'Good, Better, Best' vs. Cookeville


Just before kick off in Sequatchie County, where the Pioneers were getting their final preseason tune up, coach Matt Turner walked right up to me. He got right in my face, looked me square in the eyes and said, “I printed off your Simmons Says and gave it to my team to read on the way here.”

You can click here and read it all from Aug. 13, but the gist was that it was time to see if Turner’s Squad 53 could step up this fall. At the time, there was just one week left until the season (so we thought) and there was no way the group was going to get to ride the coattails of last year’s team anymore.

The two paragraphs I think Turner wanted his team to see – and they did, because I heard about it from a bunch of them – were the following:

When I watch this year’s team practice, I wonder about which kids have that kind of grit. I wonder which kid would have enough fire and determination to say, ‘I’m the best player on this field, I’m getting the ball and nobody is going to stop me!’ …. There is no Taylor to bail them out this time though, nor any Holder to come through and carry guys into the endzone. Riding the wave of momentum the 2020 built ends the moment the ball goes in the air at Nunley Stadium next Friday. By then, the 2021 team will have to sink or swim on its own.

As I walked up and down the sideline, I saw angry stares peering through the Pioneer helmets. They didn’t like what I wrote, but there was a big problem: Over two quarters in Sequatchie County, they proved me right.

The Pioneers held their own against Rhea County, but still lost 7-0. After that, they were embarrassed by Sequatchie County, falling 28-0 in a 12-minute period. It was a tough way to end the preseason and concerns were growing.

I bring it up now because I don’t really feel like people are truly comprehending what happened Friday in Cookeville (and, to a lesser extent, last week against state-ranked Mt. Juliet). Somehow, the Pioneers went from being hapless in the preseason and having to sit out three weeks of their season due to COVID-19 to giving the No. 2 team in the state a scare and ending a 34-YEAR losing streak in Cookeville.

Really, how is that possible?? I don’t think anybody could’ve guessed it on the way back from Dunlap just a month ago. As one person told me Friday, “these guys are gamers.” They’re right – Warren County has looked like a different team once the Friday night lights came on this season.

Maybe they had a preseason moment in the last two weeks like in ‘Remember the Titans.’ I could see Braylon Grayson and Jaythan Pleasant at their wing positions yelling, “LEFT SIDE, STRONG SIDE,’ back and forth.

OK, I doubt that happened, but something changed these kids in the last two weeks and I’m all for it!


Now, let’s have Remember the Titans guide us through the ‘Good, Better and Best’ from Friday’s statement victory:


Tay Miller added some sizzle with his swagger against Cookeville Friday.

You want to act like a star, you better give me a star effort!


Good – Sometimes when you’re trying to do something that hasn’t been done in three decades, you need some breaks. Warren County got them against the Cavaliers.

When the Pioneers lined up to punt with 1:55 left in the first half, Cookeville had to feel really good about its chances. The Cavaliers were up 7-0 and were set to get the ball first after halftime. Just when it felt like the home team had grabbed all the momentum, the Pioneers took it away.

Tay Miller was the catalyst, picking up a muffed punt to set up Warren County’s first score and laying the wood on a hit that resulted in Nate Elrod’s 50-yard fumble return for a TD at the halftime buzzer. Those are the breaks you need and, to Warren County’s credit, they played hard to create those opportunities.

Having Miller, easily the biggest trash talker on the Pioneers, be in the middle of it was awesome. He’s been talking the talk since coming onto the team last year. Against the Cavaliers, he walked the walk too.

It was obvious Cookeville never recovered from those two minutes and now, for the first time since 1983-84, the Pioneers have won back-to-back games in the series.

 

“When I was 15, I lost my mother and my father in the same month – the same month Ronnie! 12 brothers and sisters, I was the youngest one, but they were all looking up to me. I wasn’t ready yet either, but they needed me. Your team needs you – you’re the Colonel and you’re going to command your troops tonight.”

Better – I’ve talked to coach Turner a lot over the last two weeks and one thing he keeps bringing up every time I ask about QB Nate Elrod is the talk they had hours before the Mt. Juliet game. Coach Turner and defensive coordinator Camron Bond sat in the office where Elrod entered and got the speech.

It wasn’t anything as gripping as coach Boone’s sideline tale to Ronnie Bass in ‘Remember the Titans,’ but it was just as effective. Turner turned over the keys to Elrod and trusted him to make the right plays. The junior is steering the Pioneers in the right direction.

Football fans probably have seen Peyton Manning or Tom Brady command an offense and change plays on the fly. They look like symphony conductors and signal callers at the same time.

You won’t hear Elrod barking ‘OMAHA’ much, but there are times where he is taking over the offense at the line and dictating where the ball needs to go. Against the Cavaliers, it was in his hands a lot and he made the most of it, scoring on two runs at the goal line.

Elrod isn’t walking out with the captains before the game – yet – but he’s definitely the commander of the offense.

 

“RUN IT UP! LEAVE NO DOUBT!”


Best – When are teams going to figure out that if you’re playing from behind against the Pioneers, you can’t try to kick and play defense in the final 5-6 minutes? Warren County is not going to give the ball back. They’re just going to keep cramming it down the opponent’s throat and cue up the victory formation when there are no more timeouts to slow the Pioneers down.

My hat is off to the offensive staff for masterful play calling against Cookeville. It was funny to hear one Cookeville student with a microphone say early in the game, “Why does it take so long for you to play? You only run three plays.”

Well, if you’ve watched ‘Remember the Titans,’ as many times as I have, you know that a good offense can be, “just like Novacaine. Give it time and it always works.”

I don’t care if the Pioneers only run 3-4 plays every week if they work as well as they did against the Cavaliers. Pound Eli Cantrell for 4-5 yards a run, get Braylon Grayson moving down hill and then watch Jaythan Pleasant drop defenders with jukes or outrun them to the endzone.

Cookeville bet it could stop the Pioneers down the stretch. Coach Turner knew the Pioneers would run it on them and leave no doubt.

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