After battling back from a nine-point fourth-quarter deficit and taking a 26-22 lead, Tullahoma saw its advantage disappear quickly on Tuesday during the 53rd Annual Lions Bowl Game at Wilkins Stadium.
Jacob Dixon punched the ball into end zone from a yard out with 46 seconds left on the clock, giving Tullahoma the advantage. However, on the ensuing kickoff, Mt. Juliet broke free for a 72-yard touchdown return, as Charles Clark reached the end zone for the Golden Bears, putting his team in front 28-26 with 31 seconds remaining.
Tullahoma wasn’t able to answer back, after starting its next drive at its 28-yard line. After back-to-back incompletions, the game ended when Dixon was tackled on a 15-yard gain, and the clock ran out.
Before having to attempt a comeback, Tullahoma grabbed a 13-0 advantage, scoring a pair of touchdowns to start the game. Quarterback Ryan Scott and running back Caden Tucker put up the first scores for the Wildcats.
After seeing its first drive stall, Tullahoma got a short field to work with on its second possession after Mays Snipes recovered a fumble for the Wildcats. Taking over at the Bears’ 22-yard line, it took Tullahoma five plays to reach the end zone.
On fourth-and-goal, Scott held on to the football on the read option play, scoring from 3 yards out with 5:15 remaining in the first quarter. Justus Chadwick came on to make the extra point, giving the Wildcats a 7-0 lead.
Tullahoma followed that score by piecing together a six-play, 71-yard touchdown drive on its next possession. After back-to-back 25-yard plays put the Wildcats inside the red zone, Tucker was able to capitalize, scoring from 9 yards out with 1:11 remaining in the opening period.
Rather than kick the extra point, Tullahoma elected to go for a 2-point conversion. D.J. Dillehay got the ball on the handoff, but fell just a yard short, and the Wildcats held a 13-0 advantage.
Mt. Juliet was able to answer with a pair of scores in the second quarter, taking a 14-13 lead into halftime. Amarion Workings first capped off an 11-play drive with a 15-yard touchdown, before quarterback Stephen Swoner scored on a 1-yard keeper with three seconds left in the second quarter.
Neither team could score again until the fourth quarter, when Mt. Juliet upped its lead, even attempting to put the game away. Swoner again scored on a rushing play, punching the ball into the end zone from a yard out with 5:21 remaining in the final period.
Instead of kicking the extra point, the Bears went for 2, attempting to make it a two-score contest. That attempt was successful, as Clark was able to reach across the end zone, scoring to put Mt. Juliet up 22-13.
That’s just when the fireworks got going on Tuesday, as a long return by Dixon on the ensuing kickoff gave Tullahoma possession at the Bears’ 32-yard line. Two plays later, Dixon reached the end zone on a 10-yard touchdown run and Chadwick followed with the extra point, making it a 22-20 contest with 4:36 left on the clock.
Chadwick then followed with a perfect onside kick, as Tullahoma was there to recover, taking over at the Mt. Juliet 49-yard line. After marching downfield and milking plenty of clock, Dixon gave the Wildcats a lead, scoring on a 1-yard touchdown run with 46 seconds left in the contest. Chadwick booted in the extra point, giving Tullahoma a 26-22 advantage.
Mt. Juliet saved some trickery for the late stages of Tuesday’s contest. On the ensuing kickoff as the receiver fielded the ball, three Bears players gathered together, before breaking off, trying to trick the coverage about who had possession.
That play worked. Clark was the one who received the possession and was able to break down the right sideline for a 72-yard score with 31 seconds remaining on the clock. The extra point attempt was blocked, as the Bears led 28-26 and were able to hold on to that victory.
With the win, Mt. Juliet capped off an undefeated season. Tullahoma had previously been unbeaten heading into the ballgame, finishing the year with a 6-1 record.