Cornersville advances with runaway playoff win
One of the most exciting aspects of watching a tiny, rural 1A football squad make a deep run in the TSSAA playoffs is watching the town come together to show support to the team and watch history in the making.
That was never more evident that on Friday night when seemingly the whole town of Cornersville showed up to Frog Bottom to watch the Bulldogs continue its historic playoff run with a resounding 52-15 win over Grace Christian Academy-Franklin (6-5) and continue on to the quarterfinals.
"It has been an awesome feeling," Trenten Warren said about the team's playoff success. "This has been a dream for us. We have been playing as a team since we were four and five years old and with hard work we knew this could be us someday. Everyone has put the work in and worked hard."
The game looked to be a typical, close playoff football game with the Bulldogs (11-1) heading into the break with a 17-7 lead, but Cornersville outscored the Lions 35-8 in the second half to coast on to the quarterfinals.
"I was extremely pleased with getting the win," Bulldog coach Gerard Randolph, who has a 2-1 all-time playoff record at Cornersville, said. "I think our guys faced some adversity early and they stuck with the game plan and we were able to come out with a big win. Our offense did a great job of making the most of these opportunities and putting up some big numbers."
"Defensively, we made the necessary adjustments and we were able to limit their high powered offense," Randolph continued. "We did some things that we will definitely have to clean up before we play against a really good Huntingdon team. I am very proud of this team and so happy for them to be able to make it to the quarterfinals of the state playoffs."
The final numbers told a dominant Bulldog story with the maroon and white finishing with 451 yards to the Lions 198 yards, despite Cornersville running just three more plays than Grace.
The Lions held the ball for 38:45 of the game while the Bulldogs needed just 6:38 to put up 52 points.
Cornersville finished the game with 28 first downs to the Lions 11 and the Bulldogs went 4-for-7 on third down plays and Grace converted just 4-of-14 third down plays.
The Bulldog defensive front held the Lions to just 69 yards on 24 attempts and held the always dangerous Austin Amor to a meager 40 yards on 17 attempts.
When Amor went to the air, the Bulldog defensive backfield met the challenge, picking off three passes (two by Eli Woodard, one by Cam Whitaker) and limited the Lion quarterback to just 129 yards on 17 completions just a week after torching Wayne County for 366 all-purpose yards.
"I think that the line has been more physical and fundamentally sound than it has ever been," defensive tackle Brice Dunkleman, who finished with a sack and tackle for a loss, said. "Coach Nance has coached us up well. For example this week, we really focused on the “squeeze and spill” technique while we stayed at home. This helped us against Grace because we knew that their quarterback can make some quick moves and scramble well."
"And by staying at our gaps it gave us in the perfect place to stop him when he did scramble or run."
The Bulldog offense continues to come together as a well-oiled machine as five different players scored and six different running backs had at last a 5-yard run.
Any doubt that Woodard was back to full strength after a nagging ankle injury forced the junior to miss the final three regular season games was put to rest with a dominant 243 yards plus a score on the ground on 24 attempts for a whopping 1263 rushing yards in just nine contests.
Woodard also contributed three and half tackles and two interceptions on defense.
Kolbe McMahon continues a stellar senior campaign with 85 yards and a score on 12 attempts plus 49 kick return yards to combine for 345 all-purpose yards in two playoff contests.
Cam Whitaker added 53 yards and a score on 10 rushes plus 102 yards on kick and punt returns for 155 all-purpose yards to go along with two tackles and a pick on defense.
But perhaps the biggest contribution of the contest came in the form of Warren who added 46 yards on four attempts with scores on three of his four carries.
Warren also led the defense with 7.5 tackles, half a sack, and half a tackle for a loss.
"I give credit to the linemen for doing their jobs," a modest Warren offered. "I see a hole, knew I was going to run and not going to be stopped."
Hybrid tight end and fullback Peyton Finch added 16 yards and a score on four tries to go along with three tackles, one tackle for a loss, and half a sack on defense,
Blake Pickett finished with two tackles and two tackles for a loss and Devin Baus chipped in three tackles and a tackle for a loss.
The Bulldogs scored first, but failed on the point after touchdown for an early 6-0 lead.
The Lions ensuing drive stalled in the red zone, but Grace Christian kicker Sam Jones nailed a 35-yard field goal to trim the lead to 6-3.
Jones had attempted just one field goal, a miss, in the opening game of the season before knocking one through on Friday.
Finch finished off the next Bulldog run with a touchdown from two yards out to push the lead to 12-3 after a failed two-point conversion, but the next play turned the game around for the Bulldogs and turned a close contest into a blowout.
Whitaker fielded a Lion punt just over the midfield mark and made the whole Grace team miss at least once before reversing field to score on a 49-yard return and push the Bulldog lead to 17-7.
"This is an exciting group that we have here at Cornersville," Randolph explained. "They feed off of each other and when they see their teammates making plays that excites them also. I think the punt return by Cameron Whitaker was a game changer."
"I think it got the crowd excited and I know it got our team energized," Randolph added. "Our offense just willed their way and sustaining drives was also huge. We were able to play Bulldog football and that is being a physical football team."
The Bulldog team that came out after halftime smelled blood and took little time to push the close game to blowout status.
"Well, at half time, I think that Grace was physically drained," Dunkleman observed. "Also we came out in the second half harder and we hit them in the mouth. You could see it, almost every five plays or so there would be someone on the ground hurt from a big hit. And I think that the physicality that we showed in the second half really help us come out on top."
The Bulldogs came up with three second half interceptions which resulted in three Warren scores and the Bulldogs continued to make history with its first ever second round win.
The next task with be a bit more challenging, as the number one ranked 1A team in the state will travel to Cornersville, the Huntingdon Mustangs (12-0).
But with everyone picking the Mustangs as the favorite to win the 1A state championship, the Bulldogs will have the opportunity to come into the game as the underdog for the first time in the playoffs.
"We will continue to tell this group that they belong here," Randolph stated. "We are a good football team. We have put in a tremendous amount of work to get here. We are here for a reason and that is because we belong. This team has goals and right now Huntingdon is standing in the way of our goal. The guys will continue to hear this all week."
The Mustangs advanced buy taking down Moore County (8-4) 35-0 in Huntingdon.
Grace Christian 3 6 0 6-15
Cornersville 6 13 20 13-52
Cornersville-Trenten Warren 11 yard run, Adam Qualls PAT NG
Grace Christian Academy-Sam Jonson 35-yard field goal
Cornersville-Cameron Whitaker 49 yard punt return, 2-point run by Eli Woodard NG
Grace Christian Academy-Austin Amor 3-yard run, Jones PAT NG
Cornersville-Peyton Finch 1-yard run, Qualls PAT
Cornersville-Whitaker 24-yard run, Qualls PAT
Cornersville-Woodard 14-yard run, Qualls PAT
Cornersville-Kolbe McMahon 18-yard run, Qualls PAT NG
Grace Christian Academy-Kolby Alonzo 17-yard pass from Austin Amor, 2-point Austin Amor pass39
Cornersville-Warren 22-yard run, Qualls good PAT
Cornersville-Warren 8-yard run, Qualls PAT NG