For years, saying the word ‘playoffs’ around the Pioneer football staff would elicit a Jim Mora-style rant.
“Playoffs? Don’t talk about playoffs. You kidding me? Playoffs? I just hope we can win a game,” Mora famously said in 2001 after his team fell to 4-6.
Outside of a two-year stretch when the TSSSA debuted the Super 32 in 2015-16, guaranteeing every 6A school a spot in the playoffs, the Pioneers have been home in November for over a decade. Warren County last earned a bid into the postseason in 2008, falling to Oakland after a 4-6 season.
There’s hope this season the Pioneers could snap the streak.
Warren County (2-3) enters this week 1-1 in region play, splitting matchups with Rockvale (36-35 win) and Blackman (41-7 loss). Their record puts the Pioneers squarely in the middle of the pack in the eight-team region, with the top four guaranteed a spot.
Coach Matt Turner isn’t taking his team’s focus off the task at hand, but he’s using a word nobody is used to hearing around Pioneer football.
“Every game from here on out is a playoff game for us,” Turner told his team Monday. “If we want to do something that hasn’t happened in a long time around here, we have to take on every game like it’s a playoff game.”
Warren County will finish with five straight region games, starting with Friday’s home matchup with the Siegel Stars. Siegel comes into the game 0-2 in region play and 0-5 overall after a 42-36 loss to Coffee County last week.
The Red Raiders winning last week, coupled with Warren County’s earlier victory over Rockvale, has shaken up the standings usually dominated by Rutherford County schools. Since the new regions were drawn up in 2015, Coffee County and Warren County had only four combined region wins – all courtesy of their head-to-head matchups.
Warren County, which has lost three of its last four games against Coffee County, will play the Red Raiders at home on senior night Friday, Oct. 18.
The Pioneers will play three road games during the back half of their schedule, facing Cookeville Oct. 4, Riverdale Oct. 25 and finishing with defending state champion Oakland Nov. 1.
The first step toward playoff contention was taken three weeks ago at home with a win over the Rockets. Turner hopes the next step is this Friday on homecoming.
“I think we’re going to have a loud, supportive crowd behind us. It’s an exciting time. Having chances to win region games hasn’t been something this program is used to, but we’re trying to change that,” said Turner.
Friday’s kickoff is set for 7 p.m.