For the second-straight year, Tullahoma has earned a spot into the playoffs and will get the postseason underway on Friday night.
Unlike last year though, the Wildcats (7-3, 3-2) will begin their playoff run on the road with a trip to DeKalb County this Friday. The Tigers enter the playoffs with a 6-4 record, and the second seed in the Region 3-4A standings.
Both Tullahoma and DeKalb County enter the playoffs on three-game win streaks. The Wildcats ended the regular season with a 35-0 home win last week over Maplewood, while the Tigers scored a 41-6 victory at Cumberland County.
After last week’s win over Maplewood, Tullahoma Head Coach John Olive said that he and his staff didn’t know a lot about DeKalb County. After some tape swaps this past weekend, the Wildcats’ coaching staff learned a bit about the Tigers, most notably, that quarterback Axel Aldino is the key that makes the offense go.
“He’s very athletic,” Olive sad. “We measured one pass that he threw and it was 57 yards in the air. That’s farther than anybody on our team can throw. That’s who the offense revolves around.”
That isn’t just limited to Aldino’s arm. According to Olive, the junior quarterback isn’t afraid to use his feet. After watching film, the Wildcats’ coach said it reminded him of Giles County’s offense, which totaled 439 yards against Tullahoma back on Oct. 24. During that matchup, Bobcats’ quarterback Walker Dunn ran for 136 rushing yards, while passing for just 71 yards and a touchdown, while being intercepted once.
“They are very similar offensively to Giles County where they run the quarterback a lot,” Olive said. “They run a lot of counter traps, just like Giles County does.”
On the defensive end, DeKalb County, like Tullahoma, uses underclassmen at the defensive line positions. However, at the tackle spot, Olive said senior Isaac Cross jumps out as being a premier player.
“He has a motor and he gets after people,” Olive said. “I am told that he has several offers. The rest of them are underclassmen, but they’ve got some good size.”
In order for Tullahoma to get a win on Friday night, Olive said the biggest thing that his team has to do is worry about is self-destruction. Last week against Maplewood, the Wildcats had six penalties for 75 yards. All season long, THS has struggled when it comes to penalties, except for their game against Giles County, which saw the ‘Cats have just 10 penalty yards.
“We need to do the things that we do well. We’ve got to cut penalties out. We had way too many penalties last Friday night after doing so well at Giles. We need to play like we did that night against Giles. We need to have fewer penalties and we need to try to win the turnover war.”
If there’s one area that Olive said his team has the advantage, it’s in the special teams area. The last two weeks, Tullahoma has been able to force four turnovers on kickoffs, including twice against Maplewood last week.
“I think we’ve got an advantage in the special teams, we just need to make that happen,” Olive said. “We need to be able to flip the field and keep them pinned on their end and keep getting the ball closer and closer to their goal line.”
In the victory over Maplewood last week, the Wildcats forced five turnovers, three fumbles and two interceptions. Jakobe Thomas had both of those interceptions for Tullahoma, returning one for a touchdown in the fourth quarter last Friday.
Thomas had four total touchdowns for the Wildcats, rushing for one and bringing in two touchdown catches. The junior running back had 73 rushing yards and a score on 16 carries, while he brought in three catches for 71 yards and two touchdowns, including a 36-yard reception.
Early in the season, Brian Nelms had been Tullahoma’s primary running back. However, in recent weeks, Thomas has been the featured back. After Friday’s game, Thomas has totaled 444 rushing yards and six touchdowns on 59 carries.
Behind center, Ben Fulton completed 10 of his 16 passes on the night for 181 yards and three touchdowns. On the season, Fulton has completed 111 of his 174 pass attempts for 1,603 yards and 14 touchdowns, while being intercepted five times.
On the defensive end, Tullahoma’s secondary has been its strong point. In nine games this season, teams have thrown for just 887 yards against the Wildcats, an average of 88.7 yards per contest. Nolensville’s Ryder Galardi threw for the most yards against the Wildcats, passing for 248 yards back on Oct. 4.
Last week in the regular season finale, Maplewood threw for just 14 yards against the Wildcats, being intercepted twice. As a team, the Wildcats have forced 29 turnovers on the year, 11 interceptions and recovered 18 fumbles.
Kickoff for Friday night’s game is scheduled for 7 p.m. For those who can’t make it to the contest, it will be broadcast on The Rooster 101.5 FM in Tullahoma.
The News will also be providing live scoring updates on social media. Like The Tullahoma News’ Sports Page on Facebook or follow sports editor Zach Birdsong, on Twitter, @ZachBirdsong, in order to receive those updates.