After opening the season with a 31-13 home loss to Shelbyville on Aug. 16, Tullahoma has since not lost a game, winning seven-straight matchups –including a pair of upsets— and even locking up a home playoff game during that stretch.
Just before hitting the bye week this past Friday, Tullahoma notched a victory at Lawrence County on Oct. 5, downing its Region 4-4A opponent 31-6. So far, the Wildcats have gone undefeated against their region opponents this season.
Tullahoma opened region competition with an upset, beating Marshall County 14-13 in Lewisburg on Aug. 31. The Wildcats followed that up with two more region wins, first defeating Spring Hill at home 27-7 at home on Sept. 14 and then soundly picking up a 30-20 home victory over Nolensville on Sept. 28.
With the four region wins, Tullahoma assured itself a home playoff game and can finish, at worst, second in the region standings. The Wildcats are scheduled to wrap up the regular season with a winner-take-all matchup in Nashville, battling Maplewood for the Region 4-4A Championship on Oct. 26.
Before that contest though, Tullahoma will host its final home game of the regular season when it welcomes Giles County to Wilkins Stadium this Friday. Before the game, senior players, cheerleaders, band and JROTC members will be honored and recognized. Senior night celebrations are scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m. with the game getting underway at 7 p.m.
As Tullahoma enjoyed its week off, The News wanted to look back at three key reasons why the Wildcats are 7-1 on the season.
Defense, defense, defense
The 2017 Wildcats became known as an offensive squad, one that could light up a scoreboard. However, this season, it’s been the opposite for Tullahoma as the anchor has been its defense.
In the season-opener on Aug. 16, the Wildcats’ defense was exploited for 471 yards in the loss to the Golden Eagles. Since then though, Tullahoma has buckled down, holding opponents to an average of 224 yards in its next seven games.
Tullahoma has been anchored by its two defensive ends, Ty Cox and Matthew Ross, who have consistently put pressure on their opponents. Samari Layne has also wreaked havoc on opponents, leading Tullahoma in tackles with 50, with six of those being for loss.
Cox has 43 tackles, with 13 of those coming for losses, while Ross has 26 tackles, five of which were for loss.
Tullahoma has a ball-hawking secondary that has forced opponents into throwing 12 interceptions on the year. Quintin Howard leads the Wildcats with three interceptions, while Jakobe Thomas, Kaleb Stroop and Kobe Burks all have two picks this season. Payton Howard, Sam Brock and Jewell have also reeled in an interception of their own.
The Wildcats’ defense has also recovered four fumbles this season. Burks leads Tullahoma with recovering two fumbles, while Hunter Jewell and Ross each have one recovery.
Power running setting up long scores
Senior tailback Briasen Corn has been a workhorse for the Wildcats this season, averaging 5.6 yards per carry on his 153 attempts. In eight games on the year, Corn is averaging 107 yards per contest, rushing for 856 yards and 10 touchdowns on the season.
That rush attack has allowed Tullahoma to strike for big plays in the passing game as well. With defenders trying to load the box and stop Corn, quarterback Ben Fulton has been able to throw nine touchdowns on the season, the majority of which have come on big pass plays.
On the season, Fulton has completed 65 percent of his passes, as 80 of his 123 attempts have been on target, for 972 yards, while being intercepted six times. Seven of Fulton’s nine touchdown passes have been from 30 yards or more.
Ross leads the team in touchdown receptions, bringing in three from distances of 42, 43 and 45 yards out. Burks has a 47-yard touchdown reception, while Corn has a 33-yard reception. Race Marin has a 61-yard touchdown catch, while Hunter Palmer has raced to the end zone from 67 yards out.
Special teams play has indeed been special
In a game where the offense severely struggled, it was the special teams play that led Tullahoma to a 31-6 win at Lawrence County on Oct. 5. In fact, Burks broke free for a pair of punt returns to get THS its first points of the game, returning a kick from 40 yards away before following that with a 70-yard touchdown return. Jakobe Thomas also added a 60-yard kickoff return to start the second half.
So far on the year, Burks has a total of 346 return yards, 295 of those coming off punt returns. Both he and Palmer had stellar returns in the Wildcats’ 30-20 win over Nolensville.
Burks also had a crucial punt return at Lincoln County on Sept. 21, giving Tullahoma a late scoring opportunity just before halftime. Corn capitalized on the field position, rushing for a 6-yard touchdown, helping lead the Wildcats to a 21-10 win over the Falcons.
It hasn’t just been the return game that has been stellar. In fact, in the punter slot, Marin has been spectacular. In his 25 punt attempts, Marin is averaging 34.2 yards per kick, including downing opponents inside the 20-yard line nine times on the year.
Against Nolensville, Marin indirectly led to the Wildcats’ first points of the game. After one of Marin’s punts was downed at the Knights’ 3-yard line, Tullahoma forced a safety on the next play, cutting the Wildcats’ deficit to 7-2 at the time.
Tullahoma went on to score 28-staight points in that matchup against the Knights, before a late comeback attempt by Nolensville fell short.
Editor’s Note: All stats are as posted on Tullahoma’s page on MaxPreps.com.