The Cornersville Bulldogs push to make the 2009 playoffs hit a bump in the road Friday night, as CHS suffered their first loss of the season in Region play when they dropped a 26-19 decision to the Mt. Pleasant Tigers at home.
Although Mt. Pleasant came into Friday's contest mired in a five-game losing streak, the Tigers still boast one of the more athletic lineups in Region 6-A and held a 12-0 lead at intermission with the help of four Cornersville turnovers. The Bulldogs (4-3, 3-1 Region) scored on their first two possessions of the second half to slice the deficit to 19-13 late in the third quarter. Mt. Pleasant (2-5, 1-3 Region), however, answered with a touchdown on their ensuing drive to open up a 26-13 advantage with 9:53 left in the fourth period before holding on for the seven-point win.
With the loss, Cornersville falls into fourth in the Region standings, while the Tigers picked up their first win of the year in conference play.
Following the game, CHS coach Ray Stocstill was frustrated that his team fell back into their old pattern of getting off to slow starts after turning in a stellar first half performance a week ago against Richland.
"We talked about trying to avoid getting off to slow starts," said Stocstill. "You can do that every once in a while, but you can't keep trying to make comebacks in the 3rd and 4th quarters and expect to win every time. We need to get off to fast starts like we did against Richland."
Playing on a rain soaked field, the Bulldogs' offensive attack appeared to be water logged for much of the evening. Cornersville committed five turnovers overall and finished with a season low 208 yards of total offense, including a paltry 47 yards in the first half.
CHS quarterback Josh Pope was bothered by Mt. Pleasant's persistent pass rush and struggled throwing the ball in the sloppy conditions. Pope completed just 6-of-18 passes for 61 yards and a touchdown, while tossing five interceptions and being sacked twice.
"Josh was running for his life and didn't have a lot of time to throw," said Stocstill. "But you have to give Mt. Pleasant credit, they have a lot of athletes and made some plays."
John Brewer hauled in two passes for 25 yards to pace the Bulldog receiving corps and Brandon Lowe had one catch for 24 yards. Dylan Jones also added a six-yard touchdown catch, while Josh Polly tallied one reception for seven yards.
With their passing game unable to get on track, Cornersville made a greater commitment to the run and rushed for 147 yards, but averaged only 3.7 yards per carry.
Pope led the Bulldogs' ground game with 76 yards on 16 carries, while tailback Taylor Rogers toted the ball 21 times for 71 yards and two touchdowns. Dylan Jones also had six yards on two carries.
CHS' defense turned in a valiant performance in defeat, as they held the Tigers to just 190 yards of total offense and forced three Mt. Pleasant turnovers. The Tigers tried to play smash mouth football against the Bulldogs' smaller defensive front and rushed for 156 yards, but averaged only 3.8 yards per carry. Mt Pleasant quarterback Princeton Harlan, meanwhile, completed just 2-of-7 passes for 34 yards.
The Tiger offense, though, had short fields to work with the entire night thanks to Cornersville's turnover problems and a couple of unplanned onside kicks by CHS.
"That was not supposed to happen on those two kickoffs. We were trying to squib kick the ball to a certain player downfield, but we just didn't execute the play properly," said Stocstill.
As a result, all three of Mt. Pleasant's touchdown drives started either near midfield or in CHS territory, while the Tigers' first score of the game came on an interception return.
Fullback Jerrell Houston paced the Tiger ground attack with 58 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries, while Harlan tallied 49 yards on seven carries. T.J. Smith and Tristen Tisby each rushed for one touchdown and 29 and 22 yards respectively for Mt. Pleasant as well.
Brewer turned in an inspired effort for the Bulldogs from his defensive end position and recorded a season high 13 tackles to go along with a fumble recovery, while Jones notched eight tackles. Noah Rubbo and Joe Stocstill also registered six tackles apiece and Patrick Lyle had five tackles. Polly and Tyler Henry each tallied four tackles as well with Henry recovering a fumble, while Jon Douglas had three tackles and a fumble recovery.
Both teams came up empty on their opening possession of the game, before the Tigers took a 6-0 lead at the 7:50 mark of the first quarter when Tisby intercepted a Pope pass and returned it 11 yards for a touchdown after Devan Nance deflected the ball at the line of scrimmage.
After Rubbo and Lyle stuffed Mt. Pleasant tailback Luke Williams on the two-point conversion attempt, Pope was picked off again on Cornersville's ensuing offensive series, but the Bulldog defense forced a three and out by the Tigers to keep the deficit at six.
Unfortunately, CHS continued to sputter offensively and failed to pick up a first down on their fourth possession before Mt. Pleasant started their next drive at the Bulldog 45 thanks to a short Cornersville punt. The Tigers then stretched their lead to 12-0 six plays later when Smith bulled his way into the end zone from six yards out on 4th and 3, while Tisby was tackled in the backfield on the two-point conversion attempt by Chase Bassham and Polly.
Following two more interceptions, Mt. Pleasant had a chance to pad their lead late in the second quarter after marching from their own 39 to the CHS 23 with the help of runs of 12 and 15 yards by Harlan and a 15-yard facemask penalty on the Bulldogs. Cornersville's defense, though, rose up and halted the Tiger advance, as Smith had the ball jarred loose on a 4th and inches run and Henry recovered the fumble at the 16-yard line.
"I thought our defense played tremendous in the first half," said Ray Stocstill. "They only gave up one touchdown despite all of the turnovers and helped keep us in the game."
The Bulldogs caught a break at the start of the second half when Tisby fumbled on Mt. Pleasant's first offensive snap of the third quarter and Douglas pounced on the ball at the Tiger 36.
Cornersville quickly moved down to the 16 with the aid of a personal foul penalty on Mt. Pleasant, prior to Pope scampering for seven yards on the next play. Rogers then scored on a six-yard touchdown run two snaps later before Brewer tacked on the extra point to slice the deficit to 12-7.
After recovering an onside kick attempt by CHS, the Tigers mounted an immediate response and engineered a six-play, 54-yard drive, capped by a Houston eight-yard touchdown run. Aaron Chapman then converted the PAT to give Mt. Pleasant a 19-7 lead with 7:13 left in the third quarter.
The Bulldogs put together their best drive of the game on their ensuing possession and marched 74 yards in 11 plays to narrow the gap to 19-13. Rogers gained five yards on a 3rd and 2 run to pick up the initial first down of the drive before Pope broke loose for a 22-yard scramble to move the ball to the Tiger 39. Following a Mt. Pleasant pass interference penalty, Cornersville picked up 13 yards on three straight runs to advance to the 17. CHS then gained just five yards on their next three plays and faced a 4th and 5 situation, but Pope hit Jones for a six-yard touchdown pass in the right corner of the end zone to cut the deficit to six while Mt. Pleasant blocked Brewer's extra point attempt.
Mt. Pleasant recovered another Bulldog onside kick at the Cornersville 44 and cashed in on the good field position seven plays later when Tisby scored on a 4-yard touchdown run and Chapman tacked on the extra point to make it 26-13.
The Tigers registered their fifth interception of the game on the Bulldogs next offensive series, but were unable to notch a first down in three plays before Rubbo and Justin Deason tackled punter Dylan McNeese at the Mt. Pleasant 29 after McNeese bobbled the snap from center.
Pope then hit Brewer for a 14-yard gain on 4th and 8 pass to move the Bulldogs down to the 13, but Cornersville's drive stalled when the Tigers sacked Pope on consecutive plays and CHS lost the ball on downs.
The Bulldogs forced Mt. Pleasant to punt and put together a desperation touchdown drive that covered 66 yards to close the gap to 26-19. After hitting Brewer and Lowe for consecutive gains of 11 and 24 yards, Pope scrambled for 21 yards two plays later. Rogers then scored on a one-yard touchdown plunge with one second remaining, but Brewer missed the extra point and the Tigers recovered the onside kick attempt to clinch their first Region victory.