Region 6-A leader Wayne County lived up to their hype, as the undefeated Wildcats thumped the Cornersville Bulldogs 39-6 at CHS on a cold and damp Friday night.
Having outscored their previous seven opponents by a count of 263-72, Wayne County (8-0, 5-0 Region) put the game out of reach early and built a 33-0 lead in the first half prior to opening up a 39-0 advantage late in the third quarter en route to the 33-point victory.
With Cornersville starting quarterback Josh Pope already sidelined because of an injury, the shorthanded Bulldogs suffered another critical loss early in the second quarter when sophomore safety Joe Stocstill left the contest with an apparent concussion and had to be taken to the hospital at halftime by CHS coach Ray Stocstill.
Although Cornersville fell to 3-2 in Region play with their setback to the Wildcats, the Bulldogs (4-4) can still grab an automatic bid to the playoffs if they can defeat Collinwood and Perry County in their final two games.
Afterwards, Cornersville assistant coach Joe Moos was proud that the Bulldogs continued to battle despite falling into a big hole in the first half, but was also concerned about Joe Stocstill's welfare.
"Wayne County's mystique got them early, but I liked the way we fought in the second half. It showed some character because everything that could go wrong did go wrong tonight. We're trying to teach them that hard work and dedication will lead to better things," said Moos. "Right now though we're all concerned about Joe's health and our thoughts and prayers go out to him."
The Bulldogs' Spread attack ran into a brick wall in the form of the Wildcat defense, as CHS finished with a season low 118 yards of total offense and committed three turnovers.
"Whenever you lose a player like Josh, it's going to hurt you," said Moos. "He's a special player, but we told the guys to push forward without him tonight and not make excuses."
Except for a handful of long runs by tailback Taylor Rogers, Cornersville had little success on the ground against Wayne County's stout defensive front and mustered just 85 yards rushing on 21 carries. Rogers led CHS with 78 yards rushing and a touchdown on 12 carries, while quarterback Josh Polly tallied 19 yards on three carries.
Polly, meanwhile, was under pressure much of the evening when he dropped back to pass and completed only 5-of-13 throws for 33 yards to go along with two second half interceptions.
Brent Pope hauled in two passes for 13 yards to pace the Bulldog receiving corps, while John Brewer had one reception for 19 yards.
The Wildcats came into the game averaging nearly 38 points per game and gashed Cornersville's usually stingy defense for 366 yards of total offense, which included 278 yards rushing on 43 carries.
"I think they're the best team we've faced this year in terms of execution. Forrest and Mt. Pleasant were very talented too, but Wayne County was fundamentally sound in everything they did," said Moos.
Tailback Chase Graham led Wayne County's punishing ground game with 81 yards and a touchdown on eight carries, while Dillon Warren and Clint Butler added 66 and 61 yards rushing respectively with Butler scoring a touchdown. Lance Crews tallied 31 yards rushing and a touchdown on six carries for the Wildcats as well.
Wayne County quarterback Tyler Rice handled the sloppy conditions remarkably well and completed 6-of-11 passes for 88 yards and a two scores to go along with a one-yard touchdown run.
Younger brother Austin Rice led all Wildcat receivers with three catches for 52 yards and two touchdowns, while Drew Bevis had two receptions for 21 yards.
Safety Dylan Jones and nose guard Noah Rubbo each recorded 10 tackles to pace the Bulldogs defensively with Jones notching an interception. Matt Osteen also registered nine tackles and recovered a fumble, while Tyler Henry and Jon Douglas had four and three tackles respectively. Zach Ownby recovered a fumble for Cornersville as well.
Things went awry for CHS right from the start, as the Bulldogs failed to pick up a first down on their opening possession before Henry was tackled for a 16-yard loss on the punt attempt at the Cornersville 17 after bobbling the snap from center.
Wayne County then cashed in on the next play when Tyler Rice hit Austin Rice for a 17-yard touchdown strike to give the Wildcats a 6-0 lead.
After Rubbo and Guzman tackled Austin Rice in the backfield on the two-point conversion attempt, the Bulldogs quickly moved to the Wildcat 47 thanks to a 24-yard run by Rogers, but failed to gain another yard on their next three plays and were forced to punt.
Wayne County then methodically marched 80 yards to the end zone in 10 plays, punctuated by a Graham five-yard touchdown run, before Austin Rice snared a pass from Tyler Rice on the two-point conversion attempt to stretch the Wildcats' lead to 14-0 with 3:21 left in the first quarter.
Following another CHS punt, Cornersville finally caught a break when Jones picked off an Austin Rice pass on a Wayne County trick play and returned the interception 23 yards to the Wildcat 48.
Unfortunately, the Bulldogs couldn't capitalize on the opportunity and lost the ball on downs before Wayne County engineered a nine-play 49-yard touchdown drive, capped by a Tyler Rice one-yard plunge, while Lucas Pippenger tacked on the extra point to make it 21-0 with 7:29 remaining in the second quarter.
Aided by a Cornersville personal foul, the Wildcats went in for the kill and attempted an onside kick, which they recovered at the CHS 24. Wayne County then reached pay dirt four plays later when Crews scored on a one-yard touchdown run to stretch the Wildcats lead to 27-0 with 5:16 left in the first half, although Pippenger missed the extra point.
The Bulldogs' situation went from bad to worse a few moments later, as Wayne County linebacker Hayden Kelly recovered a Rogers fumble at the Cornersville 31 before Tyler Rice hooked up with Austin Rice for a 21-yard touchdown pass two snaps later to stake the Wildcats to a 33-0 advantage at the break.
CHS held Wayne County scoreless on their first two offensive series of the second half, but the Wildcats reached the end zone again on their third possession of the stanza when Butler capped a 6-play, 52-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown dive to make it 39-0.
The two teams then exchanged turnovers, before Rogers spoiled Wayne County's shutout bid by racing for a 26-yard touchdown jaunt with 2:44 left in the contest to trim the deficit to 39-6 after Polly scrambled for 19 yards on the previous play.