Bulldogs blast Moore County in soggy Lynchburg
In the long and storied history of the Moore County Raiders, once one of top 1A powers in the entire state, the Cornersville Bulldogs rarely made a blip on the radar of competitive rivalries.
But with third-year head coach Gerard Randolph, a talented group of young assistant coaches, and a deep veteran ball club, the Bulldogs were able to accomplish something Cornersville had not done in anyone's recent memory.
With dominant 42-0 victory over the Raiders on Friday night, the team from southern Marshall County beat Moore County (2-1, 0-1) twice in a row.
After a disappointing loss to 2A Eagleville (#10 AP) last Friday, the Bulldogs (2-1, 1-0) hoped for a strong bounce back performance to open up region play against Moore County and the players did not let their coach down, jumping out to a 14-0 lead just over two minutes into the contest and accumulating a 36-0 edge heading into the halftime break.
"The biggest difference (between the Eagleville game) was our preparation," Randolph explained. "Coming into the week and preparing, we had a really good week of practice. We knew we had an objective and we wanted to start the region 1-0 this week."
Perhaps the biggest move by Randolph's was his decision to move star running back Eli Woodard behind center, which allowed senior running back Kolbe McMahon more touches.
Both moves paid off in spades.
Woodard finished the game with 180 yards rushing on 12 attempts with one offensive touchdown, while also completing 2-of-3 passes at quarterback and leading the defense with 5.5 tackles, one tackle for a loss, and two fumble recovery touchdowns.
"We knew we had to get a playmaker back there to make plays and give us a threat," Randolph said about the switch. "Most defenses were keying in on our backs and we knew if we got Eli back there that (the defense) would have to be honest. He did a great job back there tonight."
McMahon did his part as the feature back by toting the rock nine times for 82 yards which included a highlight reel worthy 48-yard touchdown carry to put the Bulldogs up 30-0 midway through the second quarter, all but sealing the victory for Cornersville.
Cam Whitaker shared snaps at running back with McMahon and turned in another quality performance with two touchdowns and 42 yards on six attempts and coach Randolph found another hidden gem at running back as tight end Peyton Finch finished with three carries for 20 yards and a late touchdown.
Giles County transfer Darien Bush turned in his most productive game of the young season by leading the Bulldogs with 6.5 tackles on defense, while rushing once for 11 yards and picking a 17- yard reception.
Blake Pickett continues to emerge as a big play defensive back by picking off a Moore County pass and chipping in 4.5 tackles and Brock Powers turned in a third consecutive standout effort from the defensive line with five tackles and one tackle for a loss.
The Bulldogs wasted little time making a statement about its ability to bounce back after a tough loss as Woodard scooped up a Raider fumble on the first possession of the contest and raced for 68 yards to the end zone for a 6-0 visitor lead after the missed extra point.
On the next Raider possession, a quick thinking Woodard snatched a second consecutive fumble and easily covered 40 yards for a touchdown.
A two-point conversion pass from Woodard to Whitaker gave the Bulldogs a 14-0 edge just two and a half minutes into the key Region 5/1A contest.
The Raiders continued to struggle on offense and after a three-and-out gave the Bulldogs great field position, Whitaker walked into the end zone untouched from the one-yard line and a 22-0 lead just before the second quarter started.
The second quarter brought more of the same as McMahon broke free on the second play from scrimmage, while making five Raider defenders miss and ultimately breaking free for a 48-yard touchdown dash.
The Bulldogs completed the rout as Whitaker crossed the plane on an 8-yard run and a 36-0 lead just before halftime.
"When we went in at halftime I told them, yes, we are up big, but we've got to keep our composure," Randolph said. "Keep our composure and just do what we've been coached to do."
Fortunately for the Raiders, the Bulldogs offensive outburst during the first half allowed for a continuously running clock in the second half and Moore County took full advantage by embarking on a drive the extended the length of the entire third quarter, but ultimately turned the ball over on downs deep in Cornersville territory.
The Bulldogs made the most of its lone possession in the second half as Woodard completed a long pass to Bush on third down to keep the drive alive and surprised the Raider defense by lining Finch up at running back which resulted in an 8-yard touchdown run by the junior receiver.
The Bulldog defense held tight on the final Raider drive to give Cornersville just its second shutout in 10 years.
The last Bulldog shutout was the regular season ending win over Richland in 2016, but prior to 2016 Cornersville had not earned a goose egg since a 22-0 victory over Perry County in 2007.
The defense held a Raider offense averaging 35 points per-game coming into the contest to just 185 yards on 46 plays.
The lone blemish on the defense was allowing the opposing quarterback to complete 5-of-7 passes.
The Bulldogs expect to see much more passing in a pivotal region showdown Friday night at Cornersville versus Grace Christian-Franklin (1-1).
The Lions, coached by former Tennessee Titans quarterback Rusty Smith, are led by one of the best dual threat quarterbacks in the state in Austin Amor.
Amor finished 2016 with 2,076 yards passing with 21 touchdowns and just seven interceptions while gaining 1,043 yards on the ground and an additional 17 touchdowns as Grace finished just 2-7.
A closer look at the schedule reveals just how close the Lions were to a breakthrough season in 2016.
Grace started the season 0-4, but the four losses included a seven-point loss to Cornersville in Week 2 were by a combined 15 points.
On the season, six of the seven losses were by a combined 31 points with one-point losses to Huntland, McEwen, and Moore County.
The Lions enter Friday night’s game with a season opening loss to undefeated Mount Juliet Christian and a win over Middle Tennessee Christian before having last week's game versus Waverly canceled.
Despite the game coming in Week 4 of the regular season, the outcome could have major playoff implications as both squads are expected to be at or near the top of the Region 5A standings at the end of the season.
"I've got a great staff here and they do a good job," Randolph stated. "If the players do what we ask them to do then we will be ok."
The game starts at 7 p.m. Friday night in Frog Bottom.
Cornersville 22 14 0 6-42
Moore County 0 0 0 0-0
Scoring: Cornersville (1st Q) - Woodard fumble recovery returned 68 yards for TD, Qualls PAT kick no good.
Cornersville (1st Q)- Woodard fumble recovery returned 40 yards for touchdown, Woodard pass to Whitaker 2 pt. conversion good.
Cornersville (1st Q) - Whitaker 1-yard run for touchdown, Woodard run for 2 pt. conversion good.
Cornersville (2nd Q) - McMahon 48-yard run for touchdown, Woodard pass to McMahon 2 pt. conversion good.
Cornersville (2nd Q) - Whitaker 8-yard run for touchdown, Woodard pass incomplete for 2 pt. conversion.
Cornersville (4th Q) - Finch 8-yard run for touchdown, Qualls PAT kick no good.
Eli Woodard 2-3-15 yards-INT
Eli Woodard 12-180-TD
Kolbe McMahon 9-81-TD
Cam Whitaker 6-42-2 TD
Peyton Finch 3-20-TD
Darien Bush 1-1
Darien Bush 1-17-TD
Peyton Finch 1-(-2)
Tackles: Darien Bush (6.5), Eli Woodard (5.5), Brock Powers (5), Blake Pickett (4.5), C.J. Coble (4.5), Cam Whitaker (3), Houston Williams (2.5), Adam Qualls (2), Devin Baus (2), Peyton Finch (2), Michael Bungay (1.5), Brice Dunkleman (1), Ryan Prosser (1), Cameron Estes (1), T.J. Robinson (1), Kolbe McMahon (0.5), Ethan Courtemanche (0.5).
Tackle for loss: Eli Woodard (1), Michael Bungay (1), Brock Powers (1).
Interception: Blake Pickett
Punt returns: Eli Woodard 1-5
Kick returns: Blake Pickett 1-0
Kicking: Adam Qualls 0-2 PAT