The White County Warriors came into their game against the Franklin County Rebels, on Nov. 4, as a better seed but had been labeled an underdog by many across the state.
The Warriors don’t mind the role of underdog and realize that role may become very familiar as they make a march through the playoffs toward a championship. The Warriors came out with a “want to” attitude and played hard from every position for the entire game. They fed off the energy of a huge crowd who had filled up the bleachers an hour before kickoff.
The offense rolled behind the best one-two punch in the state. Tripp Pinion carried the ball for 291 yards in the game. Malaki Dowell ran for 310 yards on the game. It would be hard to pick an MVP on the night between the two talented athletes. I would give player of the game honors to nine guys: Linemen - Jacob Jenkins, Keaton Sparkman, Kobe Jones, Hayden Bilbrey, Zachary Robertson, Jaylon Hannah and TJ Dodd, as well as fullback Rylan Bumbalough and tight end Grayson Walker. These men dominated the Franklin County line and paved the way for the Warriors to run for over 600 yards on the night. Both Malaki Dowell and Tripp Pinion would be quick to tell you the importance of the men up front blocking.
The Warriors received the opening kick and quickly began to move the ball. Dowell carried the ball a couple times to start the drive and gained a first down. Pinion had a 20-yard run. The drive was slowed for a moment by a holding penalty. The Warriors overcame the penalty as the quarterback, Pinion, would break loose for his first score of the game. His 30-yard touchdown run got the Warriors on the board first. Nate Mullins’ extra point made the score 7-0 in favor of the home team.
Franklin County would start the ensuing drive on their own 30-yard line. They moved the ball with screen passes to Nashawn Holman who happens to be a nephew to UT great and current 49er Jauan Jennings. After a couple of first downs, the Rebels had moved the ball to the Warriors’ 30. It was then that Darvon Richmond stepped in front of a CJ Seals pass and intercepted the ball, giving the ball back to the Warriors.
Dowell had powerful runs on the next drive. He stiff-armed Rebel defenders and planted them on the turf with a thud. Pinion had a long touchdown run called back because of a penalty flag that the referees couldn’t seem to keep in their pockets during the game. The penalty was only a momentary delay as Malaki broke loose for a 44-yard touchdown a couple plays later. Nate Mullins once again kicked the ball through the uprights, making the score 14-0 in favor of the Warriors.
Franklin County moved the ball thanks to passes to Nazaiyah Holman, another Jennings nephew. Manny Scott also ran the ball hard. The second quarter would begin as the Warrior defense stiffened up and forced the Rebels to punt. The Warriors were unable to move the ball and were forced to punt back to the Rebels after just three plays. The Rebels would begin with the ball around midfield. Scott ran for a few yards, before Seals hit one of the Holman brothers with a pass to pick up a first down. Seals then threw a screen pass to the other Holman brother for a touchdown. The Rebels made the extra point and the score tightened to 14-7.
As they have often done this year, White County answered quickly. On the second play of the drive, Malaki ripped off one of his patented runs. He let the blockers do their jobs in front of him until he found a seam. He then burst through the hole and put on the afterburners. Seventy-nine yards later, the Warriors had extended their lead. The extra point by Mullins made the score 21-7.
Franklin County would go 3 and out and punt the ball back to the Warriors. The Warriors had another 65-yard touchdown called back and ended up punting the ball back to the Rebels. Seals hit Nashawn Holman for a 35-yard completion. He the hit Nazaiyah Holman who moved the ball down to the 12-yard line. The Warrior defense would not let the Rebels into the endzone, but Franklin County got back on the board with a 25-yard field goal by Rylan Banks. The score at the half was 21-10 in favor of the Warriors.
White County came out of the locker room firing on all cylinders. They kicked off to the Rebels. The Warrior Defense held strong. Asher Kelso laid a massive hit on a would-be receiver, jarring the ball loose and forcing a punt. White County would take the ball and score quickly as Dowell ran in a 62-yard touchdown. Mullins continued his perfect night on extra points and the score ballooned to 28-10.
After another Franklin County 3 and out, the Warriors would get the ball back. They had yet another touchdown called back by the black and white, yellow-hanky-dropping crew. The Warriors would have to punt the ball back to the Rebels. The Rebels did find a little success moving the ball but ultimately ended up turning the ball over on downs to the Warriors. This time, the refs kept their hankies in their pockets as Tripp Pinion would break loose on a beautiful 70-yard run. The extra point made the score 35-10 in favor of the Warriors.
Franklin County is a good team and refused to give up. They kept fighting. They started their next drive with a nice pass to Ke’andre Johnson. Seals then hit Kai Baker for a first down. Manny Scott had one of his best runs of the night as he carried the ball 18 yards into the endzone for a Rebel score. The extra point made the score 35-17.
Malaki Dowell responded as always on the second play of the Warriors’ next drive. The Rebels were stacking 10 men around the line of scrimmage trying to stop the run, but they had no answer for the Warrior blockers or runners. Dowell’s touchdown covered 67 yards in a matter of seconds. Mullins’ kick was true, yet again, and the score grew to 42-17.
The Franklin County Rebels would score on two late drives with the help of late hit penalties on both. The first touchdown came on a 19-yard score by Ke’andre Johnson. The extra point was good and tightened the score to 42-24. The second touchdown came on a 12-yard pass to Kai Baker. The two-point conversion was no good, but the Rebels drew even closer at 42-30.
The final score of the night came on the Warriors’ next drive. After a Malaki 8-yard run, Tripp took off again for a 57-yard score. Mullins complete the night 7 for 7 on extra points making the final score 49-30.
The Warriors had done it! The crowd went wild. The sideline erupted. Tears were shed. Coaches and players hugged. History had been made. White County had its first playoff win in school history.
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