For the first time since 2012, Wilkins Stadium will play host to a TSSAA Playoff Game when Tullahoma hosts Livingston Academy on Friday night in the first round of the postseason.
Oddly enough, Friday will be six years to the day that THS (8-2) last hosted a playoff game. During that postseason run in 2012, Tullahoma won its home game, beating White County 37-13, before seeing its season end at Columbia Central 47-24 the next week.
Tullahoma will be looking to replicate that success by getting a home win this Friday night against Livingston Academy. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Both Tullahoma and Livingston Academy (5-5) are coming off losses in their regular-season finales. THS dropped its final contest at Maplewood last week 14-6, while Livingston Academy fell at home to Macon County 27-21.
Special teams mistakes cost Livingston in its regular-season finale, after a pair of snaps got away, setting up Macon County for prime scoring chances. Macon County took advantage in the win.
Despite losing the contest, Livingston Academy led in yardage in a defensive battle. Livingston Academy totaled 212 yards on the night, with the majority of those coming through the air.
Quarterback Will McDonald completed 13 of his 27 pass attempts for 148 yards on the night. The junior quarterback threw for two touchdowns in the loss, bringing his season total to 23.
Wesley Smith was the recipient of both scores from McDonald last Friday. The junior wide receiver finished with 66 yards and three catches, two of which were for his touchdowns. According to The Overton County News, Smith has been McDonald’s primary receiver this season, nearing 1,000 yards on the year.
Mitchell Ayers also rushed for 109 yards on 13 carries for Livingston Academy.
“Offensively, they do a lot of a two-back pistol look, with a twins open, three wide receivers open in the game,” said THS Head Coach John Olive. “They do some one-back, where they are in a two-by-two instead of a three-by-one. Then they’ve got what I call a heavy set, where they take skill players out and bring extra linemen in, where two of the linemen line up in the backfield, Ayers lines up in the backfield and go to an unbalanced set and basically dare you to stop them from getting their yards.”
On the defensive side of the ball, Livingston Academy held Macon County to just 130 yards on the night. The Tigers were limited to 47 passing yards and 83 rushing yards.
Livingston Academy isn’t the only one who needs to brush off a loss to close out the regular season. Tullahoma dropped a close 14-6 matchup at Maplewood, struggling for offense the entire game.
THS had just 119 yards on the night, including 11 rushing yards. Defensively, the Wildcats limited Maplewood to 263 yards.
Heading into this week of practice, Olive said he wanted to see how his team bounced back and got ready for this Friday.
“I thought during Tuesday’s practice, we had a hangover from last Friday’s game,” Olive said on Wednesday. “I thought today was a lot better. These practices needed to be a lot more important mentally than physically. We backed off today, with the Lions Bowl yesterday and us having several freshmen playing key roles, we backed off because we knew that they would be sore and they didn’t need to do any major hitting today.
“Offensively, we made some plays that we needed to make [in practices], but not enough,” he added. “We still aren’t consistent out there. Defensively, I thought we were a lot quicker to the football than we were yesterday.”
This season, Tullahoma has been anchored by its defense. After being torched for 471 yards in a loss to Shelbyville to start the year, Tullahoma has since allowed opponents to average 243 yards per contest over the last nine games of the season.
A pair of senior defensive ends lead the Wildcats, as Ty Cox and Matthew Ross have harassed opponents all season. Cox leads the team in tackles and sacks, wrapping up 71 tackles, including 21 for loss, and getting to opponents’ quarterbacks seven times on the year. Ross is second on the team in sacks with three, while wrapping up 34 tackles and a having a fumble recovery.
At the linebacker spot, Samari Layne has also been a key contributor for the Wildcats. Layne is second on the team in tackles, wrapping up 54 on the year, while adding three sacks.
Tullahoma has also been able to create turnovers, forcing opponents to give up possession 22 times on the season. In fact, the Wildcats have a ball-hawking secondary that has intercepted 15 passes on the year.
Jakobe Thomas and Quintin Howard are tied for the lead in picks with three, leading Tullahoma’s secondary. Kaleb Stroop, Hunter Jewell and Kobe Burks each have two interceptions this season, while Race Marin, Sam Brock, Payton Howard and Jewell each have one on the year.
The Wildcats have also forced seven fumbles on the year, led by Burks who has recovered two of those balls. Cox, Jewell, Brian Nelms, Hunter Palmer and Ross each have a fumble recovery of their own.
On the offensive side of the ball, Tullahoma comes into Friday night averaging 272 yards per contest, led by its rushing attack, which averages 142 yards per game.
Briasen Corn has been a workhorse for Tullahoma, rushing for 984 yards on 188 carries and 14 touchdowns on the season.
Ben Fulton helms Tullahoma’s offense, completing 64 percent of his passes on the year as 105 of his 164 attempts have been on target. Fulton has thrown for 1,313 yards and 11 touchdowns while being intercepted nine times.
Fulton has used four go-to receivers on the year. Burks leads Tullahoma in receptions, bringing in 28 passes for 340 yards and two touchdowns.
Palmer has 21 catches on the season for 181 yards and a touchdown. Marin has reeled in 17 passes for 305 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Ross has 15 receptions for 233 yards and leads Tullahoma with three touchdown catches.
Heading into Friday night’s matchup, Olive said the most important thing for his team to do is avoid mistakes. Against Maplewood last week, Tullahoma turned the ball over three times, but also had 13 penalties called against them.
“We’ve got to protect the football,” Olive said. “I hope that we quit shooting ourselves, because we’ve had way too many penalties here. We’ve got to quick killing ourselves from that standpoint.”
On the defensive side of the ball, Olive said he just wants to see his players continue to make tackles and make their opponents have to string together long drives.
“Defensively, we just can’t allow a big play. We can’t give them anything cheap. We have to make them earn everything. I think we’ve got a chance with our defense, to stay in the ballgame against anybody right now.”
Kickoff for this Friday’s game is scheduled for 7 p.m. For those unable to make the contest, it will be broadcast on 101.5 FM in Tullahoma.
Tickets for Friday’s game are $8 and will be available for purchase at the THS main office until 1 p.m. on Friday.
Advance tickets can also be purchased online for $8 with a $1.42 fee attached. The entrance for online tickets will be the gate located closest to Tullahoma High School. Those who want to buy advance tickets can do so here: https://gofan.co/app/events/39816.