Ninty yards stood between the Pioneers and another program-defining victory. CJ Taylor was ready to carry his team the whole way, but he knew he was going to need some help.
He got it.
Taylor engineered a 90-yard touchdown drive, capped by his 12-yard scoring run with 27.2 seconds to play to push the Pioneers to a 29-28 victory over Siegel Friday night at Nunley Stadium.
“I looked at my O-line and asked them, ‘Can we do this?’ Doug (Wells) said, ‘Let’s get it. We just did it last drive,’” said Taylor, who rushed for 132 yards, passed for 149 more and scored all four of his team’s touchdowns. “We went and got the ‘W.’ Red (Lacedrick Cox) and Kason (Holder), sometimes they bail me out. Those are my guys and I had to go to them.”
Taylor connected with Cox for 53 yards on the first play of the drive, then hit Eli Buchanan for 13 yards to push it to the Siegel 24. Once there, Taylor called his own number twice, both going for 12 yards, including the game-winning TD.
Stephen Curtis banged in the ensuing PAT to provide the winning point.
“It was just like any other extra point,” said Curtis.
The final score came just a minute after Siegel had taken a 28-22 lead with 1:30 to play on a 54-yard TD pass from Tucker Sears to Evan Milligan. Busted coverage allowed Milligan to sprint through the heart of the defense untouched, a deflating score after Warren County had dug out of a 22-7 hole just five plays before.
The snap on the ensuing extra point, which would have put Siegel ahead seven, was bobbled, leaving Sears rolling out trying to convert for two. Holder stepped in front of Sears’ pass, intercepting it at the goal line to keep his team behind six.
Warren County (3-3) committed a penalty on the ensuing kickoff, which flew through the endzone, to make it an even longer journey. Coach Matt Turner believed his team could battle out of a hole one more time.
“They’re buying into what we’re doing and competing,” said Turner. “They were buying in during the summer, when we were sleeping on the steps at Nunley Stadium. They were going to come out and fight.”
In the end, Taylor, who scored three fourth-quarter touchdowns, made everything easier for the Pioneer coaching staff.
“CJ makes it very comfortable. His presence on the field helps the players know it. Everybody knows it – the fans in the stands know he’s getting it,” said Turner.
Warren County went into the fourth quarter trailing by 15, but Taylor sliced into the lead with a four-yard TD run with 6:15 to play. It was part of an 80-yard drive after a missed Siegel field goal, with a 27-yard pitch-and-catch from Taylor to Eli Buchanan paving the way.
The Pioneer defense was put to the test after a long return and penalty gave Siegel the ball at the Warren County 31 following Taylor’s score. The defense was up to the task, forcing a three-and-out to give Taylor the ball back.
From the Warren County 20, Taylor hit Holder over the middle for 39 yards to jumpstart the drive. He added a 16-yard run, followed by Cox going for 12 yards around the left edge. When the Pioneers got to the Siegel 10, Taylor was able to weave through four defenders for the score with 2:35 to go.
There was no secret who was getting the ball on a potential tying two-point conversion. Taylor lined up at tailback and plowed over the right side, tying the game at 22-22.
It was the culmination of a comeback Turner called his team to make when they were looking lost in the third quarter.
“I challenged them – I challenged their manhood and told them to step up or step off. I challenged the seniors, the offensive line, Eli (Buchanan), Kaden (Jordan), Doug, Dillon Haley – all the guys who have been in supportive roles to step up and do their jobs. They stepped up,” said Turner.
The Pioneer offensive line definitely heard their coach’s message.
“Coach Turner told us to bow our elbows and not give up. We don’t want to be like the old Warren County – we’re the new Warren County,” said Jordan, the team’s starting tackle.
Wells, the team’s center added, “I was focused on doing my job, helping my teammates and getting us into the endzone.”
Siegel built its lead behind the throwing of Tucker Sears, who finished the game 23-of-35 for 343 yards and two touchdowns. Sears also had a 1-yard touchdown run to open the scoring in the first quarter.
Taylor knotted the score at 7-7 in the second quarter, rushing for a 1-yard TD early in the second quarter.
The Pioneer defense caused two turnovers, with Caleb McCormick and Aiden Cummings each recovering fumbles.
Warren County will continue to try to move up the Region 3-6A standings this Friday when it travels to Cookeville. Kickoff against the Cavaliers is set for 7 p.m.