WOODBURY – Cannon County’s first foray into the TSSAA State Football playoffs in more than a decade had a bittersweet ending in a 29-20 loss to Harpeth in front of a standing-room only crowd at Fred Schwartz Field Friday night.
The Lions, champions of District 8-AA and making the school’s first playoff appearance since 1995, provided a championship effort and carried leads into the second and fourth quarters; however, seven turnovers proved too much to overcome even for this hard-working, blue-collar team that clinched its fists and dug in even when times were toughest.
“The fact we still had a chance to win the game late, despite the turnovers and mistakes, is a testament to our kids that they don’t quit, they fight and that’s what made them special this year and has given them the edge,” Cannon County first-year head coach Joel Schrenk said. “The turnovers just got us. You are not going to win many games like that.”
Despite an uncharacteristic slew of give-aways that included five interceptions from two different quarterbacks and a fumble lost, Cannon County carried a 20-16 lead into the fourth quarter. Compounding the Lions’ mistakes; however, was the fact that Harpeth converted the miscues into 22 of its 29 points. In fact, the Indians’ 16 unanswered points in the final 6:22 of the second quarter followed Cannon County turnovers and enabled Harpeth to rally from an early 6-0 deficit and seize momentum. Cannon County also had a kickoff return for a touchdown negated by penalty.
“Harpeth has a good team but I think we hurt ourselves more than they hurt us,” Cannon County quarterback Lee Cooper said. “There were some bad interceptions and some bad mistakes. Turning the ball over didn’t help. It’s tough because we were able to move the ball and had things doing in the passing and running game. We just killed ourselves with the turnovers.”
The superlative performances of numerous Lions almost enabled Cannon County (6-5) to overcome those mistakes. Cooper was 11-of-20 passing for 168 yards and threw three touchdown passes, two covering more than 80 yards. The Lions’ passing attack produced two 100-yard receivers. Senior Andrew Woodin had five receptions for 123 yards, including an 80-yard touchdown and classmate Daniel Woodin was equally impressive with four receptions for 101 yards, including an eye-popping 87-yard scoring scamper.
Woodin, like many of his teammates, was all over the field. In addition to his gaudy receiving numbers, the senior led the team’s ground attack with 40 yards, blocked an extra point attempt, recovered a fumble, batted away a potential touchdown grab in the back of the end zone and had a dazzling 85-yard kickoff return for a touchdown called back due to a personal foul penalty.
“We had some early momentum in the game, lost it, got it back, but we couldn’t keep it,” Wooden said. “We needed to take that momentum and keep it going but we got tripped up a little tonight. We are known for our defense but we could not get off the field after some of the turnovers tonight and that was big.”
With lineman Cesar Wilson, Patrick Gerdes, Jared Melton, Tyler Jacobs and Emby Mills providing solid run blocking and pass protection, the Cannon County offense generated 247 yards and seemingly moved the ball at will with Cooper lighting up the Indians’ secondary and a stable of receivers making nifty moves and dynamic plays. Five different Lions had multiple receptions.
“That’s the tough part,” Mills said. “We should have had this game but mental mistakes and turnovers hurt us. We gave great effort and had a chance in the end. I’m proud of what we have accomplished.”
Cannon County’s defense forced a three-and-out on Harpeth’s opening possession and the Lions wasted no time giving their fans reason to celebrate. Two plays into the drive Cooper connected with Woodin for a 80-yard touchdown strike. The extra point failed and Cannon County owned a 6-0 lead with 9:06 remaining in the first quarter.
The Lions defense made the early lead stick for the first quarter with bone-crushing hits and smother defense that included numerous sacks and tackles for loss. Gerdes, Mills, Thomas Stone and Gabriel Walkup manned the line and Bryant Hare, Dillon Collette and Damon Collette were solid at the linebacker positions. Wooden, Woodin, Simons and Dylan Light turned in impressive tackles and defended numerous passes as the Lions defense held its own.
“Defense has been our strong point all season,” Jacobs said. “You have to give Harpeth credit. They have a great team and they battled. They converted our mistakes into points and that’s what good teams do, especially at this time of the year.”
Three of those interceptions came in succession in the second quarter and Harpeth turned each into points on its way to the halftime lead.
Cannon County was able to regain the momentum it had lost in the second quarter with a stirring third-quarter rally. Three plays into the second half, Cooper found Wooden in the flat on a third-and-15 call and the tailback scampered 87 yards into the end zone. Cooper’s pass to Woodin provided the 2-point conversion and Cannon County had closed to within 16-14 with 10:27 remaining in the third quarter.
After its defense forced a three-and-out, Cannon County was on the move again, approaching midfield, when another interception killed a drive. This time, Harpeth gave the ball back when Damon Collette’s hard knock forced the pigskin from Harpeth tailback Nathan Foriest’s grasp and Wooden pounced on it to give the Lions possession at midfield.
What followed was one of the game’s most impressive drives – a nine-play, 52-yard effort lasting 3:57 and culminating with Cooper’s 6-yard touchdown strike to Woodin. The 2-point conversion attempt failed and Cannon County owned a 20-16 edge with 2:42 remaining in the third quarter.
Things looked good when Cannon County’s defense forced another three-and-out, but a Lion fumble gave the ball back to Harpeth and the Indians cashed in with a 33-yard touchdown pass to provide what would prove to be the winning touchdown and give them a 22-20 edge with 10:35 remaining.
The Lions offense bogged in the fourth quarter with two three-and-outs and an interception on the other possession and Harpeth added a late touchdown to seal the playoff victory.
“It was a tough loss but I’m proud of the effort,” Schrenk said. “It’s the kind of effort that helped us get to this point. We just couldn’t overcome the mistakes we made. That was the difference in the end.”