Simmons Says - 'Good, Better, Best' from DeKalb County

WCSA Jeff Simmons says Braylon Grayson was the best part of Friday night's game (Painted Barn Media)

Don’t be fooled by the title of the story – I’m absolutely crushed by Friday’s outcome. When the Tigers scored in the final minute, I felt sick to my stomach, so I can’t even fathom what the Pioneer locker room was like before leaving Smithville. Coach Matt Turner didn’t sugarcoat it after the game, calling his team “heartbroken.”

I don’t blame them. My heart hurts for the Pioneers, who were absolutely warriors on opening night against a very good DeKalb County team. They had a win within their grasp, but the Tigers roared back and took it from them late. It was a depressing end to what was setting up to be an awesome night just 15-20 minutes before.

For a long time after the final whistle, I felt like I was just wandering around, not exactly knowing what I was supposed to do. I just stood at midfield, waiting to talk to both coaches after the epic battle, and was dumbstruck. Honestly, I still may be (so forgive me if there’s some grammatical errors in here – or more than usual).

If there was something that settled me some on the way back during a quiet car ride with the tremendous WCSA crew, it was my brother chiming in with his two cents. Brett is a football fanatic, but I don’t know if he’s seen a Pioneer game live since he was in school some years ago (16, to be exact).

About the time we got to Dibrell, he offered two salient points: That was a highly entertaining game – “I didn’t know high school football would be that fun,” and the Pioneers are doing the best they can with what they have.

The first statement speaks for itself – if you don’t have any skin in the game, then it would’ve been great to be there Friday to watch two rivals put together a performance that will be talked about for years. The second may seem like almost a backhanded compliment, but I don’t think he meant it that way.

How I see it, I think he’s right – sometimes people get caught up in bellyaching about our 6A program losing to 4A teams, but the truth is the Pioneers and Tigers are about as even as you can get between two schools. People may think we have more kids to choose from, but decades of history is telling us that Warren County kids aren’t going to come by the hundreds to play Pioneer football by high school. If anything, DeKalb County had experience on its side – more of their kids have been playing in a system devised under a coach that has been established for 18 years in Smithville. Warren County is still playing catchup in coach Turner’s fourth season.

Objectively speaking (and I’m anything but), it would’ve been easy to see the Tigers as the favorite Friday. I’m sure the Tennessean did; After all, their team of high school writers had DeKalb County ranked No. 42 in their rankings of all Midstate teams, while Warren County was No. 53.

And yet, the “underdogs” took a two-TD lead when Dawson “Hollywood” Haley grinded out a tough five yards for a score on the first play of the fourth quarter. Warren County did more than proved it belonged Friday, it showed it has the tools necessary to be competitive against almost anybody this year. I don’t expect them to play many teams better than the Tigers in the next three months, although there are some true star players on the schedule (including White County running back Malaki Dowell, who is on the docket for next week).

With that, I have found my inner peace and can go on with the ‘Good, Better and Best’ from Smithville.

Warren County had a few highlights on defense Friday night (Painted Barn Media)

Good – You wouldn’t think there would be much praise for a defense after an opponent scored 35 points (including 15 in the final eight minutes), but I think you have to look deeper to see what the Pioneer stop unit can be. First, two of those TDs aren’t on the defense – DeKalb County returned two kickoffs for scores – and special teams also gave the Tigers two more points on a snap issue on a punt that resulted in a safety. That accounts for almost half of the Tiger points.

Second, the Pioneer defense caused two turnovers. One was a great read by Braylon Grayson to step in front of a seam route, while the other was a botched handoff by the Tigers that allowed freshman Jr Mares to jump on the ball. Add that to a special teams fumble recovery (when coach Turner made the change of sending his first-team defense out to cover a kick and got instant results) and the Pioneers won the turnover battle 3-0. You can win a lot of games when you win the turnover battle.

Lastly, I think the defense had individuals who stepped up big time. Grayson (we’ll get to him more later) was absolutely everywhere. I won’t be surprised if, after the coaches break down film, that we find out Braylon had 20-plus tackles. PJ Truax also flashed as somebody who can cause a ruckus in the backfield, even after making a position change just this week (and he was already new after returning to Warren County this fall). Mares, a freshman who can already hold his own in the trenches, is going to be really good. A few others, like Jaythan Pleasant and Creed Adams, made some impact plays while playing varsity defense for the first time.

Sure, the defense had its warts. Just like the preseason, the Pioneers struggled with short passes and getting off the field Friday. They also seemed to get winded late, missing several tackles on the final drive that led to DeKalb County taking the lead. But, I think coach Camron Bond will find the right schemes and the right personnel to patch over some issues in the coming weeks.

The Pioneers won’t get faster overnight, but they will get more sound in technique and executing calls after film study this weekend.

Jaythan Pleasant piled up 110 yards rushing Friday (Painted Barn Media)

Better – Call it Jekyll and Hyde if you want, but the Pioneer offense – when it’s clicking – is still lethal. Anybody who still believes it was only going to be successful if CJ Taylor was running it can relax, it also pops for big plays when there isn’t a Mr. Football at the controls.

I can’t adequately explain just how baffled DeKalb County was on Nate Elrod’s 71-yard TD run in the second half. The bootleg was set up perfectly, leaving the Tigers barely laying a finger on the Pioneer signal caller as he rumbled down the field for a pivotal score.

Likewise, Pleasant got to walk (actually, lightly jog, but it felt like a walk considering his usual top speed) into the endzone in the third quarter when he came off the edge and had nobody in his way. Even late, during the mess of a last drive where the passing offense sputtered, the Pioneers set up a great screen that picked up a 4th-and-10 and gave the team a breath of life in the waning seconds.

Let’s face it: if you were told before the game the Pioneers were going to score five TDs Friday, you would’ve thought they won. Would you be happier now if the offense could’ve picked up 2-3 pivotal first downs in the final five minutes? Sure, but 307 yards and 34 points is a good building block.

Braylon Grayson fought for every yard and racked up tons of tackles Friday in Smithville (Painted Barn Media)

Best – Braylon Grayson is an animal. He’s a wild man. He’s everywhere. He has no off switch. He’s one of my favorite Pioneer football players of the last 12 years.

Without Braylon Friday night, I don’t know if the Pioneers stay within two scores of DeKalb County. His tackling was top notch at the second level – so much so that I think the Tigers purposely tried to gear their offense in the other direction of him late. He rarely, if ever, misses once he arrives at the point of attack.

Grayson also made a fantastic read on his interception, flying to a seam route that looked wide open when the Tigers had the play unfolding. Grayson undercut it and was off to the races, setting the Pioneers up in the redzone to take the lead in the second quarter. And, wouldn’t you know it, Grayson was the one scoring that TD to push the Pioneers ahead 14-12 by halftime.

I said it earlier and I meant it – I’m devastated for all the Pioneers who suited up Friday. But, if I’m being honest, I’m most crushed for Grayson because I think he was the best player on the field and he went home without a win.

**Bonus Best - I hope everybody appreciated the live look-ins, photos and overall excellent coverage that Ansley Mullican Murphree and Trevor Evans allow the WC Sports Authority to have on Friday nights. I'm an absolute lunatic on the sidelines, so I really have to distract myself with the stats while Trev does the Twitter, Ansley grabs videos and both of them combine to do the Facebook Live. I'd be remiss if I left out Geoff Griffin, who has done a heckuva job with Painted Barn Media and always has great photos for me right after the game.

It may sound like begging, but I don't care. If you're reading this and want this level of coverage to continue, buy a subscription if you haven't already. If I win the lottery and become a multi-millionaire while you're subscribed to the WCSA, I'll gladly refund your money. Until then though, I count on Pioneer Nation's support to pay the bills and feed the WCSA crew on Fridays (we missed our meal this week, so I'll be making it up to them some other time).

I love this job - I love Warren County sports. Ansley, Geoff and Trevor do too. I'd really love it if everybody chipped in a little, if you can, to make sure we can continue to do this for a long time.


The ‘Good, Better, Best’ is WCSA editor-in-chief Jeff Simmons’ weekly column following Pioneer Friday games. It is sponsored this year by Douglas and Lanier Agency.

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