Coach Tommy Johnson has said all season his Warren County High School football team is better than it has played this fall. On the final night of the season, the Pioneers finally played up to their potential.
The Pioneers ended the season empathetically Friday night, beating the Soddy Daisy Trojans 55-35 at Nunley Stadium.
Warren County (3-7) hadn’t gone into an offseason following a victory since 1990, but behind the running of Cameron Lusk and throwing of Hunter Mullican, the Pioneers topped the 50-point mark for the first time since 2009 to finish the season 3-2 on their home turf.
Lusk ran for 223 yards and two fourth-quarter touchdowns while Mullican tossed for 241 yards and three touchdowns as everything clicked for the Pioneer offense against the Trojans.
It was evident from the opening drive Warren County could do anything it wanted against an under-manned Soddy Daisy squad.
The Trojans, who were without nine players due to suspension, put up little resistance against the Pioneers.
Warren County began the game with a 10-play, 80-yard drive that Mullican capped with a 17-yard touchdown toss to Lee Carden.
The Pioneer faithful who came out despite a chilly night at Nunley Stadium looked like they were going to witness a shoot-out when the Trojans answered back with ease.
Brett Standifer hooked up with Matt Abens for a 16-yard touchdown to tie the game at 7-7 with 2:28 to play in the first quarter, but the Pioneers would storm back with two scores of their own in the span of a minute.
Mullican and Kendall Rutledge connected on the longest play from scrimmage by the Pioneers two plays after the Soddy Daisy score. Standing at his own 18, Mullican found Rutledge streaking down the sideline and the senior wide receiver hauled in the pass near midfield. Rutledge avoided tacklers on his way to the endzone as the 82-yard touchdown put Warren County in front 14-7.
Carden came up with a big defensive play to give the ball right back to the Pioneers.
Carden returned an interception to the Trojan 11 and the Warren County offense would only need one play to score.
Tristan Reish took a handoff up the middle and went untouched into the endzone as the Pioneers led 21-7 after the first quarter.
The Trojans momentarily closed within one score when Austin Millsap ran for a touchdown on the ensuing possession, but another big play by the Pioneer passing game was right around the corner.
When Warren County got the ball back, Mullican looked deep again and found D’Andre League. Mullican hit League in stride near midfield and the junior wide receiver outran the Trojan secondary for a 63-yard scoring strike.
The ball continued bouncing in the Pioneers’ favor on the ensuing kickoff when a fumble rolled into the hands of Warren County senior safety Maurkel Breedlove.
With the ball at midfield, Warren County stayed on the ground as Lusk and Mullican moved the ball near the goal line and Drew Davidson did the rest. Davidson plunged in from four yards out with 5:04 to play in the first half to give Warren County a 35-14 lead.
The Pioneers had another scoring chance late in the first half, but senior Mitchell Ashford fumbled after a first-down catch in the red zone that Soddy Daisy recovered and returned to the Warren County 33.
Standifer hit Abens with a 32-yard pass on the next play, then snuck in from the Pioneer 1 to make it 35-21 going into halftime.
Soddy Daisy narrowed the gap to seven with a touchdown drive coming out of the locker rooms, but Warren County wasn’t going to let its lead slip away.
Mullican accounted for his fourth touchdown on a four-yard run to start the fourth quarter, only to see the Trojans respond with a six-yard touchdown pass from Standifer to Abens with 4:43 to play.
Leading 42-35, Warren County leaned on Lusk to make big plays late and the junior running back was up for the challenge.
Lusk broke a 77-yard touchdown run to put the Pioneers back up by 14, then Alex Hillis gave the ball right back to Warren County when he intercepted a pass from Standifer on the next play from scrimmage.
Lusk ended any hopes of a Soddy Daisy comeback when he reached the endzone from two yards out with 40.5 seconds to play, a score set up by a 50-yard run by Lusk three plays prior.
Junior Johnny Smith, who had connected on seven previous PATs, saw his final kick blocked by the Trojans, but the lost point did little to deflate the Pioneers.
Warren County celebrated its third win at Nunley Stadium, one that was extra special for 13 seniors who played their last game as Pioneers and were honored prior to the game.
Senior Aaron McKinley led the Pioneer defense with seven tackles and two sacks. Hillis added five tackles and an interception. Breedlove had four tackles and fumble recovery in his final game as a Pioneer.
Jeremiah Lance was one of three seniors to catch a pass, joining Ashford and Rutledge with receptions.
Senior David Craven made his 10th start at center this season and helped pave the way for the Pioneer running game to finish with a season-high 356 yards on the ground against the Trojans.