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Top 10 of 2021: No. 7 - COVID shutdowns slow Pioneer football

Welcome to the Warren County Sports Authority Top 10 of 2021. Each day until Dec. 31, we will be releasing a new story counting down the top 10 sports stories in Warren County this year. Be sure to check back everyday to see the biggest headlines from this year!




It was supposed to be like Christmas morning for the Pioneers. Months of hard work were put in, constant preparation for a target date. August 17 had been circled and coach Matt Turner was ready to see what his WCHS football team in an encore of an unforgettable 2020 season.

Instead of calling blitzes or changing blocking schemes, the only thing Turner got to do that day was call DeKalb County to tell them to not make the trip to McMinnville. An outbreak of COVID-19 left the Pioneers unable to play their first three games of the 2021 season (the opener was postponed and later played, though). It was the first time since the consolidation in 1969 that the Pioneers were unable to complete games scheduled in the regular season.

While COVID was ever present throughout the season for the Pioneers, there were still highlights in a tough 1-8 year. The lone win was especially memorable.

Just a week after making its debut (three weeks late), Warren County went to Cookeville and won for the first time on the road against the Cavaliers in 34 years. Junior Nate Elrod stole the show, scoring all three TDs in a 21-14 victory that guaranteed the Pioneers a spot in the playoffs in back-to-back years.

Elrod, who took over the starting QB position after CJ Taylor’s Mr. Football run in 2020, had two rushing touchdowns in the contest, but the most memorable score came on defense.

On the final play of the first half, seniors Tay Miller and Hunter Pezzimenti combined to deliver a huge blow Cookeville’s Evan Whited near midfield. Miller’s shoulder check, along with Pezzimenti punching the ball from behind, knocked the ball loose and it bounced right to Elrod.

He took it to the house to put the Pioneers ahead 14-7, a lead the team wouldn’t relinquish in the second half.

While there wasn’t another success story on the scoreboard the rest of the way (the season ended with a 49-0 loss to eventual state champion Oakland in the 6A playoffs), the Pioneers still had some standout performers throughout the year in the new-look Region 3-6A.

Junior Braylon Grayson was named the Linebacker of the Year in the Region after a 100-plus tackle season, while Elrod, Donathan Lewis (sophomore S/KR), Keldrick Cox (senior Wing/DB), Collin Panter (Junior OL/DL), Alex van Vuuren (sophomore WR/S) and Eli Cantrell (senior RB/DE) were recognized as all-region. Junior defensive back Kaden Rutledge and senior OL Ojani Hernandez were honorable mention all-region for Warren County.

Coach Turner and the Pioneers are hoping for a bounce-back season in 2022, which will start in August at DeKalb County.

Make sure to check back later today, Dec. 26 to see the No. 6 story on the WCSA Top 10 Sports List of 2021.


No. 8 – Covenant’s year of championships: https://www.wcsportsauthority.com/post/top-10-of-2021-no-8-covenant-wins-multiple-tncaa-titles


No. 9 – Boyd’s special year: https://www.wcsportsauthority.com/post/top-10-of-2021-no-9-boyd-s-special-year


No. 10 – WC Sports Hall of Fame adds 13 members:

https://www.wcsportsauthority.com/post/top-10-of-2021-no-10-sports-hall-of-fame-grows-on-special-night



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