At crucial moments on Friday night, penalties reared their head for Tullahoma, and really became the story for the Wildcats in a 13-7 road loss against Region 4-4A opponent Nolensville.
“Those were the difference in the game,” said THS Head Coach John Olive. “The couple of opportunities that we had against them, we end up shooting ourselves and backing ourselves up with penalties. It was just over and over and over… They’re too good of a football team for us not to play better than what we did. Therefore, they were the victor and we were the loser.”
In total, the Wildcats accumulated 80-plus yards from those infractions on Friday night. It wasn’t just the amount of penalties, but the timing that hurt Tullahoma.
Early in the second quarter, the Wildcats marched down to the Knights’ 26-yard line. However, back-to-back penalties, first a holding call and then a false start, backed Tullahoma up to the 41-yard line.
The Wildcats were able to gain that yardage back, but were stopped at the Nolensville 20-yard line. Justus Chadwick came in to attempt a field goal, but Tullahoma was again flagged for a false start, backing it up to a 42-yard try. Chadwick’s attempt was then no good.
Instead, Nolensville answered with a quick five-play, 80-yard touchdown drive, taking the lead for good on Friday night. Quarterback Ryder Galardi ran for a 20-yard gain on second down, then followed that with a 39-yard pass to receiver Tim Coutras.
One play later, running back Ryan Pistulka rushed for a 14-yard score with 6:12 remaining in the second quarter. Luke Jenkins nailed the extra-point kick, giving the Knights a 7-0 lead.
Jenkins would add two more field goals in the game. The first of those attempts came as time expired in the first half, as he nailed a 20-yard attempt, giving Nolensville a 10-0 halftime advantage.
Tullahoma cut into its deficit with 5:15 remaining in the third quarter, making the score 10-7. Out of the Wildcat formation, Jakobe Thomas received the snap, rushing for a 3-yard score and Chadwick followed with the extra-point kick.
Jenkins added the final score of the game early into the final period. After Nolensville was stopped at the Wildcats’ 11-yard line, Jenkins drilled a 28-yard kick for the Knights, with 9:09 left in the ballgame, giving his team a 13-7 edge.
Down by one-score, Tullahoma had two opportunities to try and take the lead. With six minutes left on the clock, Jenkins missed a 46-yard try, giving the Wildcats possession at their 20-yard line.
Quarterback Ben Fulton was able to hit Hunter Jewell for a 38-yard gain two plays into Tullahoma’s drive. However, on third down, the Wildcats were stuffed at the Nolensville 32-yard line, and elected to go for it on fourth-and-2 from there.
That attempt was unsuccessful. Fulton handed the ball off to Hunter Palmer, who was met by a surge of Knights, losing five yards on the play.
“We had a run/pass option play on,” Olive said. “It was a different run/pass option, where our lineman could go ahead and fire off and get down field. We just got whipped… They doubled up on the player who we had the RPO to and once Ben saw that, he had two choices, either he hands the ball off or he carries it. He chose to hand it off. I don’t blame him. Palmer had run well, he just didn’t have a chance.”
Tullahoma would again have good field possession on its next drive with 1:02 left on the clock. A 35-yard punt return by Thomas gave the Wildcats the ball at the Nolensville’s 37-yard line.
On first down, Fulton’s pass was incomplete, but the Wildcats’ offensive line was called for a holding penalty. That infraction backed up Tullahoma to its 45-yard line.
On the next play, Fulton was intercepted for the second time on the night. After trying to hit Thomas, Coutras was there to snag Fulton’s pass attempt, and the Knights took over from their 19-yard line.
Galardi took a knee, and Tullahoma was unable to stop the clock as time expired.
Galardi completed 14 of his 21 pass attempts on the night for 248 yards and was intercepted once. The junior quarterback also ran for 22 yards.
Pistulka led the Knights’ rushing attack, picking up 72 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. Samson Johnson ran for 29 yards on nine attempts.
Tullahoma picked up 209 yards of offense on Friday, the bulk of which came on the ground. Thomas led the Wildcats’ rushing attack, picking up 53 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. Brian Nelms also ran for 37 yards on six carries, while Palmer collected 22 yards on six attempts.
Fulton completed 12 of his 21 pass attempts for 97 yards, while being intercepted once. Jewell caught two passes for 40 yards, while Jacob Dixon hauled in four receptions for 24 yards.
Following the loss to Nolensville, Tullahoma (4-3, 1-2) will have a bye week this Friday. The Wildcats will then host Lawrence County on Oct. 18 at 7 p.m.