Bulldogs gut out win at muddy Tiptonville, earn another title shot
After stunning Huntingdon on its home field in the quarterfinals, the Cornersville Bulldogs made the long trek to Tiptonville on Friday where they gutted out a 21-8 semifinal win over Lake County in adverse weather conditions to advance to the Class A Blue Cross Bowl state championship game for the second season in a row.
“I’m so proud of them, coming out and facing adversity and the guys bowed their backs and kept fighting and that’s what happens to good teams,” Cornersville coach Gerard Randolph said. “When you keep fighting and keep plugging, good things will happen for you.”
“Like I said, I can’t say enough about them, they could have hung their heads early, they didn’t, they came back and played hard and we were fortunate enough to come out on top tonight.”
The undefeated Bulldogs (14-0) face Whitwell (14-0), which knocked out defending state champion Greenback (12-1) on an Evan Nunley 27-yard field goal with one second left in the other semifinal contest at Whitwell.
Kickoff for the Class A BlueCross Bowl state championship game is set for 11 a.m. on Saturday at Tennessee Tech University in Crossville.
The road warrior Bulldogs put 775 round trip miles on the odometer in the last two playoff wins and in an amazing defensive feat, held a pair of teams that were averaging over 43 points per game to a combined 15 points on their home turf.
“We have done a lot of first things here at Cornersville,” Randolph said. “First time winning a playoff game last year and going to the state championship and we wanted to continue that trend and we wanted to be road warriors and show that we belong here.”
“This was an excellent job by the guys going to win two big ballgames at two hostile places.”
It was an old-fashioned mud bowl at Lake County as rain fell most of the night and made footing very shaky and throwing the pigskin almost impossible.
The Falcons did not complete a pass in 12 attempts, while the Bulldogs barely tried to toss it as Henlee Mitchell went 1-for-2 for just 14 yards.
Cornersville did not need to throw the ball as Eli Woodard earned an all-time ‘mudder’ moniker, toting the sloppy rock 19 times for 184 yards, including long touchdown runs of 58 and 95 yards.
Class A Tennessee Titans Mr. Football finalist Cameron Whitaker had 11 touches for 65 yards and a 35-yard touchdown run in the third quarter that gave the Bulldogs plenty of breathing room.
“He’s (Woodard) a gamer man, him and Cameron both do a great job of running the ball hard and I’m so glad I got those two in my backfield,” Randolph said. “They are two awesome football players.”
The Bulldogs continued to display a super focused effort on the gridiron as they did not turn the ball over and had zero penalties in the contest, while Lake County lost two fumbles and had two penalties for 15 yards.
Cornersville holds a stellar 40-to-11 turnover differential headed into the title game versus the Tigers, who are making their first-ever Blue Cross Bowl state championship game appearance.
Whitaker returned the opening kickoff 60 yards to put the Bulldogs in excellent scoring position, but the Bulldogs failed to convert on a fourth-and-one run at the Lake County 12-yard line and turned the ball over on downs.
The Falcons needed just seven plays to score as Tennessee Titans Mr. Football finalist Dezmon Johnson toted the rock on every play, including a 20-yard touchdown run to cap off the 88-yard scoring drive. Larry Tubbs converted the two-point conversion run as Lake County took an 8-0 lead with 5:54 remaining in the first quarter.
Johnson had over half the offensive production for the Falcons in the game, rushing the ball 29 times for 102 yards.
Cornersville was forced to punt on its next possession and the Bulldog defense stopped the Falcons on a fourth-and-three play at the Cornersville 42-yard line.
On the next play, Woodard took the snap in Wildcat formation and juked left down the visitors’ sideline 58 yards for the score and then Woodard converted the two-point conversion run, tying the game at 8-8 with 7:19 remaining in the first half.
“They were tough, they had a tough defense and they are almost a resemblance of us,” Woodard said. “Where you got to win is in the trenches, it comes down to grit and fighting in the trenches and when you get close you have got to get in.”
The Falcons moved the ball near midfield on their next drive before stalling and were forced to punt.
Tubbs nailed a beauty that stopped in the mud at the Cornersville five-yard line.
After running for no gain on first down, Woodard took a second down handoff and broke through the line, running down the Lake County sideline as he received great interference by Ryan Prosser and Whitaker to make it all the way to the end zone for a touchdown. Jackson Williams’ PAT boot was true and the Bulldogs led 15-8 with 2:28 remaining in the first half.
“I got to the 50 and I got pretty gassed,” a smiling Woodard said. “Brady Calahan made a good kick block and I got great downfield blocking by Ryan and Cam, it was just an all-around good play.”
“We had something else called and changed it when they brought the defensive line down, so we had to change the call.”
Cornersville did not let up on defense and forced another Lake County punt as the first half ended with the Bulldogs up by seven points.
The Falcons received the second half kickoff and disaster quickly struck as they fumbled away the football on the first snap and Trenten Warren recovered at the Lake County 35-yard line.
“We just pushed hard and pushed through it, we knew we could do it if everybody did their job and pushed hard,” Warren said. “It was tough, we knew we could do it because we are a tough team and we are just gonna keep doing it.”
Whitaker was stopped for no gain on first down, but took the handoff on second down and ran left through the Lake County defenders for the back-breaking touchdown with 11:02 remaining in the third quarter.
“We bounce back all the time and never give up, that’s just us,” Whitaker said. “We have been playing together since we were young and that’s just us, we play good together.”
“We just practiced like normal, we worked harder each day of the week and prepared for their schemes, and watched film, so we were ready all week.”
The Bulldog defense bowed up for the remainder of the game, holding the desperate Falcon offense to zero pass completions and just three second half first downs to secure the win and a trip back to Cookeville for the BlueCross Bowl.
CJ Coble led the stout defensive effort with 8.5 tackles and a fumble recovery, Warren had six tackles, half a sack, and a fumble recovery, Woodard had five tackles, Whitaker 4.5, Devin Baus had 3.5 takedowns and a sack, Devon Massengill had 2.5 tackles, Houston Williams 1.5, Blake Pickett and Jacob Brooks had one tackle apiece, and Dylan Baus, Jackson Mitchell, and Finch all had a half tackle each.
“We really don’t care who we play, we are going to the ‘ship’,” Woodard said. “Whoever wants to play us, we will study film and prepare for them starting on Sunday.”
“Last year, it was almost like we were happy to just be there, this year we are really into the game, and we know what comes with it, so we will limit the distractions and being there last year helps a lot.”
Cornersville 0 15 6 0-22
Lake County 8 0 0 0-8
Lake County-Dezmon Johnson 20-yard run, Larry Tubbs 2-point run, 5:54.
Cornersville-Eli Woodard 58-yard run, Eli Woodard 2-point run, 7:19.
Cornersville-Eli Woodard 95-yard run, Jackson Williams PAT, 2:28.
Cornersville-Cameron Whitaker 35-yard run, PAT NG, 11:02.
Total Offense: Cornersville 275, Lake County 201.
Rushing: Cornersville 261, Lake County 201.
Passing: Cornersville 14, Lake County 0.
First Downs: Cornersville 6, Lake County 11.
Penalties: Cornersville 0-0, Lake County 2-15.
Turnovers: Cornersville 0, Lake County 2.
Rushing: Eli Woodard 19-184-2TD, Cameron Whitaker 11-65-TD, Trenten Warren 3-7, Henlee Mitchell 3-5, Brady Calahan 1-0.
Passing: Henlee Mitchell 1-2-14.
Receiving: Peyton Finch 1-14.
PAT: Jackson Williams 1-2.
Punting: Trenten Warren 4-93-1 Inside 20.
Kickoffs: Cameron Whitaker 1-60, Eli Woodard 1-30.
Punts: Cameron Whitaker 1-10.
Tackles: CJ Coble 8.5 (TFL, SACK), Trenten Warren 6 (.5TFL, .5SACK, FUM REC)), Eli Woodard 5 (TFL), Cameron Whitaker 4.5 (TFL), Devin Baus 3.5 (2.5TFL, SACK), Devon Massengill 2.5, Houston Williams 1.5 (1.5TFL, .5SACK), Blake Pickett 1, Jacob Brooks 1, Dylan Baus .5 (.5TFL), Jackson Mitchell .5, Peyton Finch .5.