Bulldogs defeat Lake County 7-0, will play in first-ever state final
For the first time this season the rest of the state's media learned what Cornersville followers have known since this summer--the Bulldogs are no fluke.
If anyone needed more convincing after the Bulldogs (13-1) took down undefeated and Class A favorite Huntingdon (12-1) the previous week, Cornersville sent home another longtime state power Lake County (11-2) by the score of 7-0 after a nail biting finish.
The Bulldogs turned the ball over to the Falcons with under two minutes left in the contest and for the first time all night, Lake County was able to drive down the field inside the Bulldogs 20-yard line.
But with two seconds left in the game, the Bulldogs sacked Falcon quarterback Tanner Snyder to end the game to send Cornersville to the state championship game in Cookeville in what has become the best postseason story of 2017.
"(The playoff run) has been phenomenal!" Bulldog coach Gerard Randolph exclaimed. "The support that has been shown to this team has been second to none! I have enjoyed this ride so far and the guys have also. Just to see the stands packed an hour before games has been crazy. I can't say enough how much we as a program appreciate everyone's support during this magical run."
The Bulldogs held a Falcon offense averaging 37 points per contest coming into the game to zero points for the first time since midway through the 2016 season.
"I was really proud of the way the defense showed up," Randolph said. "I praise the kids for their preparation and work effort during the week of practice. The week involved coaches making sure that our guys were prepared for what Lake County was going to throw at us and for their film study outside of being with the team."
"If you want to be a great team then you have to do some work on your own and we have some guys understanding the importance studying film," Randolph added.
The Bulldogs looked to have an uphill struggle after Eli Woodard went down early in the game and later emerged from the locker room in a walking boot and crutches.
At that point Woodard was the team's leading rusher with 35 yards on six carries and a touchdown.
The star quarterbacks' status for the championship game is questionable.
"It was very unfortunate when Eli had to come out with a lower leg injury," Randolph recalled. "We always stress that this is a team sport and we will win this game being a team. I told the guys that we need guys to step up and keep our team competing at a high level. We had guys rise to the occasion and put the team on their backs and helped will this team to a win."
"I can't say enough of the gutty performance from our backfield," Randolph continued. "Lake County came into the game with a great defensive scheme and we were very limited in our running game, but the guys continued to run hard and made the best of our opportunities. Wesley Calahan stepped up in huge way replacing Eli on defense and intercepting a pass."
With Woodard's absence, the Bulldogs beat the Falcons on the ground by six different Cornersville players getting at least one rush.
Cameron Whitaker shouldered the load by rushing for 77 yards on 21 attempts, Kolbe McMahon, who split snaps with Henlee Mitchell under center, rushed 14 times for 47 yards and completed one-of-one passes for nine yards to Darien Bush.
Trenten Warren turned in a second huge game on both sides of the ball with nine carries for 42 yards and a team-leading 4.7 yards per carry, while leading the defense with a game high 10 tackles with 1.5 tackles for a loss.
Mitchell, Bush, and Peyton Finch all toted the ball at least once.
The Bulldogs started the contest with a decent drive, but ultimately had to punt after two first downs and the Falcons punted back the ball after a three-and-out to set up the first Bulldog score.
The Bulldogs drove down to the Falcons red zone and went with its bread and butter with a Woodard run to give Cornersville the 7-0 lead after an Adam Qualls extra point.
But that score would turn out to be more costly than anyone knew.
"I got hurt two plays before I scored the touchdown and when I went to the sideline I knew I couldn’t go out on kick off and we wrapped it up hoping I could go back in but when I tried to jog I couldn’t do it," Woodard said. "Then when it got stiff I could barely walk. So hopefully I can rest up and fight through the injury for the state championship (game)."
With Woodard on the sidelines, the Falcons went for the kill, but came up against a Cornersville defense that has turned into a brick wall as the season has progressed.
Midway through the second quarter with Lake County making it’s only extended drive in the first half, Woodard's replacement Wesley Callahan make his mark with an athletic interception, reaching over the receiver's head to give the ball back to the home team and alleviate the threat.
"When I saw that Eli was hurt I knew that I would have to play to the level that he does," Callahan stated. "My coaches put me in the perfect spot to make that play and I knew I had to seize the opportunity."
"When the quarterback threw the ball I knew I had a chance to make a play on it," Callahan said. "We both came down with the ball, but luckily I had Cameron near to fight for the interception."
The Falcons finished the game with just 157 total yards of offense with a dismal eight first downs and finished 2-for-12 (16.7%) on third downs conversions and one-for-four on fourth down conversions.
The Bulldogs held the Falcons to minimal yardage in the contest, but when the final drive started, Lake County was able to move easily down the field before spiking the ball from 18 yards out with two seconds left.
"I told them that we cannot give up a big play and keep everything in front of you," Randolph said. "We knew we needed to be able to make for sure tackles and not let them get out of bounds. They were out of timeouts and we wanted anything that they ran or threw to be in the middle of the field."
All season long the defense came up with a big plays and this drive was no different as Devin Baus took down Snyder for a huge loss to end the game and continue everyone's favorite underdog story of 2017.
The Bulldogs advance to the 1A state championship game Thursday morning at 11 a.m. in Cookeville at Tennessee Tech.
"It just feels absolutely amazing," Brice Dunkleman, one of just five Bulldog seniors, said. "To go from a team that has never won a playoff game before and then, boom, this year go to state. It shows that we are here for a reason. This is something I’ve been looking forward to since peewee football. I have played with most of this team since I was five or six. And to now to be playing in the state championship with them is truly amazing."
Lake County 0 0 0 0-0
Cornersville 7 0 0 0-7
Cornersville-Eli Woodard 4-yard run, Adam Qualls PAT
Total Yards-Lake County 157, Cornersville 216
Rushing-Lake County 81, Cornersville 207
Passing-Lake County 76, Cornersville 9
First Downs-Lake County 8, Cornersville 13
Third Downs-Lake County 2-for-12, Cornersville 5-for-12
Fourth Downs-Lake County 1-for-4, Cornersville 5-for-12
Penalties-Lake County 3-for-15, Cornersville 4-for-25
Turnovers-Lake County 2, Cornersville 1
Rushing-Cameron Whitaker 21-77, Kolbe McMahon 14-47, Trenten Warren 9-42, Eli Woodard 6-35-TD, Henlee Mitchell 1-4, Peyton Finch 2-2, Darien Bush 1-0
Passing-Kolbe McMahon 1-1-9
Receiving-Darien Bush 1-9
Kickoff Returns-Kolbe McMahon 1-15
PAT-Adam Qualls 1-1
Punts-Kolbe McMahon 3-124
Tackles-Trenten Warren 10, Devin Baus 5 (1.5 SACKS), Kolbe McMahon 4, Cameron Whitaker 3, Blake Pickett 2, Peyton Finch 1-5, Brock Powers 1 (INT), CJ Coble 1.5, 61 1, Darien Bush 1, Devin Massengill 1, Wes Calahan 1 (INT).