Cornersville aims high, prepares for Bruceton
Six. Out of the long history of Cornersville football six is the number of times the Bulldogs have made the TSSAA playoffs. While county neighbors Forrest School (34 games) and Marshall County High (56 games) are postseason staples, the Bulldogs have struggled to make one of the top four region spots to qualify for the playoffs.
But maroon and white fans that have been paying attention to the southern Marshall County squad knew that the 2017 season could be a special year.
With the middle school team suddenly becoming a middle Tennessee powerhouse the past several years combined with the hiring of coaching mastermind Gerard Randolph three seasons ago, the Bulldogs have been steadily improving the past three campaigns culminating with the sixth playoff appearance in 2016 that ended with a resounding loss to state power South Pittsburg, 62-12.
That loss sparked the players to work hard in the off season for an opportunity to return to the playoffs and mold a more memorable outcome.
Perhaps nobody outside of the tiny town just south of Lewisburg expected what came next, a school record nine wins, a first-ever region championship, and the most important, home field advantage for the until at least the quarterfinals, all firsts for the Bulldogs.
"We talk a lot about the work that has been put in so far this year," Randolph stated. "We tell these young men that they belong here. They have worked so hard to earn this home playoff game."
"We are going to do our best as a coaching staff to coach them up and we want them to go out and play hard and enjoy this awesome atmosphere," Randolph added. "The nerves are going to set in, but we have to settle down and play Bulldog Football."
The Bulldogs (9-1) will take the field sporting one of the most high-powered offenses in the state, averaging 40.1 points per contest while holding its opponents to just 13.8 points per game.
The Cornersville defense held Moore County, Grace Christian-Franklin, and Perry County to its lowest points totals on the season, while Mount Pleasant and Community each scored its second lowest point total of the year against the Bulldogs.
The defense also held four opponents to single digits, pitched two shutouts, and outscored the three other region 5A playoff participants 117-39.
Cornersville is most dangerous on the ground with at least five players who can gain large chunks of yardage with the ball in their hands.
Cam Whitaker is quite possibly the most dangerous playmaker in all of 1A with 1,034 yards on the ground with 16 scores on 95 attempts and also adds 232 punt return yards with three scores, 178 kickoff yards, and five catches for an additional 74 yards, and another score for 1,518 all-purpose yards with 20 total touchdowns.
Whitaker also totals 22.5 tackles, two tackles for a loss, and three interceptions on defense.
Quarterback Eli Woodard comes in second with 897 yards and 10 touchdowns while passing for 115 yards, despite missing the final three regular season games.
The third, but just as dominant option is senior Kolbe McMahon, who averages over 10 yards per carry with 712 yards and nine scores on just 71 attempts and also adds 18.5 tackles and two picks on defense.
Trenten Warren (18 rushes, 209 yards, 6 TDs), Darien Bush (23 carries, 171 yards, three TDs), and Peyton Finch (23 attempts, 117 yards, five TDs) round out the Bulldogs’ deep stable of capable running backs.
Finch (five receptions, 103 yards, TD) is also Woodard's favorite target on passing plays.
On the defensive side of the ball, the defensive line is the Bulldogs main strength.
Senior defensive tackle Brock Powers leads the charge with 46 tackles, 16 tackles for a loss, and seven sacks.
Linebacker C.J. Coble (45 tackles, two tackles for a loss, 0.5 sack, and INT) and defensive back Blake Pickett (35.5 tackles, four tackles for a loss, 2.5 sacks, and two INT) are both expected to step up big in the playoff run.
The Bulldogs opponent could not be a bigger opposite when it comes to playoff experience.
Hollow Rock-Bruceton Central (6-4) is one of the most stories 1A programs in the history of the TSSAA.
With 68 total playoffs games under its belt and a 41-27 overall record, the Tigers won the 1989 1A State Championship with a 21-6 win over Donelson Christian Academy and finished runner-up in 1990 (14-7 loss versus Trousdale County), and 1995 (17-6 loss to Battle Ground Academy).
The Tigers made the playoffs every season from 1982 to 2002 and made it to at least the quarterfinals ever year from 1987-1995.
Bruceton made at the least the quarterfinals from 1999-2002 before falling on uncharacteristic hard times with just eight appearances and getting no further than the second round during the past 15 years.
With all of that history, coach Randolph will make sure the Bulldogs will be properly prepared despite the Tigers’ fourth-seed status.
"They are a very sound and discipline football team," Randolph noted. "They have been coached up well and they don't make a lot of mistakes and if you make a mistake they try their best to capitalize on it with a big play. They are a scrappy bunch that plays very hard and aggressive."
"We will definitely have to bring a great deal of intensity and determination to this game," Randolph continued. "On the other hand we have to play mistake free football and try to dominate in the trenches."
Much like the Bulldogs, Bruceton is a run-first team that rarely passes and most of the roster will go both ways on offense and defense.
The top rusher for Bruceton is Gavin Guthrie who rushed for 841 and 11 touchdowns on 111 attempts. Guthrie also added 188 yards and a score on kickoffs.
Quarterback Dalton Williams (44-100 attempts) passed for 761 and seven scores to go along with seven interceptions, but does just as much damage on the ground with 459 yards and six scores on 104 carries.
Brady Snider (53 rushes, 319 yards, 2 TDs) and Justin Haskins (16 receptions, 313 yards, 2 TDs) also give the Tigers offensive firepower.
On the defensive side of the ball, Chase Snider (73 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 29.5 tackles for a loss) and Bradley Griffin (31.5 tackles, 9.5 tackles for a loss, 2 sacks) lead a defensive front that pitched two shutouts and held two more opponents to single digits.
The Tigers struggled in a 53-48 win over the same Perry County (1-9) squad that Cornersville beat 45-0 and lost to a Collinwood team that was defeated handily 42-7 by the same Mount Pleasant squad the Bulldogs beat 42-20 in week five.
The Bulldogs also have good news that many teams heading into the playoffs don't have---everyone is healthy.
"We have everybody back ready to go," Randolph stated. "The guys that have been injured are back practicing, and we have had a good week of practice so far. Eli Woodard will be back under center this Friday night."
One other advantage the Bulldogs will be sure to have is home field advantage. Expect a standing room only crowd in Cornersville on Friday night to celebrate the first ever home playoff game at Frog Bottom.
"We are hoping that we pack our place with a ton of Bulldog fans," Randolph said. "The community has been great up to this point, and I know they will continue to support this team this Friday night."
"We would love to have a huge student section to help cheer these guys on. I think it will be a packed house to support our team and it will be a great atmosphere for high school playoff football!"