Success made Bulldogs even hungrier
If anyone thinks that the state runner-up finish by the 2017 Cornersville Bulldogs in the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association Class A playoffs was a fluke, they’re in for a rude awakening.
“They are ready to get back at it, we have had some good practices going back to fall camp, so I am like them, I’m eager to get started and get this season going,” Cornersville head coach Gerard Randolph said. “We have to stay focused and take it one day at a time and get better each day.”
These Bulldogs are even hungrier after a late November taste of Cookeville and they are poised and ready to take the final step in capturing the school’s first-ever state title in any sport.
“A lot of people talk about going back to the big game…we would love to, we would love to” Randolph said. “But in reality, we just have to take it one game at a time, one practice at a time, and one rep at a time.”
2017 produced a myriad of firsts for the Bulldogs as they won their first region title, went undefeated in region play, and hosted a first-ever home playoff game.
In fact, Cornersville went 4-0 in home playoff games, beginning with back-to-back blowout wins over Hollow Rock-Bruceton (51-8) and Grace Christian-Franklin (52-15).
The Bulldogs came up with the biggest, most exciting win in school history in the state quarterfinals, beating Huntingdon 21-20 when Adam Qualls kicked the game winning PAT in double overtime to send Cornersville to the semifinals.
One week later, the Bulldogs punched their first-ever ticket to a state championship game when Woodard scored a first quarter touchdown as Cornersville outlasted Lake County 7-0 in the Class A semifinals at Frog Bottom.
Although the Bulldogs came up short in the state title game versus Greenback, the experience gained in the quest is immeasurable and the adrenaline rush playing in front of packed houses with so much on the line is unforgettable to the players.
“It was an awesome run last year, but we know we have to start all over again,” Randolph said. “Those guys just kept playing hard and it was great for us and we enjoyed it, playing on Thanksgiving weekend last year and just being resilient and pulling out games.”
“You could not have wrote a better story, it was really great and we are super proud of that team last year.”
The 2018 season begins without Region 5-A Defensive Player of the Year Brock Powers, Lineman of the Year Brice Dunkleman, and All-Region starter Kolbe McMahon to graduation, plus all-purpose speedster Darien Bush transferred to Marshall County High School.
Cornersville is still loaded as 17 seniors return for the 2018 campaign, including Region 5-A Offensive Player of the Year Eli Woodard, Special Teams Player of the Year Cameron Whitaker, All-Region first teamers Devin Baus, C.J. Coble, Peyton Finch, Blake Pickett, Trenton Warren, and honorable mention players Clay Mitchell, Ryan Prosser, and junior lineman Houston Williams.
“I’m blessed and I’m happy to be able to be a part of these guys’ lives in this arena and in the teaching field and coaching since they were in the seventh grade,” Randolph said. “It’s just a good feeling knowing you have some upperclassmen like that, because I remember starting with two seniors my first year of coaching, so we are all looking forward to seeing what these guys will do in their senior year and the sky’s the limit for them.”
These guys have been playing together forever on the gridiron and run like a well-oiled machine on both sides of the ball, knowing by instinct where each other is on the field.
“It’s overwhelming, I’m not sure whether to be excited to get it started because it will end quickly,” Woodard said. “A lot of us have stuck together all the way from kindergarten to flag and all the way to this, so it means a lot for us.”
“But, we can’t be satisfied because of last year,” Woodard added. “You will have everybody giving you their best game every game, so you can’t come out and be thinking you can beat somebody because somebody will knock you off, just like we knocked a lot of people off last year.”
Senior Henlee Mitchell gets the start at quarterback with Woodard and Whitaker at the running back/slot receiver position. Wes Calahan and promising sophomore Brady Calahan round out the stable.
“Every rep he (Eli) goes 120 percent,” Randolph said. “We have enough guys to spread the ball around to and maybe not have to use him as much.”
“He is just a playmaker and I would like for him to touch the ball every play, but we have to spread this ball around to get some other guys to make some plays.”
Trenten Warren, who scored nine touchdowns last year is the fullback with Rhett Woodard in the backup spot.
Eli Woodard ran for 1,319 yards and 14 touchdowns and threw three touchdown passes and Whitaker rushed for 1,206 yards and 17 touchdowns, plus caught six passes for 77 yards and a TD.
The Bulldogs have plenty of punch to follow the veteran offensive line that features four seniors, anchored by Mitchell at center.
Junior Michael Bungay starts at left tackle, Coble at left guard, Webster at right tackle, and Devin Baus at the right guard position.
“I’m excited and I’m ready for the season and get school and football started,” Devin Baus said. “We have a target on our backs, but we are going to be good.”
The backups on the offensive line are Boone Solomon (center), Devon Massengill (LG), Houston Williams (LT), Dylan Baus (RG), and Nick Gibson (RT).
Finch, Pickett, Ryan Prosser, and Ethan Courtemanche will be Woodard’s main receivers this season and Finch will also return as the punter.
“It’s just a lot of guys working together, half of everybody on the team have basically grown up together, so it will be hard to leave family here,” Pickett said. “I want to go up there (Cookeville) and bring back a ring….that would be great for our senior year. I didn’t want to go home last year, I wanted to play another one.”
Whitaker is an electrifying return man as he tallied four punt return touchdowns with a 35.9 yard return average and he handled 11 kickoffs for a 23.5 yard average.
“We have been working everyday trying to get better, trying to get back to that championship game,” Whitaker said. "Last year was huge, it was real big and everyone knew what we did and it was shocking to a lot of people. We are going to go undefeated, we know what we have to do.”
On defense the Bulldogs also sport a talented, experienced group as Dylan Baus holds down the nose guard spot and Williams starts at tackle.
They are flanked by Devin Baus and Bungay at defensive ends.
“We are getting a better bond, so we know what to do and we talk more than when we were all freshmen, so that helps out a lot,” Devin Baus said. “Communication is the key.”
Finch and Webster are the backup defensive ends with Trenton Posey and Preston Tucker waiting in the wings to provide relief on the inside.
“It’s a whole lot of pressure having that bullseye on your back, but I think it will make us play a whole lot better this year because of the bad taste we have losing that game (championship),” Finch said. “We have some talent coming up too, I think them watching us will push them because they want to be in the same spot we were.”
Coble is the stopper at middle linebacker with Ethan Courtemanche and Warren at the other two linebacker spots.
“It’s different being a senior leader this year on the team, going up through high school being a four-year starter and stuff,” Coble said. “We have guys that are three and four-year starters and everybody knows where to go and what to do, so that helps out a lot.”
“We have to come out and prepare the best we can every week and when those lights come on you have to go out and perform, we are at the top of the chain now.”
Tracy Wood backs up Coble and Massengill and Jacob Brooks are the second string linebackers.
The defensive backfield will be one of the team’s biggest strengths this season as Eli Woodard and Whitaker lead the group, headhunting at free safety and strong safety.
Pickett and Prosser start at the corners and Travis Robinson, Brooks, Brady Calahan, and Wesley Calahan provide depth to the backfield.
“The biggest thing is just trusting each other and communicating with each other,” Randolph said. “We stress every day to trust the guy beside you because schematically we do stuff where you have to trust your teammate beside and just communicate. Those are the little things we have to take care of.”
Cornersville basically blew everybody out in the regular season with their only loss coming in Week Two at Eagleville (31-6). The Bulldogs outscored everyone else 395-167.
The Bulldogs open with a road game at much improved Community before they look for revenge when they host Eagleville in Week Two.
Moore County comes to Frog Bottom in Week 3 for the Region 5-A opener in what could be their toughest game of season for both squads.
“I’ve told the guys it’s going to be extremely hard this year to even try to win our region,” Randolph said. “I tell a lot of people, we have the toughest region in 1A football, our region is represented by a lot of good coaches and really good teams, so we will have to bring it every Friday night.”
Cornersville embarks on a three-game region road trip to Grace Christian-Franklin, Mt. Pleasant, and Perry County before entertaining Fayetteville for Homecoming on September 28.
The Bulldogs travel to Richland and have a bye before they play their last regular season game at home versus Huntland.
Cornersville also has a bye on October 26 due to Lancaster Christian cancelling the scheduled regular season finale matchup.
If the Bulldogs can sweep the Eagleville and Moore County look for Cornersville to post an undefeated season heading into the playoffs.
“Our goal is to go undefeated and win that championship game,” Woodard said. “Our region is really good, Moore County, Mt. Pleasant and Fayetteville we will be tough.”
Prediction: 14-1, Class A State Champions.
2018 Cornersville Schedule
|August 17||at Community|
|August 31||Moore County*|
|September 7||at Grace Christian-Franklin*|
|September 14||at Mt. Pleasant*|
|September 21||at Perry County|
|October 5||at Richland*|
All game start at 7 p.m.
|*Denotes Region Game|
2018 Cornersville Football Roster
#1 Cameron Estes- Jr.-WR/OLB
#2 Trenten Warren- Sr.-RB/LB
#3 J.C Spray- Fr.-QB/DB
#4 Ryan Prosser- Sr.-WR/SS
#5 Rhett Woodard-Fr.-RB/LB
#6 Hunter Fitzgerald-Fr.-WR/DB
#7 Jackson Farler- So.-QB/DB
#8 T.J. Robinson- Sr.-WR/DB
#9 Nash Bouchard- So.-WR/OLB
#10 Henlee Mitchell- Sr.-QB/FS
#11 Alex Hillard- So.-RB/CB
#12 Jackson Williams- Fr. QB/DB
14 Blake Pickett- Sr.-WR/DB
15 Cameron Whitaker- Sr.-RB/SS
19 Cash Homeka-Fr.-WR/LB
20 Trace Griest- Jr.-WR/DB
22 Eli Woodard- Sr.-RB/FS
24 Ethan Courtemanche- Sr.-WR/OLB
25 Caden Pigue- Fr.-WR/SS
27 Wes Calahan- Jr.-RB/FS
32 Brady Calahan- So.-RB/FS
33 Jackson Mitchell- Jr.-WR/DB
42 Collin King- Sr.-WR/OLB
44 Tracy Wood- So.-RB/OLB
50 C.J. Coble- Sr.-OL/LB
51 Sam Mitchell-Fr.-OL/DL
52 Logan Roder-Fr.-OL/DL
53 Sabastian Smith- Sr.-OL/DL
54 Barrett Powers-Fr.-OL/DL
55 Eli Welch- Fr.-OL/DE
56 Alex Webster- Sr.-OL/DL
57 Trenton Posey- So.-OL/DL
60 Houston Williams- Jr.-OL/DL
62 Bryan Giles- In Memory
63 Devin Massengill- Jr.-OL/LB
64 Michael Bungay- Jr.-OL/DL
65 Devin Baus- Sr.-OL/OLB
66 Clay Mitchell- Sr.-OL/DL
67 Elias Nunez- So.-OL/DL
68 Jacob Brooks- Sr.-OL/LB
70 Blake Jones-Fr.-OL/DL
72 Dylan Baus- Jr.-OL/DL
74 Boone Soloman- So.-OL/DL
75 Nick Gibson- Jr.-OL/DL
77 Payton Tucker- Jr.-OL/DL
79 Noah Polk- Sr.-OL/DL
81 Peyton Finch- Sr.-WR/SS
83 Tanner Edwards-Fr.-WR/DB
84 Garrett Alder- So.-WR/DB
|Sara Beth Prosser|
Videographer: Blayne Bradford
Stats: Alexander Stewart
2017 Region 4-A Standings
Cornersville 13-2 (6-0)
Moore County 8-4 (4-2)
Fayetteville 6-5 (3-3)
Grace Christian-Franklin 6-5 (3-3)
Huntland 2-8 (1-5)
Richland 2-8 (15)
All-Region 5-A Returning Players
Coach of the Year
Coaching Staff of the Year
Offensive Player of the Year
Special Teams Player of the Year
All-Region 1st Team
Devin Baus, C.J. Coble, Peyton Finch, Blake Pickett, Trenton Warren.
Clay Mitchell, Ryan Prosser, Houston Williams.