It's hard to beat a good team two weeks in a row. The Cornersville Bulldogs season came to an end Friday night, as CHS suffered a 41-28 loss on the road to the Perry County Vikings in the first round of the Class A playoffs.
Cornersville (5-6) defeated Perry County 21-20 at home a week earlier to qualify for the playoffs, but the Vikings had everything go their way early on in their postseason rematch and forged a 27-0 lead late in the second quarter prior to taking a 27-7 advantage into the break.
After Perry County (7-4) stretched their lead to 34-7 with 7:35 left in the third quarter, the Bulldogs made a frantic comeback attempt and cut the deficit to 13 points twice, before the Vikings forced a CHS turnover late in the game to finally seal their seventh victory of the season.
Although Cornersville coach Ray Stocstill was disappointed with how the season ended, he believes that the 2009 campaign could help lead to bigger and better things for the program after the Bulldogs earned their first playoff berth in 15 years.
"We just waited too long to start playing tonight, but I'm proud of the season that we had. These players have built a foundation for the future. We're light years ahead of where we were a few seasons ago," said Stocstill. "There's a lot of excitement in the community for our program this year. Hopefully we can get some more kids out and continue to improve. We're losing some good players, but we also have some good ones coming back."
Cornersville's defense was able to contain Perry County's high octane Spread offense in their previous encounter, but CHS simply yielded too many big plays Friday night and allowed the Vikings to convert several long 3rd and 4th down situations. As a result, Perry County racked up 471 yards of total offense , which included 280 yards rushing on 45 carries, while scoring on six of their first eight possessions.
Quarterback Jacob Tucker once again did much of the damage for the Vikings. Tucker repeatedly burned the Bulldogs on designed quarterback sweeps and scramble attempts, and rushed for 220 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries, while also completing 11-of-18 passes for 191 yards and a pair of scores.
Dray Mercer was Tucker's main target and hauled in seven passes for 124 yards and a touchdown to go along with 49 yards rushing and a score on 13 carries. Blake Kimble also had two receptions for 53 yards and a touchdown.
Junior linebacker Matt Osteen led Cornersville's defense with a season high 13 tackles, while Noah Rubbo, Joe Stocstill, and Tyler Henry each notched eight tackles with Rubbo also recording a sack and Stocstill recovering a fumble. Seniors Dylan Jones and John Brewer registered seven and five tackles respectively as well, and Patrick Lyle recorded three tackles and a sack.
Despite getting off to a slow start offensively, the Bulldogs finished with a respectable 275 total yards from scrimmage.
"I think we got shell shocked in the first half when they jumped out to a two touchdown lead. We talked about that at halftime and we got our confidence back after we got a couple of scores," said Ray Stocstill.
After gashing Perry County for 250 yards on the ground eight days earlier, CHS was unable to utilize their power running game after falling behind early and managed just 88 yards rushing on 26 carries.
Quarterback Josh Pope paced the Bulldog ground game with 46 yards rushing on 13 carries, while Jones tallied 27 yards and a touchdown on 10 attempts. Taylor Rogers also added 15 yards rushing on three carries.
Pope was able to keep Cornersville in the game with his right arm and completed 17-of-28 passes for 187 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception. Joe Stocstill, meanwhile, threw an incompletion on his lone pass attempt.
Josh Polly snared four passes for 39 yards to pace CHS' receiving corps, while Brent Pope, Rogers, and Brewer each had three catches for 57, 35, and 19 yards to go along with one touchdown apiece. Brandon Lowe also had two receptions for 35 yards.
The Bulldogs appeared they might force a three and out by the Vikings on the opening drive of the game, but Perry County ran a fake punt and Tucker sprinted for a 38 -yard gain down the left sideline to move the ball to the CHS 21. Following another 4th down conversion by Perry County, Tucker scored on a two-yard touchdown run on 4th and goal before Kanin McKnight tacked on the extra point to stake the Vikings to a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
"I think the turning point of the game was when they faked that punt on their first series and picked up that first down. That gave them momentum and they continued to make plays the rest of the half," said Ray Stocstill.
Cornersville tried to mount a response on their ensuing possession and drove from their own 36 to the Perry County 14 in eight plays with the help of a runs of 10 and 14 yards by Josh Pope and a couple of defensive encroachment penalties on the Vikings.
Perry County's defense, though, bowed it's neck and held the Bulldogs to eight yards on their next three snaps before Stocstill's pass into the end zone on 4th and 2 fell incomplete.
The Vikings then moved the length of the field in just five plays and stretched their lead to 14-0 early in the second quarter when Tucker scampered for a 33-yard touchdown run on 3rd and 12 while McKnight added the extra point.
Cornersville failed to pick up a first down on their second offensive series, before Tucker gave Perry County a 21-0 lead with 4:05 left in the second period by hitting Kimble for a 22-yard touchdown strike to cap a 12-play, 77-yard scoring drive after scrambling for 30 yards to convert a 3rd and 30 situation five snaps earlier.
Things then quickly went from bad to worse on CHS' third possession, as Josh Pope had the ball jarred loose on the first play of the series and Viking defensive lineman Channing Johnson pounced on the fumble at the Bulldog 43.
It took Perry County just two plays to cash in on the Cornersville miscue, as Tucker found Mercer for a 40-yard touchdown pass to make it 27-0 with 2:46 left in the half while McKnight missed the PAT.
The Bulldogs finally began to right the ship on their final offensive series of the half and engineered a seven-play, 58-yard touchdown drive to cut the deficit to 27-7 at the break. After Josh Pope found Brewer for an eight-yard gain to convert a 3rd and seven situation, CHS picked up another first down on a couple of runs before Brent Pope hauled in a 40-yard touchdown catch two plays later while Brewer tacked on the extra point.
Cornersville received the second half kickoff, but were forced to punt after three plays. The Vikings then pushed the deficit back to 27 points a few minutes later, as they put together an eight-play, 76-yard scoring march, capped by a Derek Watkins three-yard touchdown run, to stretch their lead to 34-7.
With the game on the verge of becoming a rout, the Bulldogs tried to claw their way back into the contest and started their next drive at the Perry County 44 thanks to a short kickoff and a Viking personal foul. CHS narrowed the gap to 34-14 three plays later when Josh Pope hooked up with Rogers for a 33-yard touchdown pass before Brewer made the extra point.
The Cornersville defense came up with a much needed stop on the Vikings ensuing possession, as Watkins mishandled an option pitch from Tucker and Stocstill recovered the ball at the Bulldog 45. CHS then marched the remaining 55 yards to pay dirt in 10 plays to slice the deficit to 34-21 with nine seconds left in the third quarter.
Following a 29-yard reception by Polly on the second snap of the drive, Brent Pope hauled in a 10-yard catch before Josh Pope ran for 4 yards to convert a 4th and 3 situation six plays later. Brewer then made a 4-yard touchdown catch on the next snap prior to tacking on the extra point.
Perry County extended their lead to 41-21 on their next offensive series when Mercer scored on a 4-yard touchdown run with 7:49 left in the fourth quarter to cap an 11-play, 79-yard scoring drive, which was highlighted by a 26-yard scamper by Tucker on 3rd and 24 and a couple of 15-yard penalties on the Bulldogs.
Cornersville continued to fight back and closed the gap to 41-28 on a 3-yard touchdown run by Jones after Lowe made a 26-yard catch two plays earlier, before the Bulldogs stopped the Vikings on downs to get the ball back with 1:55 left.
The Vikings, however, finally dashed CHS' comeback hopes when Watkins intercepted a Josh Pope pass with 40 seconds remaining and Perry County ran out the clock.