The Tullahoma Wildcats scored on their first four possessions, including a game-opening 77-yard kickoff return by Montrell Berry and a 77-yard run from scrimmage by Jared Davis; cruising to a 42-0 victory over Warren County on senior night at Wilkins Stadium. Both Berry and Davis are part of this year’s upper class.
The victory keeps the ‘Cats (7-2, 3-1), who have already clinched second place in District 8-AAA and a TSSAA playoff berth, in prime position to be a top-two seed in quadrant two of the Class 5A playoffs when they begin the first weekend in November. Tullahoma concludes the regular season next week at Lawrence County.
“Once again I am just extremely proud of the seniors on this football team and the leadership they are providing,” said Tullahoma coach John Olive on the field after the game. Olive is now 138-75 in his 19th season at Tullahoma and 162-90 as a head coach.
“It is always good to get a bunch of players in the game,” continued Olive. “Every varsity player got on the field tonight and I’m happy for them. It’s tough to get everybody in when that mercy clock is running because it eats up the game so quickly, but we got them all in.”
The TSSAA mercy clock rule says when one team leads by 35 points or more in the second half, the clock only stops for timeouts and scores. Tullahoma activated that clock with 9:27 left in the third quarter, and the game ended in a near-record time of only two hours.
With the loss the Pioneers (0-3, 0-9) continue a disappointing season that has seen them rarely be competitive. They have a chance to play spoiler for White County this Friday though, as the Warriors could secure a playoff spot with a win. A loss to Warren County would almost surely end any postseason dreams White County has.
Knowing their playoff spot is secure and coming off an emotional win over Shelbyville last week, some thought the ‘Cats might come out flat on Friday. They did anything but that. After honoring the 18 seniors on this 2011 squad, the home team went right to work.
Berry, who rushed for 96 yards on only nine carries, took only 15 seconds to race past the Pioneer kickoff coverage team on the opening kickoff, and after Joseph Burke kicked the PAT the Wildcats had a 7-0 lead. The domination was just beginning.
Warren County gained two yards on its first possession, and after a short punt the Tullahoma offense was set up at the Pioneers’ 42-yard line. Trey Burks carried four times for 26 yards, and Davis hit Shaquille Harris and Austin Creasman with seven-yard passes before finishing the eight-play, four-minute drive with a quarterback sneak on fourth-and-goal at the one. Burke, who was a perfect six-for-six on the night, split the uprights and the lead was 14-0 with 6:06 left in the first quarter.
An illegal procedure penalty killed the visitors’ next opportunity, squandering one of three outstanding kickoff returns by Warren County’s best player, sophomore D’Andre League. After a Pioneer punt of only seven yards, the home team began its third drive at its 25-yard line.
Burks, who had his second consecutive 100-yard rushing night, gaining 101 in only 10 carries, began the drive with a 35-yard gallop. After a pair of Tullahoma penalties, Davis found Harris with a 26-yard strike. On the next play Berry burst through the defense for 24 yards and scored his second touchdown of the quarter. Burke’s kicked it through and the lead was 21-0 with 1:43 left in the opening quarter.
Still without a first down, the Pioneers committed two more penalties on their next possession and punted again. After a penalty of its own, Tullahoma put the ball in the hands of its senior quarterback, and Davis simply outran the entire Warren County team for a 77-yard touchdown, with Burke’s kick giving the ‘Cats a 28-0 lead with 11:43 left in the half. Davis completed all four of his pass attempts for 43 yards and carried the ball three times for 85 yards and two scores.
The Pioneers finally picked up a first down on their next possession, three in fact, before the Wildcat defense stiffened and the two teams exchanged punts. THS junior linebacker Dalton Cox recovered a Warren County fumble with 1:17 left in the half.
Olive then did something he hasn’t done all season, swapping Harris and Davis on the field with Harris at quarterback and Davis as a flanker. Harris completed a 30-yard pass to Creasman as the half expired, his only completion and the final pass the Wildcats would throw, and the two teams entered the locker room with Tullahoma leading 28-0.
The second half began much like the first, with Tullahoma forcing a punt on the visitors’ first possession. After Harris, who had 95 yards total offense on three rushes, three catches, and the one pass, knifed through the defense for 16 yards, Davis ran for six before Berry showed his quickest burst of the season, scoring from 24 yards away. Burke set the mercy clock in motion with his successful PAT early in the third quarter.
Tullahoma’s final score came on its next possession, with Harris engineering a seven-play, 65-yard drive that consumed almost five minutes. Berry had runs of 12, 14, and 17 yards, and Harris finished the drive with a four-yard touchdown run. With 29 second remaining in the third quarter the scoring was completed.
The Wildcats rushed for 329 yards as a team, their second consecutive 300-yard rushing performance. As impressive was their 400 yards total offense on only 37 plays, averaging more than 10 yards every play. That will win a lot of football games. Warren County was held to only 179 yards total offense.