Strong Second Half Leads Tullahoma To Program's First Ever State Title Appearance
By Carter Mansfield
Tullahoma entered Friday night’s 4A semifinal matchup with Haywood looking to advance to the program’s first state championship game in its history. The Wildcats were successful in that mission, beating Haywood 44-19 after a dominant second half performance.
A back and forth first half between the two teams seemed to have this game shaped up to be one of the better games of the night, but a dominant 24-0 second half for Tullahoma sealed the victory for the Wildcats.
Haywood took their first drive of the game into the endzone with ease, capped off by a 12-yard touchdown reception by Arkansas commit Jaylen Lewis.
Tullahoma seemed to have a response for every play that Haywood made in the first half, as they drove the ball down for a touchdown on the ensuing drive.
The second quarter shootout commenced, as Haywood kicked a field goal and followed that with Lewis’ second touchdown of the night from 53 yards out to extend Haywood’s lead to 16-7.
From that point on, the Wildcats dominated in every aspect of the game.
“We really had to start utilizing our passing game because we’re against people who are just as big and as physical as we are.” Tullahoma head coach John Olive said. “Once we got the jitters out of us, we really started to move the ball well.”
Two huge plays in the pass game to end the first half gave Tullahoma a one-point lead going into halftime, along with all the momentum. The first a 80-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Scott to Krys Uselton, followed by a 63-yard touchdown pass from Scott to Jacob Dixon.
The Tullahoma defense forced a stop to begin the second half and the Scott-to-Dixon connection was working at full speed, as Dixon found the endzone for the second time from 20 yards out.
On the very first play for Haywood on the ensuing offensive possession, the Tullahoma defense laid a huge hit on Haywood quarterback Cordero Walker, forcing a fumble that the Wildcats scooped up and took into the endzone.
With all the momentum, Tullahoma rolled through the rest of the second half to victory.
Scott and Dixon were the stars for Tullahoma all night, as Scott finished 13 for 23 with 269 yards and a touchdown passing, while Dixon finished with 4 catches for 103 yards and 2 touchdowns receiving.
“Jacob’s a ballplayer, if I was going into a fight I’d take him with me.” Olive said. “He’s just a gutty performer. I love those types of players.”
A large part of Tullahoma’s success is their senior class. Through the 2015 and 2016 seasons, Tullahoma did not win a single game. The Wildcats’ senior class came in and changed the culture, proving to be one of the most successful classes in program history.
“They are a very talented class.” Olive said. “We have 22 seniors and all 22 seniors make a contribution every week. They are great leaders and they don’t care who gets the credit. They celebrate for each other.”
Tullahoma will take on two-time defending 4A state champion Elizabethton on Saturday, December 2nd in Chattanooga, in the program’s first title game appearance.
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