As we look forward to 2017 season, let us close a riveting chapter of Sequatchie County football history that featured four teams in the playoffs and three in the semifinals. With the likes of Mr. Football players and All-State Selections, 2016 was a year to remember in our little neck of the woods.
So here’s to you 2016, and may the 2017 Prep Football Season bring us more than we ever expected!
(No. 5) Whitwell Takes Columbia Academy Down to the Wire
The second round of the Class 1A playoffs is not usually the preferred exit point for a season, but for the Whitwell Tigers and their blissfully youthful squad, it was a hard-fought and well-deserved victory that was taken from them. So, the heartbreak may not have been taken lightly, but it was reasonable to cope with for Tigers players as they nearly ended up with a semifinal berth for the first time since 1991. The real story was the fact that the TigerTown faithful had already faced off with Columbia Academy three times in the past two years with only one home faceoff to their name. In fact the Tigers had already fell to the Bulldogs 21-3 just three weeks prior.
Hudson Petty scored the initial touchdown on a 1-yard rush in the first half before the Bulldogs pulled out 23-yard equalizing run by Matt Petzelt. Warner Ashworth connected with Garrett Shrum for a 12-yard pass before another Patty rush for their second touchdown. That score would hold up until the fourth quarter.
Late in the third, Columbia Academy’s Logan neal forced a 15-yard sack which helped the Bulldogs back the Tigers up to a 4th-and-21 at their own 8-yard line. Nunley’s punt was blocked, and that gave Bulldog defense a short field, leading to a score by Fullback Davis Cofer. Columbia Academy forced a three-and-out before a 13-play, 76 -yard drive led to a 12-yard scoring catch from Taylor Thompson. With less than a minute left, Ashworth was picked off on the Bulldog’s 45-yard line, ending Whitwell’s upset bid in Columbia.
(No. 4) Kirkendoll Wins Mr. Football Lineman Honors
Kirkendoll, an outside linebacker for the Warriors, was voted the Class 2A Lineman of the Year over fellow Warrior teammate Hunter McClain who was also a finalist for the award. McClain and Kirkendoll stood alongside Austin-East’s Darius Harper–who the Warriors suppressed in the Semifinals–and Trezevant’s Cordarrian Richardson, a running back that Warriors faced in the State Title game in 2016.
On the defensive side of the ball, Kirkendoll was no stranger to the Mr. Football awards as he was a semifinalist during the 2015 season. After a monster performance that year, Kirkendoll stepped his game up even more during his senior season. On the season, Kirkendoll had amassed 118.5 tackles, 85 on his own and 71 assists. Also included in his totals were 12 tackles for a loss and a sack.
(No. 3) Indians Finish Season With a Perfect 10-0
For the first time since 1990, the Indians were able to hit the ten-win mark, but with a playoff’s worth of games still ahead of them at that point, they couldn’t truly soak in the magnitude of the season they were brewing in Baxter, Tennessee. Upperman was a team with a title-caliber history who took down the Indians last season at home, so the victory ended up being so much sweeter.
Going into halftime, the Indians led by just a score but left the Bees with a goose egg still shining on the scoreboard. Hunter Davenport scurried for a two-yard touchdown midway through the first quarter. The Indians would pick up two interceptions to put them within scoring range and scored three unanswered touchdowns in the second half.
The Indians would go on to plunder the Bees 28-0 before hosting Howard in the first round of the playoffs and ultimately losing to Alcoa in the Semifinals with a final record of 13-1.
(No. 2.) South Pittsburg Takes Last Second Rivalry Thriller
In one of the state’s top small-school rivalries, it was nice to see a down-to-the-wire, edge-of-your-seat thriller in a series known undoubtedly for its blowouts and lopsided domination. In fact, it was the closest matchup since 2005’s 13-12 grudge match in which Marion County was the victor. Since that game, both sides have pulled their share out, always in dominant form, including four complete and utter shutouts. It’s always a storyline when these two schools meet, but a deep pass in the closing minute of the game left this rivalry with one of its more competitive outings.
The Pirates took home-field advantage after a 1-1 road trip up the Valley to Dunlap then Pikeville with a low-end top ten ranking in the Class 1A Polls. Typical for a Grider-led team. Enter the young gun Joey Mathis who took the reigns from Ricky Ross’ reigning Runner-Up squad, entering the night as the top-ranked team in Class 2A with (up to that point) an unblemished record. The press had assembled and Beene Stadium was packed to the brim as the kickoff ensued.
After trading first half touchdowns and a missed PAT by South Pittsburg, the Warriors headed into the locker room ahead by only one point. That lead wouldn’t last long as EJ Cagle, who missed the first-half PAT, came up with a 23-yard field goal to go ahead by two. Late in the third quarter, Jacob Saylors dipped in for a 5-yard score, but the Warriors still led by less than a touchdown.
Ten seconds into fourth quarter, wide receiver Cade Kennemore returned a punt to the house before Joseph Lilly converted two points. Gasping for any yardage available, the Warriors made their move in the fourth as Houston McElroy drilled a 23-yard field goal to tie the contest up a 17. Almost as an omen, exactly one minute remained on the scoreboard as the Pirates got set to return. They fielded it to around midfield before taking some shots at Kennemore. A quick adjustment by Grider and company led to a 30-yard touchdown pass to seal the game and another chapter in the historic legacy of the rivalry.
(No. 1) Three Schools Reach Semifinals
After sending four teams to the playoffs and one to a postseason bowl game, the Sequatchie Valley was overjoyed with the quality of its 2016 season, but the quick-rising hotbed of prep football was only getting warmed up. All four playoff teams advanced to the second round, and outside of Whitwell’s heart-breaking defeat at the hands of Columbia Academy, the Valley continued to impress into the quarterfinals and onto the semifinals.
Sequatchie County suffered an utter shutout at the hands of 3A powerhouse Alcoa, 24-0. They would finish that season with a 13-1 record and an undefeated regular season after falling to the eventual State Champion Tornadoes. The Indians garnered a couple of All-State selections and a Mr. Football Runner-Up in Hunter Davenport.
Although South Pittsburg is used to the pressure of being the target that many aim at, Greenback is one of the standards they look to when the season is over the postseason have begun. With only one loss to their name against Sequatchie County in week one, the Pirates went toe-to-toe with the Cherokees before falling behind during a second half surge by Greenback. They would finish the season with a gleaming 12-2 record just one game shy of the Championship against the State Runner-Up. Mitch Butner was a Mr. Football Semifinalist for the Pirates along with a few All-State selections.
After two tries at a State Championships, Marion County was probably sentenced to the phrase “Third Time the Charm.” Even after a dogfight in Cookeville in which two players were carted off the field, including defensive sparkplug Hunter Zeman, the Warriors were unable to capture a championship in their third trip in as many years. As heartbreaking as it was, it signified the third runner-up trophy for Marion County and told the tale of a very successful three years in which Cookeville was the final destination. A trio of All-State players and a Mr. Football winner in Alex Kirkendoll numbed the pain of a third loss ever so slightly as the Warriors finished 13-2, losing only to State Champion Trezevant and Semifinal Contender and rival South Pittsburg.
One stat remains from this tenure of 2016’s trio, their record against the world, averaging less than two losses per team: 38-5.
Here’s to you 2016. Now let’s put 2017 in the books!