Bulldogs fall one score short of state title
The Cornersville Bulldogs captured the hearts of their fans with a purposeful grit and determination the entire season and on Saturday at Tennessee Tech University's Tucker Stadium, the Frog Bottom boys did not disappoint anyone after a gut-wrenching 7-6 loss to Whitwell in the Class A BlueCross Bowl title game.
“I can’t say enough about our fan support,” Cornersville coach Gerard Randolph said. “I knew they would come, I hate the outcome was the way it was, but I’m so appreciative of our fans and Marshall County as a whole, they did a great job supporting theses kids.”
It was the second runnerup finish in two seasons for the Bulldogs, who set school records in almost every category, including back-to-back region titles and 14 wins this season that included an undefeated regular season, plus a remarkable 10 consecutive shutout string.
“We have changed Cornersville football,” Tennessee Titans Mr. Football finalist Cameron Whitaker said. “We changed the whole atmosphere and I think the people in Cornersville will always remember this.”
“We knew coming into the season we had a good defense and a strong offense, we just had an overall good team and our coaches did a great job of getting us back here. I just wanna give it up to all my brothers.”
Cornersville had never won a playoff game until last season as the 2018 graduating senior class posted an 8-3 overall playoff mark, including a 6-0 record at Frog Bottom and a 2-1 road record.
“This is a great group of seniors here and I hate to see them go,” Cornersville coach Gerard Randolph said. “They put their mark on Cornersville football and they will be remembered.”
The Bulldogs dominated almost every aspect of the game on Saturday, outgaining Whitwell 308-122 in total yardage and in time of possession 29:17-18:43, but lost the key turnover battle 2-0 and had seven penalties for 52 yards.
The Tigers were only whistled four times for 25 yards and Cornersville was flagged for five holding calls in the game, while Whitwell had zero.
Two of the penalties were questionable holding calls on the Bulldogs’ potential game winning drive in the fourth quarter that made Cornersville eat valuable time off the clock trying to regain the lost ground.
There was also an uncalled horse collar personal foul on an Eli Woodard run on the next to last play of the game that would have put the ball on the 6-yard line instead of the 21-yard line and that could have definitely made a difference for quarterback Henlee Mitchell, who had to try to throw his final pass into a howling wind.
“You can’t play behind the chains and that’s what we did,” Randolph said. “We were able to make them up, but if we don’t have those penalties and do what we did going down, it may be a different ballgame.”
In four out of their first five offensive possessions, the Bulldogs had the ball inside the Whitwell 28-yard line twice and at the 3-yard line twice, but scored just six points, while the Tigers only moved the ball into Cornersville territory twice in the entire game.
In their final three postseason games, the Cornersville defense gave up a total of 22 points versus teams that were averaging over 41 points per game.
“Our defense has been great this year, hats off to my defensive staff, they had an awesome game plan coming in,” Randolph said. “Whitwell made a play and were able to score, but I can’t say enough about my defense today, they played a great game.”
The Bulldogs dynamic running duo did not disappoint as Woodard led all rushers in the game with 150 yards on 30 carries and Whitaker rushed for 125 yards on 18 carries.
“They are two great players, Cameron and Eli,” Randolph said. “They are short in stature, but the heart that they both have and the ability they have makes up for it. I’m just very fortunate to have those two guys play for me the last four years and just wish them nothing but the best going forward.”
On the other side of the ball, the Bulldogs defense held the Tigers’ running game to just 74 yards on 26 carries.
Cornersville took the opening kickoff on the rainy, blustery day in Cookeville and took it right to the Tigers as they went on a seven-play, 57-yard ground assault drive that resulted in a Trenten Warren 3-yard touchdown run with 9:13 left in the first quarter.
The snap on the extra point try was a little high, the holder bobbled the wet pigskin, and Jackson Williams could not get the kick off and that loomed large at the end.
Whitwell went nowhere on offense the entire first half as they had three drives that resulted in 26 total yards and three punts.
The Bulldogs started their second drive of the game at their own 33-yard line and marched all the to the Whitwell 4-yard line where they were flagged for holding on first down that pushed them back to the 11.
Cornersville ran the ball three straight times to the Tigers’ 5-yard line as the first quarter ended with the Bulldogs in front 6-0.
On the first play of the second quarter, Whitwell stuffed the fourth-down run and took over, backed up to their own end zone.
The Tigers managed to get the ball out to the 17-yard line where they punted the ball back and Whitaker returned it 16 yards to the Whitwell 44-yard line with 8:31 remaining in the first half.
The Bulldogs only moved the ball two yards total before a Mitchell fourth-down pass sailed long over Blake Pickett’s head and Whitwell took over at the 38-yard line.
Even if the pass was on target, there was a holding penalty called on the play.
The Cornersville defense forced a quick three-and-out and punted to Whitaker, who returned it nine yards to the Bulldogs’ 28-yard line.
The Bulldogs rushed the rock nine straight times to the Whitwell 29-yard line when Mitchell threw a pass into the strong wind and it was intercepted by Jaren Thames to end the first half.
The interception was the first of the season for Mitchell.
Whitwell took the second half kickoff and could not move the football more than 10 yards when they had to punt again.
The Bulldogs started at their own 22-yard line where Whitaker busted a first down run for 28 yards to the midfield stripe.
Seven consecutive rushes moved the rock to the Whitwell 28-yard line, but the Bulldogs were unable to cash in again as a Mitchell fourth-down toss fell incomplete.
The Tigers took over and faced a third-and-five at their own 45-yard line when game MVP Hudson Petty took off on a 36-yard run to the Bulldogs’ 19-yard line.
Six plays later, Whitwell face a fourth-and-goal at the Cornersville four-yard line when Petty tossed a backfield pass to Thunder Roberts, who was tackled at the one by Whitaker and the Bulldogs took over with 11:53 remaining in the contest.
The Bulldogs rushed three straight times for zero yards and Warren had to punt out of the back of the end zone into the strong wind.
The punt was downed at the 21-yard line and four plays later, Whitwell was in the end zone when Petty tossed a pass to Tanner Stewart, who broke a Cornersville tackle on the visitors’ sideline and scored.
The all-important extra point boot by Evan Nunley was just inside the uprights and the Tigers led 7-6 with 7:24 remaining in the game.
On the ensuing drive, Woodard rushed for two yards on first down before a second down holding call pushed the Bulldogs back for a second-and-18.
Mitchell tried to find a receiver, but the ball ballooned in the wind and Petty picked it off and returned it 17 yards to the Cornersville 26-yard line.
A delay of game penalty on first down put the Tigers behind the chains and three snaps later, Devin Baus and Warren combined on a quarterback sack and a 13-yard loss to force a punt.
The Bulldogs’ chances of winning the Gold Ball rested on their last drive with 4:25 remaining in the game and Cornersville still had all three of its timeouts.
Woodard was in the Wildcat formation and rushed for 11 yards on first down and three on his next touch.
On the next snap, Whitaker took the pitch and ran to the sidelines for a nice pickup, but the play was called back on a holding call, making it second-and-19.
Undaunted, the Bulldogs kept churning away on the ground with Woodard and Whitaker and two first downs later, the Bulldogs were in scoring position at the Whitwell 26-yard line.
After a one-yard Whitaker run, the yellow flag flew for holding again, making it second-and-20.
Three runs later the Bulldogs faced a fourth-and-six with 55 seconds remaining in the game and Woodard came up with a huge run for a first down to the Whitwell 15-yard line.
A one-yard loss and a false start moved the ball back to the 21-yard line where Woodard ran to the outside and was tackled illegally by the horse collar, but no flag came out and on the next snap, Mitchell tossed the ball up into the howling wind and the Whitwell defender knocked it down to end the game.
“I think the wind had a big impact right there,” Randolph said. “I think right there we try to kick a field goal and give ourselves a chance, I’m big on that, but the way the wind was blowing right there I thought that would be against us doing that. You can question yourself 100,000 times, but Whitwell made one more play than us, so hats off to them.”
Cornersville 6 0 0 0-6
Whitwell 0 0 0 7-7
Cornersville-Trenten Warren 3-yard run, PAT NG, 9:13.
Whitwell-Tanner Stewart 15-yard pass from Hudson Petty, Evan Nunley PAT, 7:31.
Total Offense: Cornersville 308, Whitwell 122.
Rushing: Cornersville 54-280, Whitwell 37-122.
Passing: Cornersville 28, Whitwell 48.
First Downs: Cornersville 18, Whitwell 6.
Penalties: Cornersville 7-52, Whitwell 4-25.
Turnovers: Cornersville 2, Whitwell 0.
Time of Possession: Cornersville 29:17, Whitwell 18:43.
Rushing: Eli Woodard 30-150, Cameron Whitaker 18-125, Trenten Warren 5-124-TD, Henlee Mitchell 1-3.
Passing: Henlee Mitchell 2-7-28-2INT.
Receiving: Eli Woodard 1-23, Ryan Prosser 1-5.
PAT: Jackson Williams 0-1.
Punting: Trenten Warren 1-19.
Kickoffs: Eli Woodard 1-28, Blake Pickett 1-10.
Punts: Cameron Whitaker 3-37.
Tackles: CJ Coble 9 (TFL), Trenten Warren 6 (2TFL, SACK), Cameron Whitaker 4, Eli Woodard 4 (TFL), Ryan Prosser 3, Blake Pickett 3 (TFL), Dylan Baus 2 (TFL), Devin Massengill 1, Cameron Estes 1, Peyton Finch 1, Jackson Mitchell 1, Devin Baus 1 (TFL, SACK), Sebastian Smith 1.