Tullahoma may have clinched itself a first-round home playoff game with a 31-6 win at Lawrence County on Friday, but it certainly wasn’t pretty.
In the first half, Tullahoma struggled for offense, picking up just two first downs and finishing the first two quarters with just 23 yards. However, a pair of punt returns by Kobe Burks allowed Tullahoma to take a 14-0 advantage into halftime.
“We get the punt return early in the game and I think our mindset was, ‘Hey the rout is on,’” said THS Head Coach John Olive. “We didn’t get ourselves ready to play. I did a terrible job at getting us ready. I thought we were, and I thought that we would come down here and take care of business, but we didn’t … We just didn’t respect our opponent enough. That’s what it comes down to.
“I’m glad we got a win though,” he added. “It was ugly, ugly, ugly, but yet you look at the score and it’s 31-6. So, I’m glad we are good enough to get ugly wins.”
Burks got the scoring started for Tullahoma with 5:41 remaining in the opening period, returning a punt 45 yards for the score. The senior then added a second-quarter return, this time from 70 yards away, giving his team a 14-0 edge with 7:27 left before halftime.
“His scoring was huge for us,” Olive said. “Then, he had several runs for us which were called back.”
While Tullahoma’s offense struggled, the defense was able to lock down Lawrence County in the first half. Lawrence County was held to 58 yards in the opening two quarters, turning the ball over once as Hunter Jewell recovered a fumble for THS.
“We really struggled offensively, thankfully our defense can play solid and kept it from being a really close ballgame,” Olive said. “It was never really a game of whether it [the result] was in doubt, it was just a game where we didn’t play very well. We did play better offensively in the second half. Defensively, I thought we played better in the first half than the second half.”
The numbers back up Olive’s observations, as Tullahoma’s offense put up 182 yards in the second half. Lawrence County, on the other hand, put up 210 yards in the final two quarters.
After taking a 14-0 advantage into halftime, Tullahoma immediately added to its lead with a touchdown in the third quarter. Trying to avoid Burks on the opening kickoff to start the second half, Lawrence County intentionally kicked it short to Jakobe Thomas.
The sophomore was able to cut toward the left side of the field, taking the return 60 yards for the touchdown, just 15 seconds into the third quarter, making the score 21-0. Thomas fielded an earlier punt late in the first half, but muffed it, giving Lawrence County possession at its 45-yard line, so his head coach was happy to see him take a kick back for the return.
“I’m hoping that he learns that next time that they shank a punt like that, you just have to stay away from it. Jakobe is a good athlete and can make people miss. If he can improve his speed, he’ll be a big-time athlete … It was a good return, I’m proud of Jakobe bouncing back. It was also good to see him and Kyler [Parker] play out the fourth quarter at quarterback.”
Lawrence County cut into its deficit just seconds later with a touchdown drive. Quarterback Alex Carr was able to hit Gage Thigpen with an inside quick pass that broke for a 60-yard touchdown with 11:22 left in the third quarter. Lawrence County missed the extra-point attempt, cutting the score to 21-6.
Tullahoma answered right back with its lone offensive touchdown of the night on an eight-play drive. Briasen Corn capped off the scoring drive with a 2-yard touchdown run with 7:41 left in the quarter. Justus Chadwick, who was perfect on kicks all night, added the extra point, upping the score to 28-6.
“We started blocking a bit better [in the second half]. That was primarily it,” Olive said. We finally started getting a hat on a hat and Briasen made some people miss. Ben [Fulton] also made some reads where he kept the ball and ran.”
Tullahoma added one more score before the contest concluded. Tullahoma put together a drive that stalled at Lawrence County’s 8-yard line. Matt Marcel came in and drained a 25-yard field goal for THS, giving his team a 31-6 edge with 6:39 remaining in the contest.
Corn was Tullahoma’s leading rusher on the night, carrying the ball 14 times for 67 yards and a touchdown. Kyler Parker had 56 yards on eight carries for the Wildcats after coming into play quarterback in the final quarter. Thomas, who also split time under center in the fourth quarter, ran for 14 yards on two rushes.
Tullahoma really struggled in the passing game, generating just 41 yards through the air. Starting quarterback Ben Fulton completed six of his 11 pass attempts on the night for 19 yards and was intercepted once. Parker came in and completed both of his pass attempts for 22 yards.
After securing the win over Lawrence County on Friday, Tullahoma and Maplewood will face off in a winner-take-all ballgame for the Region 4-4A Championship during the regular-season finale in Nashville on Oct. 26.
Before that matchup, Tullahoma will enjoy a bye week and then host Giles County on Oct. 19 in the final regular-season home game. Senior night festivities will take place before that contest gets underway at 7 p.m.
“We may have been the only ones who believed that we could be there [competing for a region championship],” Olive said. “Right now, we are going to take the next five days off and hopefully our players won’t be thinking too much about football. Hopefully they’ll just relax a little bit, get their legs back under them and do some conditioning on their own.”