Bulldogs one win from region title
Any lingering questions as to whether the Cornersville Bulldogs were true contenders and a legitimate threat to make a run at the 1A title were answered emphatically Friday during a primetime showdown against seventh-ranked Fayetteville (5-2, 3-2).
The Tigers, in just its fourth year competing in varsity football, had compiled a 14-2 region record the past two years and have made at least the second round of the TSSAA playoffs in three of its four years of existence with a quarterfinal appearance in its first year.
But under the bright Friday night lights in Fayetteville, with the Channel 4 news helicopter and longtime Nashville sports personality Rudy Kalis in attendance, the Bulldogs seized the moment and raced back from a 17-14 halftime deficit to claim a 36-24 victory.
"Our game plan was to come in here and play Cornersville football," Bulldog coach Gerard Randolph stated. "We wanted to line up and play physical with them and I think we did for the most part.”
“They started adjusting after the half, but we still made the plays we needed to make to come out with the win."
The win puts the Bulldogs in control of its own destiny for it’s first-ever region title with conference matches against Richland and Huntland all that remain between Cornersville and an undefeated region record.
The Raiders and Hornets have combined for just one region win between the squads and just three wins overall out of 13 games.
"We've got to keep our composure and know our plan," Randolph said. "The plan is to go through our region undefeated and start the playoffs with a home football game. We have to prepare every day and put in the work and keep executing on Friday nights."
The lone blemish on the 2017 record is a 31-6 loss to seventh-ranked Eagleville (6-1) in a game the Bulldogs came out flat and never got its high octane rushing offense going.
Since the loss, the Bulldogs have been on a tear, winning its four games prior to the Fayetteville contest in blowout fashion, averaging 42 points per contest and holding its opponents to a meager nine points a game.
Friday night’s matchup against the Tigers was much more of a challenge as Fayetteville came into the game averaging 32 points over the past three contests.
But the Tigers were dealt a blow as standout running back Brandon Moore, a two-star running back with offers from Navy and UT-San Antonio, who had rushed for over 1,000 yards in just five games with wins against the likes of 4A Nolensville and 2A Forrest, was suspended for the contest along with two other Fayetteville players.
The suspensions did little to distract the Tigers early as Fayetteville needed just over two minutes to put the first points of the game on the board with a fourth down touchdown strike from Lex Marsh to Zorian Pullen.
The Bulldogs wasted little time in implementing its smash mouth run attack against the Tigers as quarterback Eli Woodard started the drive with a 15-yard scamper and ended the drive with a five-yard walk-in touchdown to tie the game at seven after an Adam Qualls extra point.
The Tigers hit the Bulldogs through the air once again with just over six minutes left in the half as Marsh hit a streaking Will VanHooser for a 29-yard score to push the lead back to seven.
Just as fast as the Tigers gained the advantage, the Bulldogs evened the score back up as senior workhorse Kolbe McMahon broke loose for a 27-yard score to knot the game at 14-14 after wide receiver Peyton Finch made an acrobatic 42-yard grab to put Cornersville deep into Tiger territory.
"I was looking at my corner and he was scrambling so I cut across the middle," Finch recalled. "Eli made a great throw, but the ball hit off my hand. I never thought that I would catch that ball but it came down right in my hands and I just kept running in stride."
The game looked to go into the half all tied up, but the Tiger air attack beat the Bulldog secondary once more and Marsh landed a deep post across the middle to set up a 37-yard field goal by Weston Moon to give Fayetteville the unlikely edge heading into the break.
"During halftime we were trying to fix the secondary and defense," Finch said. "We were beating them physically on defense, but we were allowing too many big plays in the secondary."
A rejuvenated Bulldog took the field after halftime and within minutes it was clear that Cornersville was not falling by the wayside as it had so many times in the past.
Cheered on by a massive, standing room only visiting side crowd, the Bulldogs took just over two minutes off the clock before Cam Whitaker bulldozed into the end zone from six yards out to reclaim the Cornersville lead for good.
The defense took its key from the ramped up offense and after forcing the Tigers into a punting situation after just three plays, Brock Powers broke through the Fayetteville line to block the punt and set the offense up for McMahon's second score of the night from 31 yards out for a 29-17 lead.
The Tigers made the game interesting for a brief moment when a scrambling Marsh hit Moon from an 11-yard strike on fourth-and-11 to close the Fayetteville gap to 29-24.
The win seemed in further jeopardy when a Cornersville punt attempt on fourth- and-twenty deep inside its own territory was fumbled after a bad snap, setting the Tigers up just 25 yards away from an unlikely comeback win to spoil the Bulldogs season goals.
But on a night when the senior could do no wrong on the field, McMahon picked off a Marsh pass in the end zone with 2:13 remaining.
The Bulldogs faithful finally breathed a collective sigh of relief when Darien Bush turned a tiny seam up the middle into a 35-yard touchdown run to put the game out of reach for the 36-24 final.
"This win means a lot, especially since it's my senior year," Brock Powers, who finished the game with a team-high six tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 1.5 tackles for a loss, said. "Last year we came close to the win (against Fayetteville) but couldn't pull it off in the end. It just feels good to hold such a high scoring team to just 26 points and get the win."
Trenten Warren was once again a welcome addition back into the defensive rotation with five tackles in his second game back from injury and C.J. Coble and Bush each chipped in 3 1/2 tackles.
McMahon finished his second-straight 100 yard rushing game with 167 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries for an above-average 7.6 yards per attempt.
Whitaker continued his amazing junior campaign with 110 all-purpose yards and a score to go along with three tackles and a tackle for loss.
Woodard added 64 yards on the ground and 42 in the air and Bush notched 35 and a score.
The big win did not come without its drawbacks as defensive leader Devin Baus left the game in the second quarter with an ankle injury and Woodard finished the game with a noticeable limp.
Fortunately, the Bulldogs face a downward sliding Richland (2-5, 1-2) squad before taking a week off and facing one-win Huntland (1-5, 0-2) and non-TSSAA participant Lancaster Christian to end the season.
If the season finishes as planned the Bulldogs with likely face Bruceton Central or Collinwood, the two squads fighting it out for the last playoff spot in region 6-1A.
"Like our coaches say, we can't overlook any of the teams," Powers said. "Especially with Richland coming up because upsets happen."
Cornersville 7 7 15 7-36
Fayetteville 7 10 7 0-24
Fayetteville-Zorion Pullen 14-yard pass from Lex Marsh, Weston Moon PAT
Cornersville-Eli Woodard 5-yard run, Adam Qualls PAT
Fayetteville-Will VanHooser 29-yard pass from Marsh, Moon PAT
Cornersville-Kolbe McMahon 27-yard run, Qualls PAT
Fayetteville-Moon 37-yard FG
Cornersville- Cameron Whitaker 6-yard run, Qualls PAT
Cornersville-McMahon 31-yard run, Darien Bush PAT pass from Brock Powers
Fayetteville-Moon 11-yard pass from Marsh, Moon PAT
Cornersville-Darien Bush 35-yard run, Qualls PAT
Total Yards-Cornersville 410, Fayetteville 276
Rushing-Cornersville 368, Fayetteville 21
Passing-Cornersville 42, Fayetteville 255
First Downs-Cornersville 23, Fayetteville 17
Turnovers-Cornersville 2, Fayetteville 1
Penalties-Cornersville 6-65, Fayetteville 1-5
Rushing-Kolbe McMahon 22-167-2TD, Cameron Whitaker 17-80-TD, Eli Woodard 10-64-TD, Darien Bush 6-35-TD, Peyton Finch 4-17, Trenten Warren 1-5
Passing-Eli Woodard 1-3-42-INT
Receiving-Peyton Finch 1-42
Tackles-Brock Powers 6 (1.5 SACK), Trenten Warren 5, Darien Bush 3, CJ Coble 3.5, Cameron Whitaker 3, Brice Dunkleman 2, Kolbe McMahon 2 (INT), Blake Pickett 1.5, Peyton Finch 1.5 (.5 SACK), Alex Webster 1.5, Wes Calahan 1.5, Eli Woodard 1
Kickoffs-Cameron Whitaker 2-46, Blake Pickett 1-0
PAT-Adam Qualls 4-4
Punting-Peyton Finch 2-74