Bulldogs focus on task at hand
The Cornersville Bulldogs stood up to the challenge in last week’s second round playoff game as they overcame an early deficit to defeat Wayne County 47-26 with a huge second half effort at Frog Bottom.
“First and foremost, we were extremely pleased to get the win against a good Wayne County team,” Cornersville coach Gerard Randolph said. “We were able to do some good things overall, but we also got to experience some things that we need to work on.”
The win over the Wildcats was the sixth straight home playoff win for the Bulldogs, who have to head West on I-40 to finish the postseason, beginning with a road trip Friday night to third-ranked Huntingdon.
“As far as our game day preparation goes it will definitely be different this week, and that's because of the duration of the road trip,” Randolph said. “We will try to keep it as routine as possible, but we will have to get an earlier start to get our game prep in for the night.”
“Our work throughout the week has been as usual with a few minor adjustments to get ready for a very good Huntingdon football team.”
The Class A state runner-up and second-ranked Bulldogs remain grounded and focused, knowing the task at hand will be a difficult challenge as they face the Mustangs Friday night in a rematch of last year’s Class A quarterfinal game won in double overtime by Cornersville 21-20.
“There has been a lot of talk of a rematch of this game since the sound of the last horn last year,” Randolph said. “This game has been the talk for most of the season, and it has come to reality.”
The two unbeaten squads have been on a collision course all season as both have rolled through the regular season before posting a pair of playoffs wins.
“I'm sure that they would love nothing more than to get revenge against us on their home turf, but I will say we are excited and ready to challenge them at their stadium,” Randolph said. “Our guys know what is at stake here, and that's the bottom line, win and advance to the state semifinals.”
The Bulldogs toasted Community in Week 1 before reeling off an incredible 10 straight blowout, shutout wins, including a 48-0 blanking over McEwen in round one of the postseason.
The Frog Bottom boys have a 44.2-to-3.8 advantage in points per game and shutout four playoff teams in the regular season, while the Mustangs hold a 51.4-to-15.8 scoring average per game and handled five playoff teams during the regular season, including 3A Milan (44-29) and 2A Waverly (63-42), which are both still alive in the postseason.
These two teams can score and play defense.
The Mustangs have accumulated 5,210 yards of total offense on the season with 4,570 yards coming in the ground game, led by junior quarterback Hunter Enlsey with 1,334 yards and 29 touchdowns.
Ensley has also thrown the rock 47 times with 28 completions for 640 yards and nine touchdowns and three interceptions.
“It's going to come down to playing assignment football, and having a lot of want to,” Randolph stated. “We know how valuable he is to their offense, and we have to know where he is at all times.”
There are plenty of other Mustangs in the stable as DaQuan Robinson has 844 yards and 15 TD's, Brandon Lawton has 683 yards and 9 TD’s, Konnor Pearson has 598 and six touchdowns, and Dallas Willis has rushed for 509 yards and nine scores.
Pearson leads the Mustangs in receiving with nine catches for 294 and five touchdowns.
“The key to being successful in this game will be up front in the trenches,” Randolph said. “We have to do our job and be the more physical football team. They have several guys that can hurt us, so we have to do our job at all phases of the game.”
On defense, outside linebacker Bo Mclemore is the man to watch as he is tied for the team lead in tackles with 78 takedowns. Mclemore also has 28 tackles for loss and 16 quarterback sacks.
Austin Avery has 78 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, and six sacks.
Middle Linebacker Steven Rich has 77 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, and seven sacks, while Willis, Pearson, and Ensley all have over 50 tackles on the season.
Huntingdon is in the midst of its 12th straight playoff appearances with runners-up finishes in 2012, 2004, 2003, and 1999 and one state title in 2003.
The Bulldogs have only played in 13 playoffs game in its history and has a 6-7 mark with four of those wins coming last season.
Cornersville is an experienced, well-oiled, talented squad with 17 seniors who have been through all the battles together as they went 8-13 their first two varsity seasons before turning it around in 2017 when they posted a 13-2 record, including the programs first ever region title, four straight home playoff wins, and a berth in the Class A state title game.
Class A Tennessee Titans Mr. Football finalist Cameron Whitaker and his longtime friend and running mate Eli Woodard are like peanut butter and jelly in the backfield as the duo has combined for 1,768 yards and 32 touchdowns on the season in the rushing game.
Add in the bruiser Trenten Warren with 426 yards and nine touchdowns and you have a lethal combination that is hard to defend.
Probably the most improved aspect of the Cornersville offense this season has been the maturation of quarterback Henlee Mitchell, who has had a remarkable senior season behind center.
Mitchell has completed 48 out of 69 passing attempts for 1,007 yards with 17 touchdowns and zero interceptions.
Mitchell likes to spread the ball around as Whitaker (2 TD’s) and Peyton Finch (4 TD’s) have 11 receptions apiece, Blake Pickett (4 TD’s) has 10, and Woodard (5 TD’s) and Ryan Prosser (4 TD’s) have eight catches apiece.
“We have to make them defend the entire football field,” Randolph said. “We hang our hat on being a physical downhill running football team, but we also know that we have to keep them honest by being able to utilize our outside threats too.’
“We have some guys that can make plays on the outside when they try to take away our running game.”
The Bulldogs pride themselves on having a shutdown defense, exemplified by the remarkable string of 10 straight shutouts.
Cornersville has a 35-to-9 turnover differential on the season with 20 interceptions and 15 fumble recoveries.
Woodard and Warren have interception returns for touchdowns and Whitaker has returned two fumbles for touchdowns.
Warren leads the squad in tackles with 57.5 and is followed by C.J. Coble (36), Woodard (35), Devin Baus (24), Whitaker (21), Ethan Courtemanche (18), Sebastian Smith (17), Pickett (16.5), and Finch (15.5), while Houston Williams, Dylan Baus, and Prosser all have 15 tackles apiece.
In nine out of the 12 games this season, the starters played one half of football.
“I feel like if our guys play defense at a high level like I know we can, than we give ourselves a really good chance to be successful on Friday night.” “This means we have to eliminate the mental errors and play fast, physical, and aggressive.”
“We have to play with a lot of want to and believe in each other from the first play to the last play. If we can do this I think we give ourselves a good shot to win the game.”
There is no secrets in the way the Bulldogs do things, they just come straight at you on offense and challenge you with an “in your face” defense and that’s what they will do tonight at Huntingdon as they come away with a hard fought 35-28 win over the Mustangs in front of an enormous travelling Bulldog fan base.
“Having a huge fan base at the game for our team is going to play a big time role, the guys enjoy having a huge fan base and they love how the fans get behind them during the game,” Randolph stated. “We are asking everyone to come out and help make this a home football game for the Bulldogs.”