Ending a 15-game losing streak was all the motivation the Warren County High School football team needed when it took the field last Thursday against the Cumberland County Jets.
Now that the Pioneers have snapped the streak emphatically with a 24-point victory, coach Tommy Johnson hasn’t had to look far for new ways to motivate his team.
Even with a win under their belts, the Pioneers figure to be huge underdogs when taking the field tonight to play the Smith County Owls.
Warren County (1-2) will hit the road for the third time in four weeks tonight to pay a visit to the Owls, who will be playing at home for the third straight week.
Smith County (2-1) started the season with two wins, beating White County on the road 34-0 in Week 0, then following it up with a 28-27 victory over Gordonsville at home. The Owls saw their 16-game, regular-season winning streak snapped last week by Livingston Academy in a 41-19 loss.
Facing a fired-up Owl squad presents a challenge for the Pioneers, who fell at home 51-0 last year to Smith County.
Coach Johnson knows his team faces a tall order tonight, but the Pioneers have prepared this week with a new-found confidence following last week’s win.
“The biggest difference I noticed last week before the Jets game is how our team prepared,” said Johnson. “We practiced like a team expecting to win. We’ve looked at Smith County and we know they’re very talented, but we can’t go there expecting to lose.”
“We want to make this a competitive game going into the fourth quarter and then see if we can make winning plays down the stretch.”
If the Pioneers are to pull off the upset, an effective ground game from the last two weeks will need to make the trip to Carthage.
In the past two weeks, Warren County has rushed for 503 yards and four touchdowns. It has been a different player stepping up each week, as junior quarterback Lee Carden was sensational against Shelbyville while junior running back Cameron Lusk had a big night against the Jets.
The Pioneers will continue to try to find sparks in the running game to support Carden and Lusk. D’Andre League, who caught an 81-yard touchdown pass last week, could be in the mix, as well as backup QB Malik Ladet. Ladet has shown promise in late action the past two weeks, rushing for 28 yards on limited carries.
The Pioneer defense improved immensely last week as the stop unit held an opponent under 20 points for the first time since Warren County defeated DeKalb County 19-16 in coach Johnson’s debut.
The Owls will present a challenge with a balanced offense. Running back Jalen Manning is averaging 114.7 yards a game while quarterback Nick Givens has thrown for 393 yards and three touchdowns.
Givens has two main weapons on the outside in wide receivers Anthony Porter and Jamison Stevens. Porter leads the team with nine catches and 161 yards while Stevens has a 91-yard touchdown padding his stats.
Tonight’s game will kick off at 7 p.m.