The opening scoring drive against the Cookeville Cavaliers showed the promise of the Warren County High School football team, but it also exposed the biggest weakness of the Pioneers at the same time.
While Warren County motored down the field in its no-huddle offense, the Pioneer linemen got a major workout. By the time the 12-play drive ended, the big men were worn out.
Unfortunately for coach Tommy Johnson, those players who did such a nice job of opening up holes on offense for the run game were the same who were being moved out of the way as Cookeville gashed the Pioneers for 334 yards on the ground in a 42-13 victory.
According to coach Johnson, depth on the lines was the difference.
“We have some guys who have to play every single down for us, while Cookeville was bringing in a new line almost every play,” said Johnson. “They wore us down. That was their game plan and it worked.”
Juniors Ethan Turner and Logan Wanamaker, along with sophomore Dylan George, rotate at defensive tackle while also starting on the offensive line.
Coach Johnson estimated two of the three were on the field every snap against Cookeville and it eventually led to the Cavaliers being able to exert their dominance on the Pioneers. Cookeville ran the ball on 28 of 29 plays in the second half and scored on runs of 5, 48 and 17 yards.
Building depth on the lines has been a challenge for the Pioneers this year and injuries have made it nearly impossible.
Seniors Jacob Roller and David Lee have missed every game this season after leaving spring practice as projected starters on the offensive line. Roller is expected to return soon from his thumb injury, but Lee is lost for the season due to a knee injury.
Junior Relley Yott started the first four games for Warren County, but missed the Cookeville game due to an illness. His replacement was junior Gilley Ortiz, who had missed the first three games with a thumb injury. Ortiz hurt his ankle on the first series on defense and didn’t return.
Coach Johnson hopes his team can get healthy and find some more help on the lines by the time the team kicks off against Moore County Friday night.
“We’re going to have to keep looking for guys who can give us some snaps,” said Johnson. “We’re banged up, but those guys are giving us everything they have.”
The homecoming game will be the second time the home crowd will get the see the Pioneers take the field at Nunley Stadium. The last time Warren County played at home, the Pioneers beat the Cumberland County Jets 37-13 on a rare Thursday night game.
While the Jets, who are currently 1-4, didn’t present much of a challenge for Warren County, the Raiders look to be one of the strongest teams the Pioneers will play.
Moore County will come to McMinnville sporting a 5-0 record and a top five state ranking. The Raiders beat Warren County 31-27 last season and coach Johnson knows what to expect from the Pioneers’ next opponent.
“They are going to run a lot of misdirection and some gadget plays to keep us honest,” said Johnson. “They have a good athlete at quarterback who can make plays. It will be a test for our defense.
“We have to play better defensively. Right now, we’re not stopping anybody.”
Kickoff for Friday is set for 7 p.m.