Surrounded by flashing cameras, adoring fans and jubilant teammates, senior Noah Martin couldn’t contain his smile. It was the moment he had waited four years to soak in.
The Pioneers sent 14 seniors out as winners Friday night at Nunley Stadium, beating Coffee County 42-20 on senior night. It’s the first time Warren County has won four games on its own field since 2005.
Martin was part of an offensive line that steamrolled the Red Raiders to the tune of 400 rushing yards, often putting the visitors on skates as the Pioneers churned out yards.
“It’s one of the best feelings in the world when you got out there and you know you can move the ball at will,” said Martin, who starts at guard and linebacker. “When you’re controlling them upfront, when I see my running backs out there getting theirs, that’s what I block for.”
Xander Lee, Lacedrick “Red” Cox and Malachi Rippy all had career-highs on the ground, while CJ Taylor continued his sensational season, rushing for 102 yards and three touchdowns. Lee led the way on the ground, pounding his way to 132 yards and a touchdown.
Cox had nine carries for 91 yards, including a 24-yard touchdown, and Rippy finished with 62 yards rushing, including a 55-yard scamper to set up a Pioneer score.
“I (just) saw lots of grass,” said Rippy on his long run. “I was confident (the ground game) was going to work. Our line was working.”
It was no secret what Warren County was going to do offensively. After receiving the opening kickoff, the Pioneers mounted a 75-yard drive that featured 10 runs, the last an 11-yard run off the edge by Taylor for the game’s first score.
After forcing a three-and-out, aided by Cristian Espinoza and Aiden Cummings combining for a sack that knocked the Red Raiders back 19 yards, the Pioneers went back to work on the ground.
Cox was able to benefit from some misdirection in the backfield, escaping off the edge on a counter and out-running the Red Raiders to the pylon on 24-yard score.
Coffee County answered with a 19-yard TD pass from Connor Shemwell to Collin Ward late in the first quarter, but Lee and Taylor made up for it four plays later.
Taylor busted a 34-yard run on third-and-long on the first play of the second quarter, then combined with Lee on the team’s craziest TD of the season.
Lee received the hand-off and tried to force his way up the middle, but was turned back by three Red Raiders. Before going down, Lee tossed the ball back to Taylor, allowing the junior to race outside and dance down the sideline for a 24-yard TD.
Coffee County responded by taking advantage of a Pioneer fumble midway through the second quarter. Just a play after Cox fumbled at his own 32, Matthew Pittman went untouched for a touchdown to make it 21-14.
Taylor scored his third touchdown with 1:57 to play in the half, but the Pioneers weren’t done scoring. Bryson Elrod made sure of it.
Elrod stepped in front of a pass with less than 15 seconds near midfield and returned it back to the Coffee County 39. With 8.3 seconds left, coach Matt Turner called a timeout and turned to Elrod at quarterback.
The big-armed junior went deep with time dwindling down, setting his sights on Taylor. Amid three defenders, Taylor was able to sky over the Red Raiders and haul in a 39-yard touchdown as time expired.
It was a thrill for Elrod, who was able to make the right read on both sides of the ball.
“I broke on (the pass) as soon as I seen it,” said Elrod. “On the touchdown pass, I knew I could throw it up to CJ and he’d go up and get it.”
The Pioneers pushed the lead to 42-14 in the second half on a 7-yard TD run by Lee. The drive came right after Warren County stopped the Red Raiders on fourth down at its own 36.
In the second half, the Pioneers turned back Coffee County twice, including a pivotal stop on 4th-and-one by Jessie Lira and Martin with eight minutes to play.
“The guard pulled and I flailed over. We squeezed the middle and controlled the edge and got the stop,” said Martin.
Coffee County would never touch the ball again.
The Pioneers sapped the final eight minutes with 14 straight runs, including Elrod picking up a fourth down on a sneak and Cox racing 23 yards on third-and-long.
In the end, Turner made sure to get his seniors in for one final snap. It was the perfect end to an impressive season at Nunley Stadium.