County gridiron squads in homestretch

Friday, October 5, 2018
The Cornersville Bulldogs will be fired up when they take the field at Richland Friday night.
Tribune photos by Anthony S. Puca

The first seven weeks of the prep football season are in the rear view mirror with three more regular season games remaining before the playoffs begin on Friday, November 2.

The 2017 Class A state runner-up and third-ranked Cornersville Bulldogs need a win this week at Richland to clinch back-to-back Region 5-A titles.

“We are expecting it to be in a war with Richland come Friday night,” Cornersville head coach Gerard Randolph said. “You can throw the records out the window when these two teams meet.”

The Bulldogs (7-0, 4-0) got a great taste of playoff success last season and from the opening kickoff of this season, the Frog Bottom boys have been one of the most dominant teams in Tennessee.

Cornersville is in historic territory after shellacking Fayetteville 55-0 in last week’s Homecoming game to stretch its consecutive shutout streak to six.

“I was definitely proud of the guys for coming out and taking care of business early on in the game,” Randolph said. “There are a lot of distractions that are involved during homecoming week, and I thought our guys did a good job of staying focused and understanding that at the end of the day we needed to win a big region football game.”

The only points the defense has given up this season is 20 scored by Community in the season opening 41-20 victory.

“I will say that this has been pretty special being able to hold six straight opponents scoreless,” Randolph said. “The guys have taken pride in keeping the opponents with zero points, and they want to limit our opponents’ total yardage.”

After the Community game, the overall score is 296-0 and they have an incredible turnover ratio of 22-to-6 for the season.

“Offensively, we stress execution is everything,” Randolph said. “As an offense we want to take care of the ball and give our playmakers a chance to be successful.”

“Turnovers will get you beat quicker than anything, and the guys understand how turning the ball over decreases our chance to be successful in the game.”

Cameron Whitaker (seen here scoring a touchdown last week versus Fayetteville) and the Cornersville offense has been prolific this season, averaging 48.1 points per game.

They are dominant on offense and defense as many of the 17 seniors on the squad play both ways.

And they are not in any mood to even give up a single point or an inch on defense, witnessed in the last several games when the backups got serious playing time as early as the second quarter.

“Defensively, we stress to the guys that we need to create turnovers to help our team be successful,” Randolph stated. “If I'm not mistaken we have 10 interceptions this season and have recovered some fumbles also, and I attribute that to our preparation on defense and guys playing fast, physical, and aggressive.”

The second team is well aware of the streak and have the backing of all the players, who take great pride on cheering on their fellow Dawgs late in games as they preserve the storied run of goose eggs.

Richland’s three wins this season are the most for the Raiders (3-4, 2-1) since 2008 when they went 4-8 and they are a much-improved ballclub under head coach Nick Patterson.

“Richland is a much improved team from last year, and they are well-coached,” Randolph said. “This will be a very physical game from the first whistle to the last whistle. Richland has made very good strides the past three weeks, and that's what you want to do is get better each week.”

The Bulldogs have beaten the Raiders nine consecutive times with the last win coming at Richland in 2002.

“We will need to win up front in the trenches if we want to get a big region win,” Randolph said. “We will also have to win the turnover battle, we can't turn the ball over, and we have to create turnovers to be successful.”

“We will have to match or exceed their physicality and make plays and be awesome on defense.”

Bulldogs win 48-0.

The Marshall County Tigers busted a three-game losing streak last week to come up with their first region win of the season that will hopefully spark a late season winning streak.

The 29-8 win over Lawrence County wasn’t pretty, but in the end it was a much-needed confidence booster for the ballclub.

“I felt we controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball for most of the night,” Marshall County coach Thomas Osteen said. “I believe that our special teams were huge as we disrupted three punts and returned a kickoff for a touchdown.”

“I hate that we turned the ball over a couple times and did not do a good job of getting off the field on some third and fourth downs on defense.”

The Tigers (2-4, 1-2) try to keep it going this week when they make the trip to Pulaski to take on longtime archrival Giles County (3-3, 1-2), who have lost two straight, including a 58-27 thrashing versus 3A fifth-ranked East Nashville last week at home.

The Marshall County defense will have to stop their former quarterback mate Bryce Wallace this week in Pulaski if they want to come away with a win.
Photo by Mike Inglsbee

Although no longer region foes, the Marshall County/Giles County matchup will always be full of emotion on both sides of the field at Sam Davis Park.

“It’s not as important in the long run because it’s not a region game, but our kids love playing in this game and the opportunity for bragging rights that goes with it,” Osteen said. “We tell them that it’s not about winning on Friday it’s about how bad do they want to win each day of this week, so we are as prepared as possible for Friday.”

Adding to the emotions is Bobcat quarterback Bryce Wallace’s disruptive decision to leave Lewisburg to play his senior season back in Pulaski, something that Osteen downplayed, but will be at the forefront on game night.

“It will no doubt be odd seeing him over there, but once the game starts it will be all about ball,” Osteen said.

The return of senior running back Elijah Taylor has been a slow process after he missed his entire junior season with a torn ACL, but his 11 carries for 80 yards and two touchdowns last week gave the offense a much-needed boost.

“I’m thrilled that Elijah had a big night last week,” Osteen said. “He has battled through injuries all year and is finally healthy and no one has worked harder than him for this season.”

Junior Javarria Rucker has carried much of the load this season in the backfield, rushing for a team-high 355 yards and six touchdowns, but he has fumbled the ball four times, something Osteen wants improvement in.

“Rucker has had a really nice year and provided us with a nice spark,” Osteen said. “If he can improve his ball security issues he can be a complete back.”

Both running backs will play a key role in Osteen’s recipe for victory this week at Pulaski as the Tigers will play ball control offense in an attempt to keep Wallace on the sidelines as much as possible.

“The keys will be to frustrate their offense and limit their big play potential,” Osteen said. “We need to control the ball and keep their offense off the field.”

Look for the Tigers to sustain their momentum and come up with a big 24-21 win.

The Rockets have to come out fired up early if they want to knock off the Mustangs this week at Loretto.

The Forrest Rockets (2-5, 1-3) are mired in a three-game losing streak and desperately need a win this week when they embark on a second consecutive long road trip to Loretto.

The Rockets fell 43-15 at Lewis County last week, but showed some signs of rejuvenation as they were in the ballgame until a couple of untimely turnovers did them in.

“The scoreboard didn’t show it, but we had a lot of positives from the game,” Forrest coach Eli Stephenson said. “We just have to build off of the positives and learn from the negatives.”

Forrest coach Eli Stephenson will have the squad ready to play when they travel to Loretto.

After starting the season with three consecutive losses, the Mustangs (3-3, 1-1) have won three in a row, including a 30-15 win over Summertown last week.

“We have to shut down their rushing attack and move the football on offense,” Stephenson said.

The Rockets are in a must win situation, needing to jump Loretto in the Region 5-AA standings and climb to the all-important fourth spot that would guarantee a postseason berth.

Forrest only has one region game remaining versus Community after this week, while Loretto finishes the season with three more league opponents, including away games at Eagleville (5-2, 2-1) and Columbia Academy (7-0, 3-0).

“This is a must win game to get into the playoffs,” Stephenson said. “We have got to play sound and discipline football and focus on doing the little things right. When we do that it will all come together.”

The Rockets’ task is a tough one this week and they have to hold on to the ball, stay away from untimely penalties, and get the offense moving with a much more balanced attack.

Forrest has to build on some limited success at Lewis County and is averaging just 10 points over the last five games and needs some big plays out of the offense to offset the Loretto offense that is averaging 36.3 points in their three-game winning streak.

“We got the passing game going a little bit and the quarterbacks and wide receivers did a good job of throwing and catching,” Stephenson said about the offense last week. “We have to get the running game going, we have to stay on our blocks longer and hit the holes, and as a team, we got to win the turnover battle.”

Rockets upset the Mustangs 31-30 to stay in the playoff hunt.