Tullahoma’s defense did everything it could in order to try to get a win at Maplewood on Friday.
Unfortunately for the Wildcats, the offense struggled the entire game, totaling just 119 yards on the night, including just 11 rushing yards. The Panthers were able to capitalize, getting a pair of timely plays on their way capturing the Region 4-4A Title with a 14-6 victory.
With last week’s matchups in the books, both teams now turn their attentions to the postseason, which starts on Friday. Maplewood (9-1) will host DeKalb County (3-7), while Tullahoma will welcome in Livingston Academy (5-5). Both games are scheduled to kick off at 7 p.m.
Despite struggling for yards the entire night, it was actually Tullahoma that fired the opening salvo on Friday against Maplewood. After starting the drive at the Panthers’ 47-yard line, the Wildcats gained an additional 10 yards on a pair of offside penalties.
Two plays later, quarterback Ben Fulton connected with a Matthew Ross on a seam route for 36 yards, putting Tullahoma down at the 1-yard line. On the next play, running back Briasen Corn was able to plunge into the end zone with 8:03 left in the first quarter.
A false start backed Tullahoma up 5 yards on the extra point attempt. Justus Chadwick couldn’t convert from there, as the kick went wide, as the Wildcats led 6-0.
Maplewood took advantage of a turnover on Tullahoma’s next offensive series. On third-and-3, Fulton was trying to hit Corn on a short little out pass, but Panthers’ safety Chandler Alexander was there to get in the interception, racing down to the Wildcats’ 11-yard line.
After being backed up to the 19-yard line, after losing yards on the first play, Maplewood was able to convert for points. Quarterback Bobo Hodges hit wide receiver Jamontay Kinnard for a 19-yard touchdown with 2:27 remaining in the opening period.
Without a true kicker, the Panthers elected to go for the 2-point conversion attempt. That try was successful as Hodges connected with Clint Dowry, giving Maplewood an 8-6 advantage.
Neither team could score again until midway through the third quarter when the Panthers padded their lead. Hodges again was able to get his team into the end zone, this time rushing for a 3-yard touchdown with 6:25 remaining in the third period.
Again, Maplewood went for a 2-point conversion. Unlike the first attempt though, the Panthers were turned away for points, as Hodges’ pass was incomplete, as the score remained a one-possession game at 14-6.
Despite Maplewood moving the ball on Tullahoma, the Wildcats’ defense kept it an eight-point game, even intercepting Hodges inside the end zone in the fourth quarter. Jake Hollandsworth was able to come away with the pick for Tullahoma, but that drive wouldn’t lead to points for the Wildcats.
With 1:29 remaining in the contest, Tullahoma had one final chance to even the score, starting its final drive at the Panthers 33-yard line. After a 6-yard gain on the first play of drive, a holding call on second down, sent the Wildcats into reverse and they were stuck there.
On fourth-and-10, Fulton heaved a final pass in the end zone, hoping to hit Ross for the score. Instead, Maplewood cornerback Kendrell Scurry was there for the interception, going down in the end zone as the Panthers sealed the victory.
“We had the ball at about the 35-yard line with a minute something to go and we’ve got a chance,” said THS Head Coach John Olive. “We got the holding penalty and then we are trying to get the yardage back and the clock’s running down and we are out of timeouts because we had used them trying to get the ball back. Once we got to that point, having a chance to tie, that’s all you can ask for against a really good team like Maplewood … Maplewood is a really good football team and they deserve to be our region champs.”
Tullahoma’s defense was able to hold Maplewood to 263 yards on the night, with Hodges accounting for the majority of those yards. The Panthers’ quarterback completed 15 of his 32 pass attempts on the night for 164 yards and a touchdown, while being intercepted once. Hodges also ran for 41 yards and a score on 17 carries.
“I thought our defense was outstanding,” Olive said. “We stopped them several times on fourth down. We just couldn’t move the ball consistently offensively to change field position. We punted and changed field position a couple of times. Without our offense being able to move the ball on their defense, it made it where it was a rough game.”
Ty Cox stepped up huge for the Wildcats on the defensive end, sacking Hodges three times on the night. The senior defensive end also came away with a fumble in the third quarter.
While he was undoubtedly a leader on the field with his play, Cox was also there with support for his teammates in the post game, something his head coach loved to see. Following the loss, before Olive had the chance to address his team, Cox was telling his teammates, “We’ve still got one more game to play. I know this hurts, but this will make us stronger. We aren’t done yet.”
“When I heard Ty say that, I said, ‘You’re exactly right. You are exactly right,’” Olive said. “That’s the tough thing, and the thing that you worry about when you play a big ballgame at the end of the year, and you come out on the short end of the stick, you don’t want that hangover effect next Friday night when we play. That’ll be a big challenge.”
‘Second season’ begins now
Now that the regular season is officially in the books, Tullahoma will have a busy week ahead of it as it prepares for the postseason, or the “second season” as Olive called it when addressing his team in the postgame.
The Wildcats will be preparing for Livingston Academy who finished third in the Region 3-4A standings. This is the first time that Tullahoma has made the postseason since 2014 and the first time it will host a game since 2012.
Before that playoff game on Friday, the week gets underway with the Wildcats’ freshman team playing in the 53rd annual Semmes-McKenzie Lions Bowl on Tuesday. Tullahoma will go against Mt. Juliet with that game getting underway at 8 p.m. at Wilkins Stadium. Prior to that contest, Oakland and Shelbyville will face off at 6 p.m.
With a busy schedule, coming off a tough loss to close out the regular season, Olive said he just wants to see his team come into practice mentally focused.
“Not so much physically because this tonight was a very physical football game,” Olive said. “It’s going to be a physical game against Livingston Academy as well … My biggest thing is, I want us to know where we are supposed to be and how to execute plays.”
Kickoff for this Friday’s playoff game is scheduled for 7 p.m. For those wanting to get advanced tickets, they can be purchased at https://gofan.co/app/events/39816.