Bulldogs handle Wildcats, move on to state quarterfinals
Cornersville knew it was going to be an all-out war in Friday night’s TSSAA Class A second round playoff game at Frog Bottom versus longtime rival Wayne County and it was, as the Wildcats jumped out to an early lead before the Bulldogs bit back to prevail 47-26.
“We were excited about coming away with a hard fought victory Friday night,” Cornersville coach Gerard Randolph said. “Wayne County as expected came in with a good game plan, and really made our football team work for this one.”
“It's always good when you have to face some adversity, and have to be able to overcome it, and I think our guys did a good job of that.”
The undefeated and number-two ranked Bulldogs (12-0) move on to the quarterfinals as they travel to third-ranked Huntingdon (12-0) in a rematch of last year’s quarterfinal game at Frog Bottom, won by Cornersville 21-20 over the Mustangs in double overtime.
“It's definitely going to be a tough test for our football team to go into Huntingdon to get the win,” Randolph said. “Is it a game that we think we can win, yes.”
Huntingdon stomped Mt. Pleasant 56-6 at home Friday night to earn the rematch.
“Huntingdon is a very good football team that has had a ton of success over the last several years,” Randolph said. “We have a lot of respect for them, but we also know that they stand in the way of our ultimate goal.”
“We are blessed to be in this position and we are appreciative to have this opportunity to travel to Huntingdon to compete in the quarterfinals. We will definitely accept the challenge and give it everything that we have to compete at a high level.”
Wayne County scored on its opening drive as they needed just six plays to convert with the touchdown coming on a Dawson Nutt three-yard run. The two-point conversion run was no good on the first scoring drive versus the Bulldogs since opening night, breaking a school record 10-game shutout streak.
“I think the guys were disappointed in themselves, and not really for allowing Wayne County to score, but more less how they let them get in position to score,” Randolph said. “We had some mental mistakes that were made by guys that should not be making mistakes like that this late in the season.”
In typical Bulldog fashion, Cornersville was unfazed and answered with a tough 65-yard, 10-play drive capped off on a one-yard touchdown run by Tennessee Titans Mr. Football finalist Cameron Whitaker.
“That's something we talk about every day,” Randolph said. “Facing adversity, and then learning how to deal with it.”
The Jackson Williams PAT was no good and the game was tied 6-6 with 4:08 remaining in the first quarter.
“I'm glad the guys responded the way they did, they did not hold their heads down not one bit, and they kept playing with everything they had,” Randolph said. “We knew we would get a good game from Wayne County.”
Wayne County counter-punched on a quick four-play scoring drive when Owen Risner tossed a 31-yard touchdown pass to a wide open Carson Ray.
The Wildcats’ try at the two-point conversion was no good again, but they led 12-6.
The Bulldogs put their ears back and went on another drive that ate the rest of the clock in the first quarter and early in the second period, quarterback Henlee Mitchell found Trenten Warren out of the backfield on a swing route for an eight-yard touchdown, tying the game at 12-12.
The Bulldogs tried a two-point conversion run that was no good.
After the ensuing kickoff, the Wildcats started on their own 22-yard line and four plays later, Warren picked off Risner and rumbled 37-yards on the pick six, making it a 19-12 contest after Williams booted the PAT.
“Trenten had several tackles on the night, and I would say maybe had the biggest interception of his career with the run back and score,” Randolph said.
Wayne County was not ready to give in as they capped off a 17-play, 90 yard drive on a Carson Ray nine-yard TD pass from Risner, but the Bulldogs stuffed the two-point try and the game went to the half with Cornersville in front 19-18.
The Bulldogs took the second half kickoff and drove 61 yards down the field where they took a 26-18 lead on a Whitaker two-yard touchdown run, followed by a Williams PAT boot.
“Honestly, my biggest advice at halftime was that we needed to make adjustments and we did,” Randolph said. “We talked about the miscues that we had throughout the first half, and I told the guys that we need to fix it.”
“I think we responded well with the exception of one miscue in the second half. We cannot have those mental mistakes if we want to continue to play more football this year.”
The Wildcats responded with a drive that put them into Bulldog territory until Woodard picked off Risner and raced 80-yards for an apparent touchdown, but there was a penalty on the interception return and Cornersville started at their own 20-yard line.
“Eli had a huge interception for our defense late in the contest that was a huge momentum swing for our team,” Randolph said. “If you want to win against really good teams you have to be able to create turnovers, and the guys and defense game up big again.”
The Bulldogs used up the remainder of the third quarter and faced a fourth-and-long early in the fourth quarter when Mitchell found Blake Pickett on a 20-yard reception to move the chains.
Two plays later, Woodard was in the end zone for a touchdown, stretching Cornersville’s lead to 33-18 after the Williams PAT.
The Wildcats came back and scored on a Tucker Pyle 45-yard pass from Owen Risner to cap off a long drive, but the Bulldogs stuffed the two-point run and led 33-26.
Wayne County went with the onside kick, but the Bulldogs were ready and recovered at their own 37-yard line and three plays later, Whitaker raced 51 yards to the house, making it a 40-26 contest late in the fourth period.
The Bulldogs’ defense dug in and stopped the Wildcats in the backfield on a fourth down play and moments later, Warren capped off the win with a one-yard plunge.
Woodard led the Bulldogs’ ground assault with 19 carries for 146 yards and a touchdown and also topped the Cornersville defense with 6.5 tackles and his team leading sixth interception of the season.
“I have been blessed so much to have been associated with this entire team and outstanding young men and football players,” Randolph said. “Eli Woodard is a kid that brings it every time that he gets the opportunity to hit the football field.”
Whitaker toted the rock 13 times for 117 yards and had three touchdowns.
“Cameron continued his stellar play,” Randolph said. “I think he ran the ball really hard, and I think he came up with some big time conversions for our team to continue the chains moving.”
Warren had a rushing touchdown, a receiving touchdown, and an interception return for a score.
“I was so thrilled and happy for Trenten, he stepped up big for his teammates,” Randolph said. “He is the heart and soul of our defense and he brings it every Friday night. The interception before halftime was very crucial for our defense.”
Randolph added, “I really think that I have one of the best backfields in the state of Tennessee with my Warren, Whitaker, and Woodard. They complement each other very well, and they make it easy on me when calling plays for the offense. I know they all are going to give me the highest level of effort each and every time that they get the opportunity.”
Henlee Mitchell finished with an efficient 4-for-6 night in passing with 47 yards and a touchdown.
“Quarterback Henlee Mitchell did a great job of extending drives for us by making plays with his feet and his arm,” Randolph said. “He made two really good decisions putting the ball into two playmakers’ hands in Cameron Whitaker and Blake Pickett.”
Wayne County 12 6 0 8-26
Cornersville 6 13 7 21-47
Wayne County-Dawson Nutt 3-yard run, 2-pt pass NG.
Cornersville-Cameron Whitaker 1-yard run, Jackson Williams PAT NG.
Wayne County-Carson Ray 31-yard pass from Owen Risner, 2-pt. run NG.
Cornersville-Trenten Warren 8-yard pass from Henlee Mitchell, Trenten Warren 2-pt. run NG.
Cornersville-Trenten Warren 37-yard interception return, Jackson Williams PAT.
Wayne County-Carson Ray 9-yard pass from Owen Risner, 2-pt. run NG.
Cornersville-Cameron Whitaker 2-yard run, Jackson Williams PAT.
Cornersville-Eli Woodard 4-yard run, Jackson Williams PAT.
Wayne County-Tucker Pyle 45-yard pass from Owen Risner, Carson Ray 2-pt. pass from Owen Risner.
Cornersville-Cameron Whitaker 51-yard run, Jackson Williams PAT.
Cornersville-Trenten Warren 1-yard run, Jackson Williams PAT.
Total Offense: Wayne County 364, Cornersville 345.
Rushing: Wayne County 159, Cornersville 288.
Passing: Wayne County 205, Cornersville 57.
First Downs: Wayne County 23, Cornersville 24.
Penalties: Wayne County 8-55, Cornersville 4-50.
Turnovers: Wayne County 2, Cornersville 0.
Rushing: Eli Woodard 19-146-TD, Cameron Whitaker 13-117-3TD, Henlee Mitchell 1-13, Trenten Warren 3-12-TD.
Passing: Henlee Mitchell 4-6-47-TD.
Receiving: Cameron Whitaker 2-29, Blake Pickett 1-20, Trenten Warren 1-8-TD.
PAT: Jackson Williams 5-6.
Tackles: Eli Woodard 6.5 (TFL, INT), Trenten Warren 5 (.5TFL, INT), C.J. Coble 4.5 (1.5TFL), Cameron Whitaker 3.5, Ethan Courtemanche 3, Houston Williams 2.5 (1.5TFL), Ryan Prosser 2, Sebastian Smith 2 (TFL, SACK), Jacob Brooks 1.5 (TFL), Peyton Finch 1.5, Blake Pickett 1, Devin Baus .5 (.5TFL), Rhett Woodard .5.