By TONY STINNETT, Courier Sports Editor
One of Cannon County's largest senior classes pulled off a huge shocker on Senior Night as the Lions stunned visiting Smith County, 21-13, at Schwartz Field Friday (Oct. 17).
Cannon County honored its 15 seniors in a pregame ceremony.
Members of the group then took the field and put together the most complete and impressive effort by a Cannon County football team in several years.
Senior tailback/defensive back A.J. Daniel left an impression in his final game on his home field. Daniel accounted for all three touchdowns. He rushed for 142 yards on just 13 carries and scored on runs of 41 and 66 yards. Daniel also scored on a 54-yard fumble return and had an interception.
"I'm just glad we got the win," Daniel said. "We have not had the season we had hoped for but we have kept working and fighting. Tonight we did something not many people believed we could do. We have great guys in this senior class and it's been a lot of fun playing with them. I'm glad we could have this feeling together."
And what a feeling.
Cannon County (1-7, 1-3) exorcised many football demons in victory.
The Lions ended a 25-game home losing streak dating back to 2009.
They ended an 18 game losing streak against District 8-AA opponents dating to 2010, and they halted a 14 game losing streak overall.
"Our team put it all together tonight," Lions Head Coach T.J. Daniel said. "We put together four strong quarters and earned this win. I'm so proud of the players. They prepared hard and they have stuck together."
Smith County (3-5, 2-2) was second in the District 8-AA standings entering the game but the Lions were not fazed by the Owls' standing.
There was nothing flukish about the win. Cannon County dominated from start to finish.
With A.J. Daniel leading the way on the ground, Cannon County piled up 275 yards total offense. Sophomore quarterback Josh Walkup enjoyed his best game. Walkup completed 7-of-10 passes for 129 yards. Cannon County's offensive line provided strong pass protection and opened running lanes.
The Lions' defensive effort was stupendous.
Cannon County stopped Smith County on four crucial fourth-down conversion attempts during the game. The Lions forced two turnovers with Daniel collecting a fumble and an interception. Stellar linebacker Eldon Resko forced a fumble.
Cannon County's stop squad allowed 234 yards total offense and had three total sacks.
Daniel led the defensive effort with 11 tackles, one fumble and an interception return for a touchdown.
Resko had another strong game and continued a consistent junior campaign. Resko finished with seven tackles, one sack and a forced fumble.
Forrest Mason collected seven tackles and Case Isenhart was active with six tackles and a sack.
Daniel Davis also had a tackle for loss.
Cannon County got the game's first break. The Lions received the opening kickoff and were eventually forced to punt. The kick hit a Smith County player and was recovered by Cannon County at the Lions' 38.
Four plays later Daniel took the handoff and raced 41 yards into the endzone. Jake Walkup added the extra point and Cannon County led 7-0 with 6:30 remaining in the first quarter.
Defense dominated the remainder of the first half and the Lions maintained the lead at the half.
Smith County tied the game, 7-7, on its first drive after the half but Cannon County had an immediate answer.
The Lions took the lead for good on the following possession when Daniel scored on a 66-yard run that proved to be the game winner. Walkup's extra point pushed the lead to 14-7.
Daniel added a 54-yard fumble return for a touchdown to push the lead to 21-7, which was enough for the defense.