CJ Taylor did almost everything for the Pioneers, but he couldn’t get a final pass over Carlos Alexander.
A late interception helped Cookeville hold off Warren County 25-19 Friday night, dealing a critical blow to the Pioneers’ playoff push. With the loss, Warren County drops to 3-4 overall and 2-2 in the region, where it is tied with the Cavaliers.
It was a tough ending for Taylor as his late pass was intercepted at the Cookeville 48. It came just a few minutes after the junior had recovered a Cookeville fumble, giving the Pioneers a last chance.
Taylor pounced on a loose ball after Kason Holder ripped it from a Cookeville defender, setting up the Pioneers at the Cookeville 46 with 2:30 to play.
Four plays later, Taylor was able to lunge forward on fourth-and-three to keep the drive alive. The chains came out, but Taylor’s second effort earned the first down by a football.
With time dwindling down, the Pioneers tried to throw, but Cookeville pressured Taylor into an intentional grounding penalty. Facing second-and-29, Dante Elam couldn’t haul in a long pass over the middle and Taylor was intercepted on the next play to end the team’s comeback hopes.
It was a bitter way to lose for the Pioneers, who were dominant on the ground. The Pioneers rushed for 276 yards, with Taylor leading the way with 132 yards and three touchdowns.
Many of those yards were piled up with Taylor at tailback in the first half. Warren County caught the Cavaliers off guard with the power game, but turned away from it late.
“We were trying to save (the big formation) until we drove down,” said coach Matt Turner. “Hindsight, we should have stayed in it, but our other looks were working as well. That’s where I’m learning. I don’t know if I’m putting us in the best position.
“I’ll watch the film and see, but the kids were asking for it.”
It’s easy to see why.
The Pioneers took the lead in the first half by running straight at the Cavaliers. Warren County took over at its own 2 late in the first quarter and proceeded to march 98 yards in 20 plays – all runs. Taylor and Xander Lee took turns pounding away, while QB Bryson Elrod was able to convert a fourth-and-short and third-and-one on sneaks.
By the time the Pioneers had kept the ball for nine minutes, Taylor took a final hand-off from the Cookeville 4 and reached the endzone for the 10th time this season.
Cookeville answered back quickly, marching 67 yards in six plays before halftime. Stockton Owen took care of the final 19 yards, weaving through the Warren County defense for the tying score.
The Cavaliers took their first lead by opening the second half with a scoring drive. Evan Whited scored on a 21-yard run to make it 14-7 early in the third quarter.
Warren County responded with its ground game. Malachi Rippy and Lee did the heavy lifting, ripping off back-to-back runs of 22 and 20 yards, respectively, before Taylor scored on a three-yard plunge. Cookeville was able to keep the lead though by blocking Stephen Curtis’ PAT try.
Brock Taylor gave Cookeville a 17-13 lead in the final minute of the third quarter with a 20-yard field goal, but the Pioneers were ready to run some more.
Taylor ripped off a 15-yard run right before the end of the third quarter, igniting a seven-play drive that would give the Pioneers the lead. Taylor added an 11-yard completion to Lee on third down before finishing the drive with runs of 10 and eight yards, the latter ending in the endzone.
Curtis came up short on the PAT, but the Pioneers still led 19-17 with 9:23 to play.
Cameron Harris flipped the lead back to the home team with 6:02 left, breaking over the left edge on fourth-and-short at the Pioneers 21 and stiff-arming two Pioneers before racing to the pylon.
Owen pushed his team ahead by six by connecting with Donovan Sullivan on a two-point try.
The Pioneers had two possessions late to try to regain the lead, but the Pioneers were slowed by a holding penalty on a three-and-out before Taylor’s last gasp was intercepted in the final minute.
Warren County will take this week off before returning home for senior night Friday, Oct. 18. The Pioneers will face Coffee County in the final game at Nunley Stadium this season.