The Warren County Pioneers won their first football game of the season Friday night at Cookeville, 21-14. It was the first win for a Pioneer football team in Cookeville since 1987.
Nate Elrod scored all three touchdowns, one of which was a 55-yard return of a fumble. The Pioneers earned their first region win which puts them in good position to make a run at the playoffs.
Turnovers proved to be a factor. Fortunately, Cookeville was the giver and Warren County was the benefactor of the mistakes. The Pioneers were down 7-0 with only 34 seconds left in the first half, and two Cookeville turnovers helped the Pioneers score 13 points and take the lead at halftime.
The first turnover was a mishandled punt return by Cookeville that was recovered by Tavion Miller on the Cavaliers’ 13-yard line. The Pioneers put a quick drive together and Nate Elrod punched the ball in on 1-yard QB sneak in a big pileup at the goal line.
The Pioneers were penalized three times on the ensuing kickoff, giving Cookeville the ball on the 40-yard line.
Tied 7-7, Cookeville threw an incomplete pass, and on the next play, No. 4 Evan Whited cut to the outside for an apparent 15-yard gain.
Pioneers Braylon Grayson and Tavion Miller tackled Whited, forcing a fumble. Safety Nate Elrod picked up the fumble and raced over 50 yards for the second Pioneer TD in the final 33 seconds. The PAT failed and the first half ended with the Pioneers up 13-7.
The two turnovers were a major momentum shift in the closing seconds of the half. What appeared to be a 7-0 halftime deficit for the Pioneers quickly turned into a 13-7 lead.
After homecoming festivities, Cookeville received the opening kickoff and stalled on its possession with a holding penalty setting them back to the 18-yard line. The Cavaliers’ punt only traveled to the 42-yard line, giving the Pioneers excellent field position in Cookeville territory.
The Pioneers put together a 10-play drive that included two fourth-down conversions. Nate Elrod capped the drive with a 6-yard TD run around the left end to put Warren County up 19-7. Elrod threw a 3-yard pass to Jaythan Pleasant just before being hit for the 2-point conversion, giving the Pioneers a comfortable 21-7 lead.
In the fourth quarter, Cookeville scored to close the lead to 21-14 with less than three minutes to go.
After receiving the kickoff, Warren County started a drive on its own 35-yard line, and drove to Cookeville’s 12-yard line with only 1:07 left. Quarterback Nate Elrod took two knees as time expired.
The win did not come without a cost. The Pioneers lost junior lineman Dayton Jernigan to a knee injury in the first half.
In his place, Mark Bouldin was praised by coaches for his performance on the offensive line, and Collin Panter was already rotating in on the defensive line. Eli Cantrell was moved to defensive end, and Drathan Dixon played Cantrell’s inside linebacker position.
Cookeville head coach Jimmy Maynord summed up the game with a focus on his team’s mistakes. Maynord said, “We should have gone in at half 7-0, but we have been doing that all season. I told our team they played hard, but you have to protect the football. You cannot turn the ball over. We let a punt hit us in the legs. We have to eliminate the turnovers if we want to win. Turnovers beat you. Tonight it was obvious. Warren County is big up front. They beat us. We couldn’t stop them when we needed to.”
Pioneer head coach Matt Turner was pleased with the win, but he was not completely happy, Turner said, “Turnovers were the difference. We both made mistakes. I told the guys that I do not believe in luck. If you work hard, you put yourself in there. Dayton is limping, and we have to evaluate him. I challenged them at halftime. It was a little flat before the game, but we played a football game. Tavion Miller stepped up big recovering that fumble. Mark Bouldin stepped up big. He’s really a guard but stepped in for us at tackle. This is game two, and it was a big win for us on this field."
Dayton Jernigan discussed his injury. Jernigan said, “It was a tubby call and I was going back to block a linebacker and my knee got caught. It is collapsing on me when I walk right now. I have to get an MRI to find out what is going on.”
Eli Cantrell said, “I was very ecstatic when I was running with the ball, getting yards and helping my team. I told coach Turner that I wanted to run the ball tonight. I kept moving my feet, trying to get first downs.”
Nate Elrod talked about his TDs. Elrod said, “We marched down the field for the first touchdown, and ran up the middle. Braylon Grayson came up and pushed me in the back, got me in for a touchdown. I scored on the fumble when Braylon hit the runner, and then Tavion Miller came in and hit him. I picked up the fumble and ran it in for a touchdown.”
The Pioneers play this week at Siegel in a non-region game.