The Pioneer football team travels to Cookeville on Friday night to face its first region opponent of an unusual 2021 season.
The Cavaliers mirror the Pioneers in terms of inexperience. Cookeville has replaced nine players from last year’s team on offense, and five-six players on defense. One difference is Cookeville starts several seniors who do not have varsity game experience, and on the other hand, Warren County starts very few seniors.
One question will be how Cookeville (1-3) has developed with older inexperienced players over four games while Warren County (0-1) has developed with younger players over one game.
WCHS head coach Matt Turner likes the talent he has on his team.
Coach Matt Turner explained his confidence in Squad#53, this year’s team, “Some of our best athletes are on defense. Our pass defense will be fine. This team is where Squad#51 was in terms of experience, and players on that team made mistakes, including C.J. This team will be fine. I like our line, all of our players. They are getting better.”
The top four teams in each region go to the playoffs, and Warren County is in a five-team region. Only one team in the region will not make the playoffs which makes this game meaningful.
Coach Turner said, “The idea of making the playoffs is huge. Shelbyville and Lebanon are 1-0. Coffee County and Cookeville are 0-1 in the region. After Friday night, Cookeville will either be 0-2 or 1-1, and we will be 1-0 or 0-1. We do not want Cookeville to be ahead of us.”
INSIDE LOOK AT
Cookeville head coach Jimmy Maynord described the adversity facing his team. Coach Maynord said, “Our biggest problem is us. We have too many penalties. We turn the ball over. Guys are trying to learn timing and assignments under fire in games.”
Maynor continued, “We lost a lot of players. We are rebuilding. We are getting effort. The team practices hard, but we are getting our tails kicked in games. We are not blocking and tackling well. Tough to win games when you do not do those two things well. We are inexperienced, but we are not young. We have a lot of seniors who have not started and played in varsity games before this season.”
Cookeville has lost players temporarily to COVID protocols and injuries, which coach Maynord said creates a “domino effect.” The Cavaliers have had to scramble players around as Warren County has during the pandemic. It has taken a toll on Cookeville’s development.
Coach Maynor said, “It hits us hard. We have to put a competitive team on the field, and we do not want to forfeit a game. We are also down players this year. We have 65 varsity players. We normally have 75 or more. We have 40-44 freshmen, but we keep them separate from the varsity. But numbers are down for everyone. Even Alcoa is down in numbers.”
Cookeville will be in the same offensive and defensive formations they used last year. Spread on offense and 3-4 on defense. They tend to throw a lot on first down, and the Cavaliers have a balanced offense of rushing and passing.
The starting lineup for the Pioneers will be virtually the same as last week, but there will be a few changes. Wesley Sherrell is the No. 1 receiver. Jaythan Pleasant will be starting at wingback. Collin Panter will start at tight end.
On defense, coach Camron Bond will be shuffling in players to create depth and experience. Drathan Dixon will see playing time this week after being out last week due to illness. Eli Cantrell will see some time at defensive end, and Hunter Pezzimenti will see some action at linebacker. Other players such as Panter will be rotated in on defense as well.
Braylon Grayson may see some time at tailback in the Pistol Wing-T offense, moving over from wingback. The Pioneers have been working on a power rushing game, and the offense will probably not look much different than it did last week against Mt. Juliet.
The Pioneers have worked on special teams, including assignments on punt teams. Field position hurt the Pioneers last week as they were often starting with the ball deep in their own territory. The coaching staff is not worried about the punting game.
WHAT TO EXPECT
Coach Turner said, “We want a physical game. Want to knock them out of the game early. We are still behind the eight ball in terms of conditioning. We have to jump out on them early, and keep the pressure on them.”
Cookeville is not as bad as its 1-3 record indicates. Coach Maynord is a successful, long-term coach with an impressive body of work. Warren County fans can expect Cookeville to begin the game with a lot of desire.
Last year Warren County shut out Cookeville 24-0 at homecoming. The Cavaliers were embarrassed. Not many of the present players on either team played in that game, so it may not matter much in the scheme of things. Yet, Cookeville could be conditioned to want revenge and to secure its first region victory.
Conversely, the Pioneers have been reminded this week about how important a win against Cookeville will be for their season. The Pioneers have been challenged to come off the bus at Cookeville with emotion and the desire to play a physical game. Back-to-back playoff berths will be a big step forward for Pioneer football.