Following last week’s 47-14 home win over Franklin County, Tullahoma will travel to Spring Hill for a Region 4-4A matchup on Friday night.
Heading into this week, the Raiders are coming off of a 28-6 loss at Lincoln County, dropping to 0-4 on the season. Though Spring Hill enters Friday night’s matchup winless, Tullahoma can’t afford to take the Raiders lightly.
According to head coach John Olive, for some reason, his team’s struggle to play well at Spring Hill, something that’s been dated back to 1999. In 2017, the Wildcats headed into that contest confident, but ended up losing 26-6, in a game where fumbles played a huge part in Tullahoma’s loss.
“In 1999 we jumped out and led 21-0 in the first five minutes of the game and never scored another point,” Olive said. “We played lousy the rest of the ballgame. We ended up winning somehow, but still, we didn’t play very well. Then we obviously did not play well at all there in 2017.”
So heading into Friday’s game, the Wildcats will need their full concentration and put the records aside. In order for Tullahoma (2-2, 0-1) to get a win on Friday night, here are three things that have to happen for the Wildcats.
1. Defense has to continue to play solid
Four games into this season, it’s easily apparent that Tullahoma’s defense has been its anchor. That’s not shocking to fans, as the Wildcats boasted a dominant defense last year.
It may still be too early to tell, but if numbers are any indication, this Tullahoma defense might just be stouter than 2018’s, which led the Wildcats to a 10-3 overall record. Tullahoma saw last season end with a 6-2 quarterfinals loss in the playoffs to Maplewood.
In four games, Tullahoma has limited opponents to a combined 856 yards, an average of 214 yards per contest. The Wildcats have yet to allow a team to amass the 300-yard mark this season.
Tullahoma’s secondary has been stellar this season, surrendering a total 323 passing yards, an average of just 81 yards per game. Marshall County quarterback Bryson Hammons threw for 138 yards, the most the Wildcats have surrendered all season, when the Tigers notched a 30-6 road win on Sept. 5.
Last week, Tullahoma’s secondary limited Franklin County to 98 passing yards in a 47-14 victory. More impressively, the Wildcats were able to force seven turnovers, including four interceptions, while recovering three fumbles.
Tullahoma defensive back Quintin Howard led the way for his team, intercepting two passes and adding a fumble recovery. Hunter Palmer and Landon Foutch each added an interception, while Jacob Dixon and Cayden Tucker each recovered a fumble.
Until last week, the Wildcats had only forced two turnovers. Jacob Floyd forced and recovered a fumble against Shelbyville on Aug. 22, before Cooper Lawson intercepted a pass against Coffee County on Aug. 30.
So far this season, Spring Hill has struggled picking up yards. In four combined games, the Raiders have generated 689 yards of offense, averaging 172 yards a ballgame.
So far on the season, Spring Hill has thrown for 376 yards, led by quarterback Luka Boylan. In four games, Boylan has thrown for 356 yards, and no touchdowns, while being intercepted seven times.
2. Don’t allow big plays
Though Tullahoma’s secondary has been strong in four games this season, it has shown on a few occasions that it is susceptible to big plays. Against Franklin County last week, the Rebels hit a big 52-yard pass play, which ultimately led to a second-quarter touchdown.
Marshall County also hit the Wildcats’ for a pair of big passing plays, including one for a touchdown. The Tigers first struck for a 66-yard touchdown, before adding a 47-yard pass play later in the contest.
Tullahoma has been able to limit rushing yards, minus the exceptional big play. Against Franklin County, the Wildcats allowed a 29-yard run early in the third quarter, which set up the Rebel’s final score of the game.
3. Finish drives
In two games combined this season, the Wildcats’ offense has exploded for nearly 900 yards of offense. Tullahoma put up 443 yards against Coffee County, before adding 452 yards against Franklin County last week.
However, in the other two games this year, Tullahoma has struggled to finish drives. In week one of the season at Shelbyville, Tullahoma put up 284 yards of offense, but found the end zone just once, finishing the night with seven points in a 14-7 loss.
Two weeks ago against Marshall County, Tullahoma was again limited to a touchdown, missed the 2-point attempt, and totaled just six points. In that loss, the Wildcats were held to a season low 184 yards.
In order to for Tullahoma to get a win on Friday, the offense has to show up early. Against Franklin County last week, quarterback Ben Fulton completed 11 of his 17 pass attempts for 201 yards, throwing for two touchdowns. Fulton was also Tullahoma’s leading rusher, picking up 74 yards on the ground, adding two more rushing scores.
Fulton used three receivers as his primary targets last week. Jakobe Thomas led those receivers in yards, picking up 104 yards, including a 61-yard touchdown reception. Hunter Jewell reeled in four passes for 58 yards, while Palmer added 39 yards on four catches.
This season, Fulton has completed 50 of his 83 passes for 716 yards and six touchdowns, while being intercepted three times. Two of those picks came in one game, as Marshall County intercepted two passes.
On the ground, the Wildcats are led by Brian Nelms, who has picked up 228 yards on 39 carries. Nelms scored his first touchdown of the season last week against Franklin County, running for a 9 yard score.
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.