It’s said one play doesn’t make a game, but the Pioneer football team was doomed from the first play of Friday night’s game against the Shelbyville Golden Eagles.
Warren County fumbled the opening kickoff. Shelbyville scored on the next play and the rout was on. The Pioneers would never recover as they fell 44-0 to the visiting Golden Eagles to drop to 0-2 this season.
Special-team blunders were a trend for the Pioneers on Friday night at Nunley Stadium. Austin Fisk muffed the opening kickoff and Shelbyville recovered at the Pioneer 17. Luke Faulk would connect with Qua Allen on the next play to put the Golden Eagles up 7-0 after only 23 seconds had run off the clock.
Warren County would also fumble another kickoff which led to a Shelbyville field goal and the Golden Eagles also scored a touchdown one play after a failed onside kick by the Pioneers.
The Pioneers offense got a lift on its first drive from new starting quarterback Hunter Mullican. Mullican, who started his first game after Connor Dixon hurt his shoulder last week, had a 21-yard run on a third-and-seven during the Pioneers’ first series to flip field position.
The drive would stall, forcing Ricardo Duenas to come on the field for the first of his six punts. The Pioneers stopped Shelbyville’s second drive, with Daulton Foster breaking up a long pass down the sideline to force a punt.
Warren County couldn’t find any traction on offense on its second drive as Mullican was sacked on third down to bring Duenas back on the field.
With Shelbyville taking over following the punt at its own 31, Faulk looked up top for the big play. Faulk lofted a deep pass down the Pioneer sideline and Allen outjumped cornerback D’Andre League and broke a tackle to score from 69 yards out.
After the extra point, the Pioneer found themselves trailing 14-0 with 1:05 left in the first quarter.
Warren County recovered a squib kick at its own 30 to start its third possession. Cameron Lusk softened the Shelbyville defense with four straight runs and gained one first down. With the Pioneers facing a third-and-six at its own 45, Mullican went back to work through the air.
Mullican found Lee Carden on a corner route for a gain of 34 yards to give Warren County its best shot of scoring. After runs by Lusk and Bryson Lewis however, the Pioneer faced another third-and-long.
Mullican once again looked for his favorite target, but Carden couldn’t reel in a pass in the endzone which would have cut the Shelbyville lead in half.
The Pioneers had to settle for a field goal try by Johnny Smith, but Smith’s 35-yard attempt was wide right.
Shelbyville would give Warren County an eerie reminder of last week when the Golden Eagles flew down the field in the final two minutes of the first half for two scores. Faulk tossed his third touchdown with 42.4 seconds remaining, connecting with Donta Scott for 17 yards to make it 21-0.
To add to the struggles, the Pioneers fumbled the ensuing kickoff and the Golden Eagles were able to work their way down the field for a field-goal attempt.
Andrew Thompson’s 42-yard kick split the uprights, sending Warren County to the locker room trailing 24-0.
Coach Tommy Johnson tried to catch the Golden Eagles napping to begin the second half. Johnson called for an onside kick, but Tyler Eddings alertly grabbed the ball and raced down the field. Smith made a touchdown-saving tackle at the 9, but Tunde Onakoya would score on the next play to make it 30-0 on the first play from scrimmage of the second half.
The Pioneers offense would struggle in the second half, as Mullican would go 0-for-8 in the final two quarters. Mullican’s troubles were doubled when he threw an errant pass over the middle Marquis Morton picked off and took 37 yards for a score.
Morton’s score enacted the TSSAA mercy rule, which keeps the clock running in the second half if a team is trailing by 35 points.
The Pioneers offense never crossed midfield in the second half and Marquis Lyons would wrap up the scoring with 5:03 to play with a 42-yard touchdown run.
Mullican finished his first start 2-for-16 for 37 yards and one interception. Lusk led the Pioneers with 69 yards rushing on 19 carries. Lewis, a freshman, had two carries for seven yards in his first varsity action.
Carden had one catch for 34 yards, while junior Mitchell Ashford added a three-yard grab.
Carden and freshman Tristan Reish led the Pioneers with six tackles each. Ethan Turner had five tackles and a sack from his defensive tackle position. Senior Cory Prince returned to bolster the Pioneer defense with four tackles, including two for loss.
Warren County heads to Cumberland County this Friday for both team’s first District 6-AAA game. Kickoff in Crossville is set for 7 p.m.