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Warren County still in playoff hunt
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Undefeated at home flew out the window last week after the Warren County High School football lost to Moore County. A crushing loss at Cookeville two weeks ago ended any chance the Pioneers would sweep through District 6-AAA.
Moving all games to Thursday night was out of the question as well, so coach Tommy Johnson was out of scenarios to ensure his team still had hope for this season.
Apparently all the Pioneers needed for inspiration was a visit from the Coffee County Red Raiders.
The Pioneers got two touchdowns from Cameron Lusk and return touchdowns from Lee Carden and Maurkel Breedlove to beat Coffee County 43-32 Friday night at Nunley Stadium and keep a playoff berth alive.
Warren County (2-5) knew the matchup with the winless Red Raiders was a must-win game if the Pioneers wanted to make the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Strangely enough, 2008 was the last time the Pioneers beat Coffee County as the Red Raiders had won 11 of the last 12 games in the Highway 55 rivalry.
The fact wasn’t lost on coach Johnson, who rallied his team this week despite several wondering if Warren County had thrown in the towel after a demoralizing home loss a week before to Moore County.
Coach Johnson didn’t think his team played perfect against Coffee County, but the Pioneers did enough to win.
“I’ve been saying all year we have a good football team when we do things the right way,” said Johnson. “When we did things right against Coffee County, we were very efficient. We have to be more consistent though.”
Doing things the right way on offense mostly involved getting the ball to Lusk and getting out of the way.
Lusk ran 22 times for 147 yards, including scoring the team’s first and last touchdowns.
Warren County found itself down early as Coffee County found paydirt when Peyton Meeker connected with Kyle Douglas for a 74-yard scoring strike on the first play of the second quarter. The PAT was blocked, leaving the score 6-0 in favor of the visitors 12 seconds into the second quarter.
Lusk made sure the lead didn’t last long. The junior tailback was the workhorse on a six-play, 60-yard scoring drive as the Pioneers answered the score by the Red Raiders.
Lusk carried the ball the last three plays, including scoring on a 10-yard run to tie the game. Lusk added the 2-point conversion on a trick play as Warren County took an 8-6 lead with 9:39 left in the first half.
The Pioneer offense didn’t have to wait long to get back on the field. On the ensuing kickoff, Coffee County returner Jeffrey Simmons was stripped by Aaron McKinley and Blake Dugan dove on the loose ball for the Pioneers.
Taking over at the Coffee County 29, Warren County suffered a setback when Lee Carden was called for intentional grounding at midfield to set up a 2nd-and-31 situation.
Carden made up for the penalty by connecting with Jeremiah Lance down the sideline for 32 yards on the next play. With a new set of downs, Carden moved the ball down the field and capped the drive on a two-yard scoring sneak to make it 14-6. Johnny Smith added his first of five PATs following Carden’s touchdown run.
Coffee County tried to mount a big drive to try to knot the score, but errant snaps derailed the Red Raiders. After moving the ball to the Warren County 35, Meeker had to throw two passes away after snaps went over his head.
Facing a 4th-and-6 at the Pioneer 35, another snap sailed over Meeker’s head and before the Red Raider QB could get rid of the ball, Drew Davidson brought down Meeker for a 22-yard loss. It was the first of two sacks for Davidson as the junior linebacker broke up two passes, recovered a fumble and finished with 14 tackles.
Given good field position, coach Johnson turned the offense over to Hunter Mullican and the move produced points.
Mullican led his first scoring drive of the season as he capped an eight-play drive with a one-yard plunge with 2:11 left before the half. Smith followed with a made kick as Warren County went into the locker room leading 22-6.
Warren County didn’t need its offense to take the field to add to its lead in the third quarter.
Carden made the biggest defensive play of the season when he stopped the opening drive by Coffee County. Carden intercepted Meeker and raced 54 yards for a touchdown midway through the third quarter to make it 29-6.
The Red Raiders answered with back-to-back touchdowns by Deangelo Rozier, but Breedlove put the game away with an electrifying kick return.
Coffee County kicked deep after Rozier’s second touchdown made it 29-18 and Breedlove scooped the ball off the ground at his own 19.
Breedlove busted through the first line, then weaved through the Red Raider defense before outrunning three defenders to the endzone for the first kick return touchdown for the Pioneers under coach Johnson.
A 13-play, 55-yard scoring drive by the Pioneers, which took over six minutes, put the finishing touches on the second win for Warren County this season.
Lusk ran six times during the drive, including the last eight yards to put Warren County ahead 43-18.
Coffee County added two late scores as Meeker tossed to Jesse Brown for a 46-yard touchdown and Hunter Smithson returned a blocked punt 20 yards for a touchdown with two seconds to go, but the late scores didn’t dampen the celebration for the Pioneers.
Coach Johnson and his team will get a week of rest before preparing for White County Oct. 12, a game which will decide which team goes to the playoffs.
The plan for the Pioneers this week will be getting players healed before the pivotal game with the Warriors.
“We really can’t take days off, but we’ll be smart with the guys who need some rest to get healed,” said Johnson. “We’re going to get in the weight room and study film in hopes of getting more consistent.”
The game against White County will be in Sparta and is the last road game for the Pioneers this season.