Last Friday felt a little bit different for football fans in Tullahoma, as for the first time in 14 weeks, there was no high school football game to look forward to.
Tullahoma concluded one of its best football seasons in program history last week, falling to Maplewood in the quarterfinals of the TSSAA Playoffs. The Wildcats finished the year with an overall record of 10-3 on the season, including winning eight-straight games at one point during the regular season.
Tullahoma had its deepest playoff run since 2010 this year. In honor of its best season in eight years, The News compiled a list of eight memorable moments from the 2018 season.
8. Tullahoma gets revenge, dominates Coffee County
Led by now-Tennessee Volunteer Alontae Taylor, Coffee County had a field day in back-to-back years against Tullahoma, routing the Wildcats in 2015 and 2016, claiming the Coffee Pot. The seniors on this year’s Tullahoma team remembered both nights well, and they wanted revenge.
In Taylor’s senior season in Manchester in 2017, the Wildcats rallied from a 28-7 halftime deficit to stun the Red Raiders, reclaiming the coveted trophy. With Taylor gone and Coffee County missing an electric player, the Wildcats scored early and often in this year’s matchup, dominating in a 48-8 victory.
Tullahoma limited the Red Raiders to just 73 total yards and only five first downs on the night. In fact, it wasn’t until the final drive, when Coffee County was facing the Wildcats’ third-string defense, that the Red Raiders crossed over into positive yardage and got on the scoreboard with a 77-yard touchdown drive.
As the Red Raiders’ offense struggled, the Wildcats took advantage, scoring 27 points in the first quarter alone in the rout. Due to the Wildcats’ great special teams play and a stout defense, Tullahoma’s offense only needed to put up 223 yards to end the night with the decisive victory.
7. Battles at Maplewood
It may seem weird to have a pair of road losses on this list, but against arguably the best team that Tullahoma faced all season, these Maplewood games showed just how ferocious the Wildcats’ defense could be.
The first showdown between Tullahoma and Maplewood took place on Oct. 26, in the regular-season finale, with the home team holding on for a 14-6 victory. Three weeks later, in the quarterfinals of the playoffs on Nov. 16, the Panthers once again bested the Wildcats, this time winning 6-2.
Looking over Tullahoma’s schedule, Maplewood (12-1) was seemingly the most complete team the Wildcats faced all year. On offense, the Panthers averaged nearly 400 yards per contest, putting up just under 37 points per game.
In two games combined, Tullahoma held Maplewood to just 389 yards and just 20 points. Unfortunately, for the Wildcats in both matchups, the Panthers’ defense stepped up and was able to contain Tullahoma’s offense.
In a sloppy regular-season finale, where the field was torn to shreds due to continuous rain the previous days, Maplewood had just two scores and 263 yards. In the playoff matchup, Tullahoma’s defense held the Panthers to a season low, wrapping them up for just 126 yards, forcing a pair of turnovers.
The season-ending performance by the Wildcats’ defense was one of the best for Tullahoma all year. In the 13 games played, only one other time did the Wildcats surrender less yardage, which is next on this list.
6. Giles County gives THS much-needed test
Coming off of a bye week, Tullahoma was tested during its final home game of the regular season, needing a second-half comeback to garner a 35-28 victory over Giles County on Oct. 19.
It was special teams that gave Tullahoma the extra boost in the game, starting with recovering a muffed punt return by Giles County in the first half. Down 12-7 at the halftime break, the Wildcats recovered an onside kick to start the second half, scored and never looked back from that point.
On the schedule, the win over Giles County didn’t do much for Tullahoma’s playoff seeding. However, in retrospect, it proved to be a much-needed early tuneup for the coming weeks.
5. Wildcats edge Marshall County 14-13
Fresh off the beatdown of Coffee County a week beforehand, Tullahoma wanted to make another statement in its first Region 4-4A matchup of the season. The Wildcats did exactly that, delivering a 14-13 loss to Marshall County in Lewisburg on Aug. 31, the Tigers’ first region loss since 2014.
Tullahoma got after Marshall County early, jumping to a quick 6-0 lead after the first possession. Quarterback Ben Fulton hit running back Briasen Corn for a 33-yard touchdown. The Wildcats’ defense limited Marshall County to 64 yards in the first half, as it carried its 6-0 edge into halftime.
Marshall County scored to take a 7-6 lead midway through the third quarter, but Tullahoma had an answer. Kobe Burks rushed for a 2-yard touchdown, before Fulton connected with Hunter Palmer for the successful 2-point conversion, giving the Wildcats a 14-7 lead with nearly 11 minutes left in the contest.
The Tigers added another touchdown, but a special teams’ mistake by Marshall County allowed Tullahoma to continue to hold the advantage. On the extra-point attempt, the kick went wide, making the score 14-13 with just over 5 minutes remaining on the clock.
Marshall County got the ball one final time, but Kaleb Stroop ended the game, sealing the win for Tullahoma. The Wildcats’ senior safety intercepted a Tigers’ pass, as Tullahoma ran out the remainder of the clock in the victory.
4. Nolensville win assures playoff berth
After beating Marshall County, Tullahoma didn’t stop winning region games, and by Sept. 28, the Wildcats locked up their seat in the playoffs, their first since 2014, dominating in a 30-20 home win over Nolensville.
Leading 9-7 after one quarter of play, Tullahoma put up 21 points in the second quarter, thanks in large part due to two turnovers by the Knights. Hunter Jewell first picked off a pass for the Wildcats, before Burks added a pick-six.
Corn scored two rushing touchdowns in that span for THS, giving Tullahoma a 30-7 halftime lead. Corn ran for 173 yards and his two scores in the victory.
Tullahoma’s defense again was stout, creating an early safety that gave Tullahoma a 9-7 lead. The Wildcats also held Nolensville to just 89 yards in the first half, before staving off a late comeback attempt by the Knights in the second half.
3. Special teams seals home playoff game
On a night where Tullahoma’s offense was simply abysmal, it got a boost from its special teams, clinching a 31-6 victory at Lawrence County on Oct. 5, ensuring that Tullahoma would host a playoff game for the first time since 2012.
In the first half, Tullahoma’s offense managed just two first downs, finishing with a total of 23 yards in the first two quarters. Thankfully, the Wildcats got some help from Burks, who returned a pair of punts for touchdowns, one from 45 yards out and the other from 70 yards away, giving THS a 14-0 halftime advantage.
Coming out of halftime, Tullahoma immediately upped that advantage with another kick return. This time, Jakobe Thomas returned the opening kickoff 60 yards 15 seconds into the third quarter, giving the Wildcats a 21-0 advantage.
Lawrence County answered with a score five minutes later, before Tullahoma put up its only offensive touchdown of the night. Corn capped off an eight-play drive with a 2-yard touchdown run, giving his team a 28-6 advantage.
Matt Marcel added the final three points of the night for Tullahoma in the fourth quarter, drilling a 25-yard field goal.
2. Fulton’s scramble seals playoff win
Tullahoma avoided self-destruction in the opening round of the playoffs, fending off Livingston Academy in a 37-23 home win on Nov. 2.
The Wildcats were flagged 23 times, accumulating 216 yards in penalties. Those mistakes nearly cost Tullahoma, who saw a 23-13 lead disappear, as Livingston Academy evened the score with seconds remaining in the third quarter.
However, the Wildcats were able to stave off elimination, scoring back-to-back touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Corn first punched the ball into the end zone from 4 yards out early in the final period, putting Tullahoma up 30-23.
A fumble recovery by Matthew Ross gave the Wildcats a short field on their next possession, setting up shop at Livingston Academy’s 33-yard line. However, Tullahoma’s offense was forced to go for it on fourth down after being stopped short.
It was there that the Wildcats were able to put the game away with 4:12 remaining on the clock. On fourth-and-2, Fulton broke free down the right side of the field where he found a seam, scoring from 25 yards out, upping Tullahoma’s score to 37-23.
Livingston Academy looked to score quickly, but Jewell intercepted a pass, as Tullahoma was able to run out the clock.
1. Defense locks Wildcats’ seat in quarterfinals
It should be no surprise that Tullahoma’s defense would be featured in the top spot on this list.
All season long, the defense anchored the Wildcats, and that was obvious in a home playoff game against Marshall County on Nov. 9. Tullahoma limited the Tigers to just 161 yards on the night and even forced a late safety, clinching a 16-14 win.
The win also made history for Tullahoma, as it clinched a spot in the quarterfinals of the playoffs for just the fourth time in school history. The Wildcats last advanced to the third round of the postseason in 2010 with their prior two appearances happening in 1987 and in 1979.
After falling behind 7-0 early against Marshall County, Tullahoma scored back-to-back touchdowns, grabbing a 14-7 advantage heading into halftime. Fulton first hit Ty Cox for a 10-yard touchdown, and then found Palmer for a score in the first half.
Marshall County tied the game at 14 late in the third quarter, evening the score at 14. However, a series of miscues from the Tigers allowed Tullahoma to garner the win.
After moving down to the Wildcats’ 8-yard line, Marshall County settled for a field goal. The holder on the kick attempt couldn’t get the ball down, picking it up and attempting to run with it. Cox was there to make the tackle and force the fumble as Tullahoma took over possession.
The Tigers stopped the Wildcats, taking over possession at their 10-yard line. However, Marshall County’s quarterback Malik Thomison was called for intentional grounding in the end zone, which was ruled a safety, giving Tullahoma a 16-14 lead with 3:37 remaining on the clock.
Marshall County got possession one final time late in the contest. However, Thomison saw his pass get intercepted as Sam Brock picked off the pass, as the Wildcats sealed the victory.