Cornersville impressive in playoff opener
For the first time in school history, the Cornersville football team hosted a home playoff football game after posting an undefeated region record.
Any lingering doubts as to whether or not the Bulldogs (10-1) would let nerves come between them and a first ever playoff win were put to rest almost immediately as Cornersville took a 31-0 first quarter lead before cruising to a 51-8 win over Hollow Rock-Bruceton Central (4-7).
"I was extremely proud of the way the guys came out and set the tone early," Bulldog coach Gerard Randolph stated. "We were able to pin them deep in their territory a few times and we were able to come up with two huge safeties early in the game."
"The guys were flying around on defense and making it hard for Bruceton to get in a rhythm," Randolph continued. "Our offense continued to do really good things in our ground attack. The offensive lineman did a great job of dominating up front and allowing our backs to gain big yardage. Overall, I think it was a pretty successful night at all three phases of the game."
The Tigers were shell-shocked from the onset of the contest when the Bulldogs forced a safety 20 seconds into the game before a 53-yard kickoff return by Kolbe McMahon set up an Eli Woodard three-yard touchdown run on the next play to make it 8-0 just one minute into the game.
"I thought I was really fresh and I was just focused all week in practice and I thought we had a really good game plan going into the game," McMahon, who had over 200 all-purpose yards in the game, said. "When I get the opportunity to get the ball I want to score every time."
"It feels great to be the first team in school history to break the records especially as a senior being a leader," McMahon added. "I will and can always say I was on the first team in school history to do that."
The Bulldogs welcomed back Woodard, who had missed the final three regular season games with an ankle injury, and the quarterback picked up right where he left off with 123 yards rushing on just eight carries to push his season rushing total to 1,020 yards in just eight games.
"I just really missed playing the game with my guys and miss the game because it feels like I have been out for forever," Woodard, who also passed for a 37-yard touchdown, said. “The challenges (to missing three games) were getting back in the routine of practicing and game play and getting back comfortable with my leg."
Woodard was helped on the offensive side by Cam Whitaker, who finished with 92 yards and three scores on just six carries and freshman Brady Calahan who added 62 yards on four carries, all in the second half.
McMahon finished the game with 211 all-purpose yards on just six total touches.
Peyton Finch had the lone Bulldog catch on a 37-yard touchdown strike in the first quarter.
The Cornersville offense out gained the Tiger offense 429 yards to 192 yards with just 56 of those yards on the first string defense.
"We were able to establish a big lead early and that was a great feeling," Randolph said. "I can't say enough about this group of student athletes and this awesome coaching staff that I have. Both of them work really hard throughout the week to help this program be successful. The hard work paid off as we were able to jump out to the big lead and maintain it the rest of the night."
The Bulldog offense scored its first seven possessions of the game.
After Woodard scored to make the contest 8-0 and the Bulldog defense held Tigers to a three-and-out, McMahon broke a long run for a 53-yard touchdown for a 15-0 lead.
The Bulldogs defense forced the Tiger offense into a rare second safety of the game for a 17-0 lead just five minutes into the game.
One minute later Whitaker got into the action with a 45-yard run at the 6:09 mark and after a Qualls PAT, the score bumped up to 24-0.
The highlight of the ballgame came on the next Bulldog possession when Woodard rolled out and found a streaking Peyton Finch for a 37-yard touchdown catch for a dominant 31-0 lead before the horn sounded to end the first quarter.
The game was essentially in the books before the second quarter even began.
The Bulldogs scored two more Whitaker touchdowns in the second quarter for a commanding 44-0 halftime score, before Randolph started to trickle in the reserves.
Cornersville lost the shutout with just over five minutes remaining in the contest, but still gained an enormous amount of confidence by winning its first playoff game ever in front of a sellout crowd and festival-like atmosphere at Frog Bottom.
The school brought in extra bleachers to hold the overflow crowd and still the fences were lined two to three people deep around most of the football field.
The Bulldogs now face a familiar, but surprising opponent in the second round as Grace Christian-Franklin (5-5) upset Wayne County (7-4) by a whopping score of 64-24 at Waynesboro.
The Bulldogs beat the Lions 39-15 in week four, but Grace Christian got hot at the right time, beating Mount Pleasant 48-46 to knock the seven-win Tigers out of the playoffs, before upsetting Fayetteville 28-14 to lock up the third seed in Region 6A.
After starting the season 1-3, the Lions have won four in a row after a 34-20 setback against number two seed Moore County while averaging 48.5 points per game and allowing 25.5 over the course of the win streak.
The Bulldogs, however, are in the midst of a nine-game winning streak and have home field advantage throughout the playoffs until the finals.