By ZACH BIRDSONG
A slow start put Tullahoma in a hole that it was never able to climb out of and Franklin County took advantage, gashing the Wildcats for 381 rushing yards in a 49-42 road win on Friday night.
The Rebels led 28-7 at halftime, before Tullahoma attempted to mount a second-half comeback. The Wildcats’ effort fell short as Franklin County running back Jarious Johnson broke loose for a pair of big 49-yard touchdowns, allowing the Rebels to hold on for the victory.
“Well we obviously dug ourselves in a hole,” said THS Head Coach John Olive. “I wish I could explain that. That’s two games out of four where we are flat in the first half. We played better in the second half, but we’ve got to make some improvements and make some things happen.”
Johnson had a career night, reaching the end zone five times in the victory. The senior tailback finished with 232 rushing yards on 31 carries.
Tullahoma quarterback Nic Barstad also put together a five-touchdown performance, throwing for four scores in the second half. Barstad completed 19 of his 27 pass attempts for 320 yards, but was intercepted twice in the first half.
Briasen Corn also had a strong performance for the Wildcats, rushing for 169 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries. After an injury during week one of the season, Corn played on defense against Marshall County on Sept. 2, returning to the running back position for the first time on Friday night.
The Wildcats were without one of their key playmakers, as senior tailback Amauri Burks was sidelined on Friday. According to Olive, Amauri was shaken up during the opening kickoff. Rather than risk his safety, he was kept off the field. A timetable for his return has not been given.
Even without Amauri, the Wildcats were able to generate 491 yards on the night. However, slowing down Franklin County’s rush attack was tough, as the Rebels had 410 yards of their own.
Johnson capped off the Rebels’ first drive of the night on Friday with a 3-yard touchdown. That score concluded a 10-play, 50-yard drive and put Franklin County in front 7-0 with 6:32 left in the first quarter.
Just over a minute later, the score was evened as Barstad found Kobe Burks on a big pass play. Barstad connected with Kobe for an 88-yard touchdown and Chase Farler booted the extra point to tie the game at 7 with 5:02 remaining in the opening period.
It was all Franklin County from there, as the Rebels held Tullahoma scoreless for the remainder of the first half. Johnson and Cameron Yarlett each ran for a touchdown, while Caden Sons had a 50-yard interception return for a touchdown that gave Franklin County a 28-7 advantage heading into halftime.
Coming out of halftime, the Wildcats struck first, putting together an eight-play, 80-yard touchdown drive. Barstad connected with Race Marin for a touchdown, before Farler added the extra point, cutting Tullahoma’s deficit down to 28-14 with 9:18 left in the third quarter.
After Franklin County marched down to the Wildcats’ 8-yard line, Tullahoma looked as if it was going to hold the Rebels to a 25-yard field goal attempt. However, a pair of unsportsmanlike penalties gave Franklin County a first down at the 2-yard line. The Rebels cashed in on the chance as Johnson scored his third touchdown of the night, making it a 35-14 contest with 3:51 remaining in the third quarter.
The Wildcats answered quickly with a score of their own, largely from a big 32-yard rushing play from Corn that gave his team possession at the Rebels’ 10-yard line. Barstad hit Matthew Ross for a score on the next play, and Farler connected on the extra point to cut the score to 35-21 with 2:06 left in the third period.
After holding Franklin County to a quick three-and-out on its next series, Tullahoma took advantage with a nine-play, 72-yard drive, making it a one-score game. Corn capped off the drive with a 3-yard touchdown run and Farler made the extra point to make the score 35-28 with 7:58 remaining in the ballgame.
Four plays later, the Rebels padded their lead as Johnson broke free for a 49-yard touchdown run, upping his team’s lead to 42-28 with 6:12 left in the fourth quarter.
Tullahoma once again answered with points, this time with Barstad and Ross connecting for a 21-yard touchdown. Farler added the extra point, making it a 42-35 matchup with 2:27 remaining in the contest.
After Franklin County recovered an onside kick attempt, it took just one play for it to reach the end zone. Johnson broke free for his second 49-yard rushing touchdown of the half, giving the Rebels a 49-35 lead with 2:13 left in the fourth quarter.
Tullahoma added one final touchdown with just 15 seconds left on the clock, pulling it to a 49-42 contest. Barstad hit Marin for a 5-yard touchdown and Farler made the extra point. However, the Rebels recovered the ensuing onside kick attempt, sealing the victory.
“We can’t keep playing these high-scoring games and be successful,” Olive said. “We aren’t good enough to do that right now. We’ve got to have some people step up and help make improvements. We can’t just stay static where we are.”
Tullahoma (2-2, 0-1) will have another tough test in front of it next week, when it travels to face Spring Hill on Friday night. Kickoff for Friday night’s contest is scheduled for 7 p.m.
The Raiders (3-1, 1-0) are coming off of a 49-24 road loss to Riverdale last week, but were ranked eighth in the state’s Class 4-A rankings.