LYNCHBURG, Tenn. — Entrenched deep in a hole of its own doing, the Moore County High School football team climbed out of the abyss and straight into the TSSAA Class A playoffs Friday night.
Moore County, needing a win to force a three-way tie for third in the District 4-1A standings, pounded visiting Mt. Pleasant, taking a 34-14 victory while climbing from fifth all the way to the third in the final district standings. The Raiders (6-4 overall, 6-2 district) finished tied for third with Mt. Pleasant and Huntland. Going all the way down to the fourth tiebreaker — opponents with the most combined victories — Moore County slipped ahead of both Mt. Pleasant and Huntland.
Mt. Pleasant hung onto the fourth spot, leaving Huntland — one of the two district teams that beat MCHS this season — as the odd team out. The Hornets, coming off an 8-3 campaign and postseason berth a year ago, will miss the playoffs this year.
“We knew we’d dug ourselves into a big hole,” said Moore County head coach Jeremy Austin. “Anytime you can come out against a good Mt. Pleasant team and get a big win, I think that’s huge. I think it was a big win for our seniors, especially here on Senior Night.”
It marked Moore County’s second straight win over Mt. Pleasant, the last going back to 2008, and it puts the Raiders into the playoffs for the first time in three years and first time ever under Coach Austin.
“Our kids fought tough and played hard from beginning to end,” added Austin. “We played well and we fought hard. We knew we had a tough road going into (the game). The guys on offense played hard and the guys on defense I think played a little harder than they have been playing because of the job they had to get done.”
Moore County will travel to Whitwell (5-5, 4-1) on Friday night for a game that kicks off at 7 p.m. EST.
“I’m excited for us, for myself and coaching staff. We have a great group of kids. It is pretty exciting to be back in the playoffs,” said Austin.
Moore County easily defeated the Tigers Friday night, despite three turnovers — all interceptions inside the Mt. Pleasant 10-yard line. The Tigers stopped Moore County’s first drive when they intercepted freshman quarterback Stone Frost at the 2-yard line.
The MCHS defense was stellar, however. The Raiders forced a punt and got the ball back at the Mt. Pleasant 33. On third-and-6 from the 29, senior Mason Henshaw took a handoff and raced around the left end for a touchdown. Coy Cashion’s PAT at the 5:25 mark gave the hosts a 7-0 lead that they’d never relinquish.
Mt. Pleasant took its next possession out near midfield, but the Raiders’ defense held on fourth-and-4, giving MCHS the ball at its own 47. Following a Moore County punt, it was again the MCHS defense that answered the call. With the Tigers facing third-and-20 at their own 22, Moore County senior Spencer Reese intercepted a Mt. Pleasant pass at the 42 and returned it to pay dirt for the Raiders’ second score of the game. The PAT failed and Moore County held a 13-0 lead with 8:52 left in the half.
Frost’s second interception of the contest came on third-and goal at the Tigers’ 10-yard line, ending a drive that had covered some 52 yards.
Moore County did manage to add a third score just before the half, however. Taking over with 1:24 left in the second quarter, the Raiders moved 29 yards in less than a minute. Reese scored on a 6-yard run to put MC ahead 20-0 following the PAT.
Mt. Pleasant had two back-to-back drives that stalled. Just before the half, the Tigers took advantage of two Moore County penalties to move out to midfield. As time expired, Mt. Pleasant quarterback Walter Crawford tossed a 36-yard strike down to the Moore County 10-yard line where the half ended. On the first drive of the second half, the Tigers moved the ball all the way to the Moore County 26-yard line, eating 3:25 off the clock, but the drive again stalled and the Raiders took over.
Moore County quickly took advantage. With 7:34 showing on the clock, Reese broke through the Mt. Pleasant line. Once he reached the second level of the Tigers’ defense, he ran untouched for a 59-yard touchdown. The PAT gave the Raiders a comfortable 27-0 lead.
The visitors finally got on the board with 3:57 left in the third. Crawford tossed a pass to Tez Rogers for a touchdown and then hit Lorenzo Brown in the end zone for the two-point conversion, cutting the lead to 27-8. Moore County answered with a long drive, but came away empty after missing a 23-yard field goal attempt.
On the Raiders’ next possession, Moore County moved the ball down to the Mt. Pleasant 1-yard line thanks to a 17-yard hookup from Frost to sophomore Coy Cashion. Frost’s third interception was costly though as it was returned 101 yards for a Mt. Pleasant touchdown.
The Raiders’ final score came with 1:11 left to play. Henshaw scored his second TD of the game, busting around the left side of the Moore County line and darting 6 yards to the end zone. Andy Huffer came on to punch through the PAT for the final tally, 34-14. Danny Diaz then recovered a Mt. Pleasant fumble to end the game.
• Notes: Spencer Reese finished with 170 yards rushing and two rushing TDs, along with his 42-yard interception return. … Mason Henshaw had 90 yards on the ground and a pair of touchdowns. … It’s approximately 77 miles and about 1 hour, 25 minutes from Lynchburg to Whitwell, where MCHS will play in the opening round of the TSSAA Class A playoffs this week. The school is located about 12 miles north off of I-24 on route 28. … Whitwell finished 5-5 overall, but played a tough non-conference schedule before finishing second in Region 3 with a 4-1 mark. The lone common opponent Moore County and Whitwell had this season is Columbia Academy, which beat them both. CA beat Whitwell 41-24 on Oct. 23. … Jake Sartin has carried much of the offensive load for Whitwell this season. “I know we’re going to have to play great defense again,” said MCHS coach Jeremy Austin.
—By ROBERT HOLMAN, Publisher (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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