WCHS football - No. 1 story of 2020
Thank you all for following along with the WCSA's countdown of the top 10 sports stories of 2020. We have reached No. 1!
No. 1 – WCHS football snaps 30-year streak of losing
A long winning streak, a playoff bid, a Top 10 ranking, two state game of the weeks and a Mr. Football. This year’s football season had it all, most of which hasn’t been seen in decades.
Nothing seemed to capture the attention of the Pioneer faithful in 2020 more than the football team breaking a 30-year streak of losing seasons. Warren County raced out to an 8-0 record – its longest winning streak in over 30 years – to become the first team to post a winning mark since 1990. Along the way, the Pioneers clinched the first playoff berth the team earned in 12 years (the team went to the playoffs in 2015-16, but they were guaranteed spots) and CJ Taylor, the team’s do-it-all athlete, was named the best player in the state.
With great success comes great accolades. The region honored several members of the Pioneers, including Taylor claiming the Region 3-6A MVP and senior Kason Holder being named the region’s defensive back MVP. Region honors were also bestowed on Ryland Holder, Douglas Wells, Kaden Jordan, Clay Thompson, Braden Bottoms, Dante Elam, Braylon Grayson and Dayton Jernigan.
Several Pioneers are close to signing scholarships after such a great season. Taylor, Wells, Thompson and both Holder brothers are juggling several college offers, while Jordan, Elam and senior Aiden Cummings are also looking to move on to the next level.
Here’s a look back at each game along the way for the historical 2020 Pioneers:
Warren County 30, DeKalb County 24
Matt Turner couldn’t have dreamed of a better way to start the 2020 season. Taylor broke off a 50-yard TD run on the first play of the season, setting the tone of what would become a Mr. Football campaign for the gifted senior quarterback. Taylor dominated at DeKalb County in the opener, rushing for 253 yards and three touchdowns while also throwing for 102 yards and a score. Taylor also had an interception and forced a fumble against Axel Aldino, the Tiger QB who was a Mr. Football semifinalist in 4A.
Warren County 48, Cannon County 0
Sweet revenge came a night early for the Pioneers in the first game at Nunley Stadium in 2020. Warren County never got over losing to the Lions in Woodbury the year before and it showed when the teams squared off on a Thursday night (the game was moved up due to bad weather).
The Pioneers destroyed Cannon County, jumping up 21-0 in a blink before racing to a mercy-rule win. In the contest, senior brothers Kason and Ryland Holder both scored their first career TDs and Xander Lee powered his way for a score as well.
Warren County 18, Rockvale 13
It was the lone game where the Pioneers trailed through eight games, but they came through in the clutch in Murfreesboro. CJ Taylor hit Kason Holder for a touchdown in the final minute to take the lead for good and earn its first win in Rutherford County in over a decade. Taylor and Holder hooked up twice for scores in the contest, while Clay Thompson had a rushing TD as well.
Ryland Holder sealed victory with a late INT, helping the Pioneers beat the Rockets for the second straight year.
Warren County 40, Lawrence County 3
Another night at Nunley Stadium, another chance to avenge a painful loss from the year before. Lawrence County was no match for the Pioneers in the second matchup between the programs as Warren County moved to 4-0 with another mercy-rule victory at home.
No moment was bigger in the blowout than senior Hunter Burch, a team and fan favorite, getting into the endzone late to cement the team’s hot start.
Warren County 35, Blackman 28
On Sept. 18 in Murfreesboro, Taylor went from a great local story to a household name across the state. With the Pioneer offensive line dominating the Blaze up front, Taylor burst through huge holes to rush for a career-high 309 yards and five touchdowns in a program-changing win.
It was the first time the Pioneers had ever beaten Blackman, along with the first time in decades where Warren County had earned multiple wins in a single season at Rutherford County.
The Pioneers built a 21-0 lead when Taylor broke an 80-yard run in the second quarter, but it still took a 48-minute effort to close the deal. Warren County broke up a Hail Mary attempt at the buzzer to move to 5-0.
Warren County 25, Siegel 20
Proving it could win in a variety of ways, the Pioneers closed out the Stars in an ugly game just a week after its slugfest with Blackman. Taylor was the catalyst again, finishing with 188 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Kason Holder also had a big game, finishing with over 50 yards rushing and grabbing a crucial interception.
The score proved to be closer than the game itself as the Pioneers had a kick return TD called back (Taylor returned it 90-plus yards) and the team also took a knee at the Siegel 1 at the final horn.
Warren County 24, Cookeville 0
On a homecoming night where Warren County honored its legendary 1980 group, the 2020 Pioneers showed just how good their defense was against the Cavaliers.
Warren County completely shutdown Cookeville and its dynamic QB Stockton Owen. It was the second shutout at home in three games – a feat that hadn’t happened in seven years before the Pioneers blanked Cannon County and Cookeville this fall.
As dominant as the defense was on homecoming, nobody will ever forget Ryland Holder’s run. Holder carried the entire Cookeville defense over 20 yards for a TD, a carry which earned Hudl’s play of the year in Tennessee.
Warren County 35, Coffee County 19
In a local rivalry game, Warren County took care of business against the Red Raiders. Braylon Grayson’s 55-yard TD catch on a third-and-long was a huge play in the first half, while Kason Holder sealed victory in the fourth quarter by scoring on a fourth-down throw from Taylor.
Clay Thompson also put his name in the state's record books with a 100-yard fumble return for a TD early in the contest.
With the win, Warren County moved to 8-0 (the longest winning streak since 1983), clinched a 5-0 regular season record away from home (again the first time since 1983) and vaulted into the top 10 in the state rankings.
Riverdale 39, Warren County 6
In the first top 10 matchup at Nunley Stadium since 1980, the Pioneers weren’t able to keep up with a tough Warrior squad.
Warren County played suffocating defense for a half, highlighted by an acrobatic INT by Taylor, but the Warriors kept pounding away and pulled away after scoring on the first play of the second half.
Oakland 36, Warren County 20
In what proved to be the Region 3-6A championship game, the eventual state champs found themselves in a fight at Nunley Stadium. With highly coveted national recruits Jordan James and Isaiah Horton leading the way, the Patriots were able to win, but nobody played them closer than the Pioneers.
Oakland went on to finish the season 15-0 and hoist the 6A championship trophy, but its margin of victory over the Pioneers (16 points) was its lowest of the season. It was a one-possession game in the fourth quarter and Warren County had the ball, but a costly fumble proved too much to overcome.
Taylor gave home fans their final highlight at Nunley Stadium this fall when he broke free in the fourth quarter and outran the Patriot defense on a long TD. It was part of a 185-yard effort, the most any player finished with against Oakland all season.
Mt. Juliet 17, Warren County 13
The memorable 2020 season came to a close in heartbreaking fashion as the Golden Bears scored in the final 30 seconds to knock the Pioneers out of the playoffs.
Warren County outplayed Mt. Juliet through most the game, but a few costly turnovers kept the team out of the endzone early and the defense couldn’t come up with a late fourth-down stop that would’ve preserved victory.
After falling behind 10-0, Warren County made a late comeback. Taylor gave the Pioneers the lead late in the fourth quarter by breaking away for a 73-yard TD run. It proved to be his last carry for Warren County and pushed him to 3,000 yards for his career.