two more at the Warrior 10 before racing toward the endzone.
White County stole the momentum back just before halftime when Harley Dewett scored on a 31-yard interception return with 21.5 seconds left in the half.
Blocker cut White County’s lead in half on the first play of the fourth quarter. He raced in from 10 yards out, then added the two-point conversion to make it 24-16 late.
Sawyer Powell recovered the ensuing onside kick, but a fumble stopped Warren County from trying to tie.
Owen Adams ended any chance of a comeback with 1:45 to play, going in from 30 yards out to push White County ahead by 14.
“Turnovers really killed us. We had six – and that was the difference. We made inexperienced mistakes and the little things hurt us,” said Matheney. “That really was the difference all season – we’re inexperienced from top to bottom.”
Injuries were also a big trend all season and Tuesday was no different. Tilmon Martin left the game by stretcher in the second half, though he was released later that night after suffering a concussion.
In the last three home games, Warren County had two players leave the field by stretcher and a third was airlifted after going to the emergency room after the game. All three players were released shortly after their hospital visits, with the previous two both coming back to play later in the season.
“We were fortunate that every time, it turned out that the injuries were not as severe as we may have feared on the field,” said Matheney.
There will be no more chances to improve this fall, but Matheney is already starting to look forward to the strides his program can take next year.
“We were competitive – there were several chances to win games, but it didn’t go our way,” said Matheney. “The kids and coaching staff really bought in to what I wanted to do. We built a solid base for next year and the seasons to follow.”