Wildcats, Panthers to clash in rematch
As if a playoff battle wasn’t intense enough, Tullahoma will head to Maplewood for the third round of the TSSAA Playoffs on Friday with a chip on its shoulder, seeking revenge.
In the final week of the regular season, the Wildcats and Panthers clashed for the Region 4-4A Title in Nashville. During that Oct. 26 contest, Tullahoma struck first for the early score, but Maplewood’s defense tightened and the Panthers’ offense added 14 unanswered points, capturing the 14-6 victory.
Just like the last time the two teams played, the Wildcats (10-2) enter Friday night as the underdog. But, that’s exactly what Tullahoma wanted.
Minutes after a 16-14 win over Marshall County last week, THS players made it clear that their focus had already shifted to this week with a single hashtag: #WhyNotUs?
That phrase has been the mantra all season long for Tullahoma, who was a perpetual underdog. The Wildcats exceeded expectations with an 8-2 regular season, including putting together an eight-game win streak.
So, after proving once that Tullahoma could keep it close with Maplewood, the question again for Tullahoma is, “Why not us?”
Following the loss to Maplewood, Tullahoma notched back-to-back home playoff wins, defeating Livingston Academy 37-23 on Nov. 2 and Marshall County 16-14 on Nov. 9. In both games, the Wildcats’ defense was stout, allowing an average of 200 yards per contest.
In the victory over the Tigers last week, Tullahoma’s defense put together one of its best outings of the year. The Wildcats limited Marshall County to 161 total yards, including just 67 passing yards.
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 81 tackles, 21 for loss, and sacking opponents’ quarterbacks seven times on the year. Cox played a key role in the Wildcats’ win over Marshall County, forcing and recovering a fumble, getting pressure that led to a game-winning safety and even catching a touchdown pass.
Ross is tied for second on the team in sacks with four on the year. Ross also wrapped up 45 tackles on the year, including seven for loss.
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 78 on the year, nine of which have been for loss, while adding four sacks.
Tullahoma has also been able to create turnovers, forcing opponents to give up possession 27 times. In fact, the Wildcats have a ball-hawking secondary that has intercepted 17 passes on the year.
Jakobe Thomas, Quintin Howard and Hunter Jewell are all tied for the lead in picks with three, spearheading Tullahoma’s secondary. Kaleb Stroop, Sam Brock and Kobe Burks each have two interceptions this season. Race Marin and Payton Howard each have one on the year.
The Wildcats have also forced 10 fumbles, with Ross leading the way with three recoveries. Burks and Cox have two recoveries apiece. Jewell, Brian Nelms, and Palmer each have a fumble recovery.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Wildcats enter Friday averaging 286 yards per game. The majority of those yards have come on the ground for Tullahoma, averaging 145 rushing yards per contest.
Briasen Corn leads the Wildcats’ rushing attack with 16 touchdowns and 1,156 yards on 219 carries. Corn was stifled the last time Tullahoma clashed with Maplewood, scoring once, but was limited to just 11 yards.
Corn also saw his day come to an end early last week against Marshall County, due to a foot injury. In his place, Nelms and Layne came in to play the running back spot.
Nelms carried the ball 10 times for 34 yards. Layne came in for a fourth-quarter boost, rushing for 30 yards on five attempts.
Quarterback Ben Fulton led Tullahoma with 169 yards and two touchdowns against Marshall County, while being intercepted once. The junior quarterback completed 11 of his 14 passes on the night.
On the season, Fulton has completed 65 percent of his passes, as 128 of his 198 pass attempts have been on target. Fulton has thrown for 1,654 yards and 14 touchdowns while being intercepted 11 times.
While Tullahoma narrowly picked up the win last week, Maplewood dominated in a 28-3 home victory over Nolensville. The Panthers controlled the game on both sides of the ball in the second-round playoff win.
Quarterback Bobo Hodges completed 16 of his 25 pass attempts on the night for 291 yards, but was intercepted twice. Jamontay Kinnard was Hodges’ leading target, reeling in three catches for 144 yards.
The senior quarterback also led a Panthers’ rushing attack that generated 247 yards. Hodges ran for 97 yards and two touchdowns on 12 attempts. De’sean Bigham added 85 yards on 14 carries.
On the season, Hodges has completed 66 percent of his throws, as 155 of his 235 throws have been on target. The Mr. Football Finalist has thrown for 2,863 yards and 36 touchdowns on the year, while only being intercepted six times.
Hodges is second in the team in rushing, carrying the ball 72 times for 559 yards and six touchdowns. Bigham has run the ball 109 times for 659 yards and three scores.
The Panthers have looked equally impressive on the defensive end. In 12 games during the regular season, Maplewood allowed just an average of 10 points per contest. In the last six matchups, the Panthers have cut that in half, allowing opponents to score just 4.8 points per game.
Defensive tackle Harlen Zirker leads the Maplewood defense with 71 tackles on the year, 27 of which have come for losses. Zirker has added five sacks on the year.
Defensive end Clint Dowty comes into Friday averaging 1.5 sacks per game, with 17 on the year. Dowty has 45 tackles on the year, 15 of which have been for loss.
The Panthers have also been able to force mistakes, combining for 31 takeaways, including 16 fumble recoveries. William Davis leads his team with three fumble recoveries. In the secondary, Traveres Springer has seven interceptions on the year.
Tickets to Friday night’s game are on sale currently. Advance tickets will be sold for $8 and can be purchased online with $1.42 added fee here: https://gofan.co/app/events/42721.
Those attending can also purchase tickets at the gate. Kickoff on Friday is scheduled for 7 p.m. For those who can’t make it to the game, it will be broadcast on 101.5 FM.