For the first time since 2014, Tullahoma earned itself a playoff spot, and the Wildcats did it their way, using a menacing defense, a powerful rush attack and key special teams plays in order to secure a 30-20 homecoming win over Nolensville on Friday.
“I told the team at the first of the week how proud I was to be their coach this year,” said THS Head Coach John Olive. “You think back to the seniors, they played on an 0-20 run and the juniors played on an 0-10 run. To see what they are able to accomplish together now is unreal. I told them to keep living and keep trying to live your dream.”
Tullahoma (6-1, 3-0) notched its sixth-straight win with the Region 4-4A victory against Nolensville on Friday night. During that stretch, the Wildcats have been anchored by its defense, which is holding opponents to an average of 220 yards per contest.
The ’Cats’ defense continued to be tough against the Knights, particularly in the first half. Tullahoma forced three key turnovers in the second quarter, including a pick-six by Kobe Burks, forced the Knights into a safety and limited Nolensville to just 89 yards in the first two periods.
With his team in front 9-7, it was Hunter Jewell who came down with the first interception for the Wildcats on the night, returning the ball to the Knights’ 19-yard line. One play later, Briasen Corn rushed for his first touchdown of the night, finding the end zone from 19 yards out, putting Tullahoma up 16-7 in the second quarter.
On the very next offensive play for Nolensville, Burks picked off a pass and returned it 60 yards for a touchdown to increase the Wildcats’ lead to 23-7. Corn added one more rushing touchdown and Burks later stripped and recovered a fumble late in the first half, as Tullahoma led 30-7 at halftime.
“I think we’ve got a very good defense. They aren’t perfect by any means, but they turned this ballgame around,” Olive said. “It was tight until that second quarter, when our defense got turnovers, made great returns and giving us good field position. They changed the game. It was 9-7 at that point and then we go on a 21-point explosion. It happened quick, and that’s because the defense was setting everything up.”
Corn became the workhorse for a Tullahoma offense that put up 276 yards on the night. On his 23 carries, the senior tailback rushed for 173 yards and two touchdowns.
With just under two minutes left to play, Corn sealed the victory for Tullahoma. On third-and-9 from his team’s 49-yard line, Corn broke free for a 15-yard rush, and the Wildcats ran out the clock from there.
“We don’t get backs like Briasen very often [at Tullahoma], so it’s nice to have one,” Olive said. “Briasen has run really hard and our offensive line has been getting better. They are trying to block better.
“Tonight, our plan was to stay to their outside, but not way out. Nolensville has some good players out on the edge … We ran a lot to their boundaries, just trying to hammer away at them with Briasen. You can’t do that if you don’t have a 215-pound running back.”
Early against Nolensville, Tullahoma wasted two great opportunities for scores early after a pair of solid kickoff returns. Burks returned the game’s opening kick down to the Knights’ 34-yard line and Hunter Palmer added a return of his own that gave the Wildcats possession at Nolensville’s 25-yard line.
Instead, it was the Knights who gained control of the contest after Wesley Miller intercepted a pass by Tullahoma quarterback Ben Fulton. After setting up at the Wildcats’ 40-yard line, it took three plays for Nolensville to grab a 7-0 lead. Colton Dooley reached the end zone for the first of his three scores on the night, rushing for an 8-yard touchdown with 7:55 left in the first quarter.
After the Wildcats wasted the good field position that was set up by Palmer, Race Marin got off a solid punt that pinned the Knights at their 3-yard line. Nolensville quarterback Brandon Wharton II fumbled the snap on the next play and Tullahoma’s defense created a safety, making the score 7-2 with 5 minutes remaining in the first period.
Three plays later, Tullahoma grabbed the lead for good. On third-and-5, Fulton was able to scramble, finding Matthew Ross for a 45-yard touchdown. Justus Chadwick followed by making the point after touchdown (PAT) kick, giving the Wildcats a 9-7 advantage with 3:12 left in the first quarter.
Early in the second quarter, Jewell was able to create the first Knights’ turnover on the night, picking off Wharton and returning the ball to Nolensville’s 19-yard line. Corn was able to break several tackles, leaping toward the end zone and capping off the 19-yard score with 9:38 left in the first half. Chadwick, who was perfect on the night, added the extra point, upping the Wildcats lead to 16-7.
Wharton’s next pass attempt was also picked off, this time by Burks, who wouldn’t go down, returning it 60 yards for the score, giving Tullahoma a 23-7 lead with 9:16 remaining in the second quarter.
After Nolensville was forced to punt on its next drive, Tullahoma took over at its 15-yard line. Corn broke free for a 74-yard run on the third play of the drive, before capping things off with a 3-yard touchdown with 4:57 left before halftime, giving the Wildcats a 30-7 advantage.
Just before halftime, Nolensville looked poised to score, taking a drive down to the Wildcats’ 19-yard line. However, Burks was able to strip Dooley and recover the ball, giving Tullahoma possession with just over two minutes left in the second quarter.
“Kobe is one of those players who we needed to get the ball in his hands more. Defensively, he got it in his hands anyway … He got cramps there in the second half and set us back a little bit. Because a lot of what we had planned in the second half was the fact that they couldn’t tackle him. He was getting hit and making another 4, 5, 6 or 7 yards. We felt like we needed to get the ball in Kobe and Briasen’s hands.”
Tullahoma couldn’t score again for the remainder of the contest, but withstood a late fourth-quarter comeback attempt by Nolensville. The Knights first cut into their deficit with 3:44 remaining in the contest, after Dooley scored on a 2-yard run, making the score 30-14.
After recovering an onside kick, Nolensville again reached the end zone, again by way of a 2-yard touchdown run by Dooley. Wharton’s pass attempt on the ensuing 2-point conversion was unsuccessful as Tullahoma led 30-20 with 2:13 left in the fourth quarter.
The Wildcats recovered the ensuing onside kick attempt by Nolensville, draining the clock and securing the victory.
Dooley led the Knights’ offense with 91 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 24 carries. Wharton completed 12 of his 24 pass attempts for 126 yards and was intercepted twice.
For Tullahoma, Fulton completed seven of his 10 passing opportunities for 69 yards and a touchdown while being intercepted once. Ross was Fulton’s leading target on the night, hauling in three catches for 63 yards including a 45-yard score.
With a playoff spot all wrapped up, Tullahoma will now try to secure home field advantage when it travels to Lawrence County on Friday for a 7 p.m. kickoff. A victory in Lawrenceburg would allow THS to finish among the top two teams in Region 4-4A, sealing a first-round home game in the postseason.