Despite 23 penalties, THS escapes with first-round victory
The focus of Friday night should have been Tullahoma recording its first playoff victory since 2012 after it was able to hang on for a 37-23 home win over Livingston Academy in the opening round of the postseason.
Instead, the message by Tullahoma’s coaching staff in the postgame huddle was short and blunt: Be better moving forward.
Tullahoma was flagged 23 times on Friday night, accumulating 216 yards of penalties.
“It was just frustrating,” said THS Head Coach John Olive. “We’ve got to get where we just don’t just kill ourselves over and over and over … Some of those, I understand, it’s part of the game. Then there are other penalties that we got tonight where it just floors me. I’m frustrated big time. It’s just about being lazy is what it is, and this time next week, the season will be over if we don’t get it corrected.”
Those mistakes nearly cost Tullahoma the game in the second half as THS was flagged 14 times for 146 yards in the final two quarters. Livingston Academy took advantage, and, after trailing 23-13 at halftime, tied the contest at 23 with seconds left in the third period.
However, Tullahoma put up a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns on its way to sealing the victory. Briasen Corn put Tullahoma in front for good after punching the ball into the end zone from 4 yards out.
A fumble recovery on Livingston Academy’s next possession allowed Tullahoma to gain a short field. Tullahoma defensive end Matthew Ross made the recovery on a lateral, picking the ball up and rushing to Livingston Academy’s 33-yard line.
On fourth-and-2, Tullahoma quarterback Ben Fulton put the game away with a 25-yard touchdown run with 4:12 remaining in the contest. The designed play call saw Fulton, break toward the right side of the field where he able to find a seam for the score.
“Ben actually was the one who suggested the play,” Olive said. “Briasen made a big block and Cadden Bradford made a big block as well and then Ben ran it well. That was just a big play.”
Livingston Academy attempted to cut into its deficit, marching down to Tullahoma’s 13-yard line. Quarterback Will McDonald was then intercepted by Hunter Jewell, as Tullahoma ran out the clock on Friday’s game.
Aside from penalties, Tullahoma was able to contain Livingston Academy’s offense for the most part, only allowing 238 yards on the night. McDonald had the bulk of those yards for Livingston Academy, completing 17 of his 33 pass attempts for 241 yards and two touchdowns, while being intercepted once.
Tullahoma had 416 yards of offense on the night, with the majority of that coming on the ground. Corn totaled 165 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries for THS.
Fulton added 48 yards rushing on four attempts for Tullahoma, including the game’s final touchdown. Fulton also completed 11 of his 18 pass attempts, throwing for 187 yards and two touchdowns, while being intercepted once.
That lone interception by Fulton allowed Livingston Academy to get on the board first. After taking over at its 35-yard line, Livingston Academy marched downfield, scoring on a nine-play touchdown drive as Mitchell Ayers plunged into the end zone from a yard out. Tee Beaty followed with the extra point, making the score 7-0 with 5:41 remaining in the first period.
One play later, Tullahoma evened the score as Fulton did a quick little flip pass to Kobe Burks, who broke free for a 65-yard touchdown toward the left side of the field. Justus Chadwick, who was perfect all night, came in to boot in the extra point, evening the score at 7 with 5:27 left in the opening quarter.
After a quick three-and-out for Livingston Academy, Tullahoma grabbed the lead with an eight-play drive. Corn capped off the drive with a 3-yard touchdown, making it a 14-7 ballgame with 1:05 remaining in the first period.
Tullahoma added another score off of a safety just over midway through the second period, upping its lead to 16-7. After a bad snap on a punt attempt got away from Beaty, the Livingston Academy punter picked up the ball and immediately kicked it of the back of his team’s end zone rather than risk Tullahoma getting a short field or a score.
However, Tullahoma did add another touchdown on its next possession. Fulton was able to connect with Jakobe Thomas for a 37-yard score toward the left side of the field, giving THS a 23-7 advantage with 4:16 remaining in the first half.
Livingston Academy cut into its deficit with a score just before the end of the second quarter. McDonald hit Wesley Smith for an 11-yard touchdown with 40 seconds remaining in the first half. Beaty missed the extra point, as Tullahoma took a 23-13 advantage into halftime.
On its second possession of the third quarter, Livingston Academy was aided by 45 yards of penalties from Tullahoma. Livingston Academy took advantage, as McDonald connected with Matt Castle for a 36-yard touchdown with 7:50 remaining in the third quarter. Beaty knocked in the extra point, making it a 23-20 contest.
Livingston Academy then evened the score on its next series, marching down to Tullahoma’s 13-yard line. The drive stalled there, but Beaty was able to drill a 30-yard field goal, evening the score at 23 with 24 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
Tullahoma countered with a 10-play touchdown drive to grab the lead for good. Corn was able to get the nose of the football into the end zone from 4 yards out, putting Tullahoma up 30-23 with 7:08 left on the clock.
Livingston Academy marched down to Tullahoma’s 47-yard line on its next possession. McDonald was attempting to hit Brody Johnson on pass, but the ball landed on the field. However without realizing it, McDonald had thrown a lateral, and Ross was there for the recovery for Tullahoma, picking the ball up and running it down to Livingston Academy’s 33-yard line.
Four plays later, Fulton broke free for his 25-yard touchdown run, sealing the victory for Tullahoma.
After Friday’s win, Tullahoma (9-2) will get to host another playoff game, as the Wildcats will welcome in Region 4-4A opponent Marshall County (5-6) on Friday at 7 p.m. Marshall County is coming off of a 30-29 overtime win at Stone Memorial in the opening round of the playoffs.
During the regular season, Tullahoma got the win over Marshall County, edging the Tigers 14-13 in Lewisburg on Aug. 31.