Bulldogs aiming for second straight winning season
With several starters returning on both sides of the ball, the Cornersville Bulldogs are hoping to build on a successful 2013 campaign that saw them record the program's first winning record in 19 years and advance to the Class A playoffs.
The Bulldogs opened last season by defeating Huntland 25-20 before getting shutout by Moore County 35-0. Although Cornersville beat Richland 26-14 the next week to improve to 2-1, the Bulldogs appeared to suffer a crushing blow in that contest when starting quarterback Jamie Crowell suffered a season ending elbow injury early in the first half, which forced senior wide receiver Stone Riner to assume the quarterback duties for CHS.
Cornersville then suffered consecutive losses to Forrest (45-7) and Mt. Pleasant (42-6) before bouncing back with a 19-6 victory over Zion Christian Academy to even their record at 3-3.
After falling 55-31 to eventual District 11-A champ Columbia Academy, the Bulldogs caught fire down the stretch and reeled off consecutive victories over McEwen (27-21), East Robertson (30-22), and Perry County (55-19) with the help of some stellar performances by Riner to finish the regular season with a 6-4 mark.
Cornersville, however, saw their season come to an end in the first round of the playoffs when they suffered a 49-14 road loss to Wayne County.
Buoyed by a strong senior class, second-year head coach John Denton believes his team has a chance to make another run at the postseason and possibly capture the program's first ever playoff victory.
"Our goal is to get back to the playoffs and win a playoff game," said Denton. "I would love for this group of seniors to get this school's first playoff win. They've done it the right way and stuck with the program since middle school. We want the playoffs to be the standard for this program not the exception. Our seniors understand that they're setting that standard here. They want to change the culture here and be successful."
Cornersville will continue to run the Spread offense after averaging a respectable 22 points per game last season. Despite losing their top playmaker in Riner, who was named to the Tennessee Sports Writers Association Class A All-State Team, the Bulldogs figure to field another solid offense thanks to the return of eight starters.
Having fully recovered from his elbow injury, Crowell is primed for a strong senior season and is expected to continue Cornersville's recent tradition of strong quarterback play after completing 35-of-62 passes last year for 374 yards and two touchdowns.
Along with being accurate on short and intermediate passes, Crowell throws the deep ball well when given time. He also has good mobility and can make plays with his feet when the pocket breaks down.
"I'm confident that Jamie can do the job," said Denton. "He knows the offense inside and out and knows all of our reads and checks. If we can keep him healthy, he's as good a quarterback as we've had here."
Joining Crowell in the backfield will be senior tailback Chance Dyer. Dyer is a tough, hardnosed player that is adept at picking up yards between the tackles. He provides the Bulldogs with a receiving threat out of the backfield as well and is effective on screens and short swing passes.
"Chance is a quiet kid that leads by example. The other players on the team really look up to him," said Denton. "He's one of the strongest players on the team, but he's trimmed down some and has become quicker. Some of the cuts that he missed last year he's making now."
Although CHS lost last year's leading receiver Tyler Lowery to graduation, Crowell still has a solid pass catching trio that he can depend on in seniors Justin Black, Devante Spencer, and Zach Welch.
Black doesn't have blazing speed, but runs great routes and has good hands. He is also not afraid of going over the middle and is an excellent down field blocker.
Spencer is perhaps the fastest player on the team and is the Bulldogs' main vertical threat in the passing game. He has improved his route running as well and is elusive when he gets the ball in the open field.
Similar to Black, Welch is a good route runner that can find holes in the defensive coverage. He is also a sure handed receiver and a reliable downfield blocker.
Junior William Liles and freshman Kolbe McMahon are vying for playing time at the final receiver spot. Liles has a good grasp of the offense, while McMahon is one of the better athletes on the team but needs to gain some experience.
In the trenches, the Bulldogs return a veteran offensive line that features four seniors and a junior. Seniors Blake Tomlin (LT) and Lane Hagood (RT) will man the two tackles spots and are both smart players and good technicians.
Seniors guards Bobby Wayne Lee and Curt Taylor are both solid run blockers, while junior center Dillard Hatchett is a fundamentally sound player that is responsible for all of the offensive line's protection calls.
"We don't have one guy on the offensive line that just jumps off the page, but they work well as a unit," said Denton. "We've run the ball better in our scrimmages than we did last year so we're probably going to emphasize the running game more this season."
Cornersville will once again run a flexible 4-3 defensive scheme that can have multiple looks depending on what kind of offense they are facing. After allowing 38.7 points per game during the 2012 campaign, the Bulldogs made noticeable improvements on the defensive side of the ball last year and shaved almost nine points off their points per game average. Denton hopes his defense continues to improve this year with the return of seven starters and several key reserves.
"Our run fits have been better this year and the kids have a better grasp of the scheme," said Denton. "We don't want to give up the big play and force teams to drive the length of the field. We've gotten a little more aggressive and been more physical at times in our scrimmages."
Upfront, the Bulldogs rely on their defensive lineman to maintain their gap integrity and occupy blockers so their linebackers can flow to the ball. Curt Taylor and younger brother Ben Taylor (Soph.) will line up at defensive end and are both good at setting the edge of the defense, while Hatchett, Hagood, and Lee form a solid three-man defensive tackle rotation.
Cornersville has a trio of capable linebackers in Tomlin, Dyer, and Black. After lining up at outside linebacker last season, Tomlin moves to the middle linebacker spot this season. Tomlin sees plays develop well and is good at playing downhill against the run.
Despite leading CHS in tackles last season as a middle linebacker, Dyer moves to outside linebacker since many of the teams on the Bulldogs' schedule excelled at the perimeter running game a year ago. Dyer is the hardest hitter on the team and has a knack for getting to the quarterback on blitzes, but is also solid in pass coverage.
Black is the fastest of the linebacker group and excels in pass coverage. He has good instincts as well and is a sure tackler.
In the defensive backfield, Crowell and Spencer give the Bulldogs a dependable duo at safety while senior Trevor Greene also has a chance to see playing time there. Crowell is the leader of the secondary and is good at coming up in run support, but is solid in pass coverage as well.
Spencer, meanwhile, improved greatly at playing the ball in the air and led Cornersville in interceptions last year.
"Devante has a knack for being in the right spot. He made a big jump from his sophomore to his junior year. If makes another big jump this season, he should have a great year," said Denton.
Welch is the Bulldogs top cover corner and provides CHS with a smart, fundamentally sound player at the position. Liles and McMahon are competing for playing time at the other cornerback spot.
Crowell will take over as punter this year and has an above average leg. Curt Taylor is currently competing with Crowell for place kicking and kickoff duties. Spencer will be the Bulldogs' primary returner on kickoffs and punts along with McMahon.
Since they have to navigate a similar schedule as last year, the Bulldogs have a chance to match or exceed last year's win total and make a return trip to the playoffs. With only 30 players on their roster this year, the Bulldogs are thin at some spots in the lineup and must avoid being bitten by the injury bug if they are going to have a successful season.
After opening the season with two straight home games against Huntland and Moore County, Cornersville goes on the road the next two weeks to face Richland and Forrest. The Bulldogs then host Mt. Pleasant, Zion Christian Academy, and Columbia Academy before ending the regular season with three straight road games against McEwen, East Robertson, and Perry County.
2014 Cornersville Bulldogs Schedule
Date Opponent Location Time
Aug. 22 Huntland Home 7:00
Aug. 29 Moore County Home 7:00
Sept. 5 Richland Away 7:00
Sept. 12 Forrest Away 7:00
Sept. 19 Mt. Pleasant Home 7:00
Sept. 26 Zion Christian Home 7:00
Oct. 3 Columbia Academy Home 7:00
Oct. 10 McEwen Away 7:00
Oct. 24 East Robertson Away 7:00
Oct. 31 Perry County Away 7:00
2014 Cornersville Bulldogs Roster
Number Name Position Grade
3 Will Vanhooser WR/DB Fr.
5 Zack Welch WR/DB Sr.
7 Zach Blackwell WR/DB Fr.
8 Trevor Greene WR/DB Sr.
9 Williams Liles WR/DB Jr.
10 Jamie Crowell QB/DB Sr.
11 Taylor Page WR/DB Soph.
12 Kolbe McMahon QB/DB Fr.
15 Chance Dyer RB/LB Sr.
24 Devante Spencer WR/DB Sr.
25 Justin Black WR/LB Sr.
27 Austin Jones RB/LB Soph.
32 Andrew Brady RB/LB Soph.
35 Justin Victory RB/LB Soph.
53 Brock Powers OL/DL Fr.
54 Cayde Fitzgerald OL/DL Fr.
55 Adam Qualls OL/DL Fr.
58 Blake Tomlin OL/LB Sr.
60 Dillard Hatchett OL/DL Jr.
62 Jacob Mitchell OL/DL Jr.
63 Greg Burton OL/DL Fr.
64 Grant Cook OL/DL Jr.
65 Bobby Wayne Lee OL/DL Sr.
72 Ben Taylor OL/DL Soph.
73 Curt Taylor OL/DL Sr.
74 Tate Crane OL/DL Soph.
75 Brice Dunkleman OL/DL Fr.
77 Lane Hagood OL/DL Sr.
80 Seth Victory WR/DB Fr.
81 Aspen Chapman WR/DB Fr.