Lying just feet away from his fumble, Eric Haywood took a moment to regroup. The Pioneer star wasn’t filled with regret. His mission was redemption.
He got it.
Haywood scored a lead-padding touchdown in the fourth quarter and snared a game-sealing interception as the Pioneers downed White County 20-13.
“Eric is a game-changer,” said Tom Moore, who won for the seventh time as Pioneer coach. “He made a great play.”
Warren County (1-1) was clinging to a 13-7 lead early in the fourth quarter and was on the move after a 19-yard reception from Kain Haywood. His older brother got the call on the next play and broke outside, flying down the sideline intent on scoring.
Eric got inside the redzone, but was upended and dropped the ball. White County came up with a recovery, leaving the defense needing to come up with a stop.
Noah Martin came up with a big sack, running down Sydreck Leftwich from behind on a short third down to force a punt.
Haywood took over from there.
The senior broke a 41-yard run on his next touch, plowing over two White County defenders to punctuate the play. Moore didn’t hesitate to go back to his workhorse and Haywood was ready, bouncing off a big hole on the right side and going 19 yards for a score.
“My teammates needed me and I had to suck it up,” said Haywood, who finished with 120 yards on the ground. “My coaches put me in the right place at the right time and my teammates had great blocking.”
White County (0-2) answered when Leftwich hit Will Griggs over the top for a 35-yard touchdown, drawing to within one touchdown with 6:14 to play.
The Warriors tried an onside kick, but the ball didn’t cross the 10-yard threshold and the Pioneers took over.
Warren County tried to bleed the rest of the clock and almost succeeded when QB Clay Thompson kept on an option and converted a 3rd-and-seven with a 12-yard run. The Pioneers forced White County to use all its timeouts, but the Warren County offense stalled with 3:30 to go and had to punt.
The Warriors started at their own 10 and made it to the 32, but Haywood wasn’t going to let the home team get any further.
The safety reverted to his training during the week, reading the trips set and springing into action on Leftwich’s throw over the middle. Haywood rose high to snag the game-sealing interception.
“The coaches were stressing the third receiver all week in practice. I saw him on a streak and read it,” said Haywood.
Haywood dominated the end, but it was CJ Taylor who put the Pioneers out front early.
The sophomore did a bit of everything in the first half, going for 152 total yards and scoring twice.
Taylor was the catalyst on the opening drive, carrying the ball five times for 52 yards to get the Pioneers into the redzone. After a holding penalty backed Warren County into a 3rd-and-goal at the Warrior 15, Taylor took a swing pass and made magic.
Taylor broke two tackles at the 10, then made a diving attempt at the goalline while being wrapped up. Taylor’s stretch was just enough to give the Pioneers a 6-0 lead just six minutes into the game.
The sophomore was back in the endzone less than two minutes later.
After a White County three-and-out, Taylor dropped back to take the punt. He caught the ball in the middle of the field and immediately worked his way to the sideline. Taylor found open room and broke free, sprinting 68 yards to give his team a 13-0 lead.
Taylor’s night ended late in the third quarter, when he was dragged down by the facemask and suffered an ankle injury. His status will be evaluated early this week.
White County cut the lead to 13-7 on an Allen Shoupe 19-yard TD run late in the first quarter. Shoupe finished with 140 yards rushing to make up the majority of the Warrior offense.
The Pioneers will be back on the road again Friday, traveling to play the Cookeville Cavaliers at 7 p.m.