By ZACH BIRDSONG
Trailing 22-7 at halftime at home on Friday, Tullahoma battled back and shut out Lawrence County in the second half, picking up a 29-22 win and securing its first-ever Region 4-4A victory.
With the score even at 22, Lawrence County fumbled the football away at its own 31-yard line and Tullahoma took over from that spot. Two plays later, Tullahoma scored the game-winner as quarterback Nic Barstad held on to the football, rushing into the end zone from 5 yards away.
Matthew Marcel booted in the extra point, putting THS in front for good 29-22.
With Friday night’s win, Tullahoma (4-4, 1-3) also ended a five-game losing streak to Lawrence County dating back to 2012. Lawrence County drops to 2-6 on the season and 0-5 against region opponents.
After surrendering 236 yards to Lawrence County in the first half, Tullahoma’s defense tightened up in the final two quarters. Lawrence County managed just 101 yards in the second half, 88 of which came on the ground.
“We made some adjustments, but basically, we just challenged our guys at halftime to get up and play,” said THS Head Coach John Olive. “Our defense was playing better in the second half and some young kids had to step up and play tonight. I can think of three sophomores in particular who I saw making plays in the second half, which was great to see. Hunter Jewell, Jake Hollandsworth and Cooper Lawson all made plays in the second half.”
Tullahoma only picked up 153 yards of offense in the second half, but was aided by two key fourth-quarter turnovers.
With just over 10 minutes left in the contest, Lawrence County quarterback Gage Thigpen fumbled the ball at his team’s 18-yard line and Tullahoma’s Lawson was there for the recovery.
Down 22-14 at the time, Tullahoma was able to even the score with a four-play drive. Barstad connected with Kobe Burks for a 6-yard touchdown pass to cut it to a 22-20 matchup.
“It was a great cut on the touchdown,” Olive said. “The play was designed to go to the outside, but he [Kobe] sees that opening and turns it up in there.”
Tullahoma elected to attempt a 2-point conversion that was successful. After Amauri Burks took the direct snap, he handed the ball off to his brother Kobe, who tossed it to Barstad in the end zone, evening the score at 22 with 8:21 remaining on the clock.
“He [Kobe] is a natural athlete,” Olive said. “Whether it’s him throwing that little touch pass to Nic and waiting till Nic became open. There was a guy running with Nic who finally committed to Kobe. When he committed to Kobe, he hit Nic with the touch pass.”
Three plays later, Tullahoma regained possession, forcing another fumble as Lawrence County’s Gui Miranda coughed up the football. Amauri was there for the recovery, and Tullahoma took over at Lawrence County’s 31-yard line.
After a penalty backed Tullahoma up to the 36-yard line, Barstad hit Kobe for a 31-yard pass play, which set up THS at the 5-yard line. On the next play, Barstad rushed for the game-winning score, before Marcel added the extra point with 6:01 left in the contest.
Barstad completed 16 of his 24 pass attempts on the night for 208 yards and two touchdowns, while adding the game-winning rushing score and 3 receiving yards. Kobe was Barstad’s leading receiver on the night, bringing in seven catches for 150 yards and a score, while also completing the game-tying pass.
While Tullahoma notched the win, it was Lawrence County who took control of the game early on Friday, scoring a pair of touchdowns to make it a 14-0 contest. Running back Damion Gray scored both touchdowns, punching the ball into the end zone from 6 yards out before adding a 4-yard score.
After having its first extra-point attempt blocked by Tullahoma, Lawrence County elected to go for a 2-point conversion after Gray put up his second touchdown of the night. On a reverse, Gus Miranda reached the end zone with 1:22 left in the first quarter.
Tullahoma answered back with a score as Barstad connected with Race Marin for a 6-yard touchdown. Marcel added the extra point, cutting the score down to 14-7 with 9:59 remaining in the second quarter.
Just before halftime, Lawrence County added its final touchdown of the game. Thigpen connected with Zeveyon Bass for a 23-yard touchdown. Gus Miranda was able to convert on the ensuing 2-point attempt, putting Lawrence County up 22-7 heading into halftime.
Forcing Lawrence County into a quick three-and-out to open the second half, Tullahoma took over from its 31-yard line. Eight plays later, Tullahoma reached the end zone as Amauri rushed for a 7-yard touchdown. Marcel again booted in the extra point, cutting the score to 22-14 with 6:57 remaining in the third quarter.
After the teams traded possessions, Tullahoma recovered back-to-back Lawrence County fumbles, before taking its 29-22 advantage. Lawrence County attempted to even the score, but was stopped at Tullahoma’s 38-yard line with 39 seconds remaining on the clock.
Tullahoma will enjoy a bye week before heading to Giles County on Oct. 20 for a 7 p.m. kickoff. Heading into the off week, Olive said he just wants his players and coaching staff to enjoy a few days off after getting a much-needed win against Lawrence County.
“I thought it was crucial for us [to get a win before the bye break] from a mental standpoint,” Olive said. “I thought we were getting pretty fragile mentally.
“We need a chance to get away from football,” he added. “I’m hoping that coaches and players alike can enjoy these four or five days where they don’t have to think about getting ready for Giles County. I want them to get a chance to relax and then we will get back to work.”