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Pioneers can't overlook Wildcats

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Countless miles have clicked off my odometer traveling the state to cover the Pioneers and Lady Pioneers. I’ve been stranded on the road due to flat tires and faulty engines and I’ve driven hours to see Warren County lose by 40 points in region games. There have been plenty of bad road trips, but none compare to last year’s visit to Lawrence County.

It was the worst three-hour tour since Gilligan boarded the SS Minnow.

As somebody told me before I boarded the bus last year to go to Lawrence County, “You don’t drive three hours to lose.” The implication was simple – if you’re going to schedule a non-region game so far away, it better be to get a win.

Warren County traveled many, many miles on hot buses with no air conditioning just to lose to the Wildcats. It was a crushing loss, one of a few last year that could’ve helped the Pioneers snap the streak of losing seasons.

It would probably be best to push that night out of the collective memories of the Pioneers, but maybe it could serve some purpose right now. Warren County should remember that sweaty, miserable ride home – and send Lawrence County on the same journey once it leaves Nunley Stadium.

Coach Matt Turner has made it clear to his team that every Monday the Pioneers start 0-0. It’s a time to forget what happened the week before and stop from looking too far in the future. This week is a perfect example – Warren County can’t have a hangover from last week’s thrilling win at Rockvale or start looking forward to another Murfreesboro trip too soon.

Taking this game lightly would be a huge mistake.

“Lawrence County is a good football team. They are going to hit us,” said Turner. “We have to be good in all three phases. We weren’t last year and it got us beat.”

Special teams were a disaster against the Wildcats last season. Warren County fumbled twice on kickoffs and had two punts blocked – one of which was recovered in the endzone for a TD.

The Pioneers haven’t shown as many cracks on special teams this year. On the flip side, there have been some highlights in the kicking game.

Xander Lee is coming off a week where he averaged 42 yards a punt and Kason Holder has kick returns of 28 and 29 yards in the last two games. CJ Taylor had a 28-yard punt return against Cannon County, although it did result in a huge hit that has hampered Taylor’s throwing shoulder for two weeks.

If there are things to clean up on special teams, it would be kickoff coverage and kicking accuracy. DeKalb County and Rockvale each had some success in returning kicks, while Stephen Curtis has missed field goals in each of the last two games, along with an extra point last week. Turner has adjusted his kickoff team in practice and adds wrinkles in game to alleviate big returns, but the biggest thing is Turner believes Curtis' accuracy issues are close to being resolved.

“Stephen is a good kicker. He’s been doing a great job for us the last two years. This is the first time he’s also been working on offense and defense too, so it’s been an adjustment. He put in a lot of work this week to make sure all the mechanics are there,” said Turner.

It’s the attention to detail Turner expects – and needs – from his squad this week. Doing the little things could lead to a big thing – a 4-0 start. Warren County hasn’t done that since 2007.

This is the epitome of a trap game. People are still buzzing about a last-minute win over Rockvale and next week’s Blackman game could end up with huge playoff implications. Lawrence County is 3-0 and won this matchup last year, but most are still expecting a Warren County blowout.

Looking back, looking forward, overlooking an opponent - this is a scary game for coach Turner and his staff. Luckily, there’s an easy way to snap the Pioneers back into laser focus on Lawrence County. Just bring up last year’s long bus ride home.

Warren County 34, Lawrence County 21

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