When they meet tonight at Carden-Jarrell Field, both the Central High School Red Raiders and the Warren County Pioneers will be looking for their first football win of the season.
Both teams, now 0-3 against tough opponents, should be well matched as they bring seasoned quarterbacks and competent backfields to the field. In addition to a home field advantage, the Red Raiders will be seeking vindication against a team that scored an upset win in their meeting last season.
Going into last year’s game Coffee County had beaten the Pioneers in 11 of their past 12 meetings. With a 0-5 record, the Raiders were looking for a win to turn around the second half of the season and keep their playoff chances alive. Instead, three turnovers resulted in three Warren County touchdowns and allowed the Pioneers to pull out a 43-32 win.
Heading into this week it’s basics for CHS head coach Lee Davis and his team.
“Warren County has one of the best teams they’ve had in long time,” Davis said. “The players and coaches are excited to play in front of our home fans in this rivalry game.”
So far this season the Raiders have fallen to Battle Ground Academy (52-20), Rhea County (55-20) and Columbia Central (35-0). After last week’s loss at Columbia, Coffee County is now 0-1 in District 8 and has been outscored on average 46-13.
This year Warren County is parked with Cumberland County at the bottom of District 6. In their first three outings the Pioneers have lost to DeKalb County, Shelbyville and Cookeville.
Fourth-year Pioneer coach Tommy Johnson has shaken up his coaching staff with two new coordinators. Offensive coordinator Chris MacKeown comes to McMinnville after ten years coaching in the Arena Football League, and Paul Martin has stepped up to defensive coordinator after serving as an assistant coach at Warren County last year.
On the field the Pioneers lack depth overall but enjoy some powerful starters in key positions. Senior quarterback Hunter Mullican already holds school single-season and career passing records for completions and total yardage. So far this season Mullican is 36-of-67 through the air for 529 yards in three games. He has at times shown a tendency to become flustered under pressure, however, and has been picked off seven times.
Two senior wideouts have teamed up with Mullican to complete the passing attack: D’Andre League (14 receptions, 162 yards) and Drew Davidson (7 for 137). Junior Malik Ladet and senior Lee Carden have also shown the ability to snag passes for big yardage, as has senior running back Cameron Lusk.
Lusk’s main threat, however, is on the ground. In three games Lusk has gained 216 yards on 49 carries (4.4ypc). Davidson and junior Bryson Lewis have also shown promise carrying the ball, but depth in the backfield is a continuing issue for the Pioneers.
Special teams are a threat from Warren County. One of the few high points in Warren County’s 33-15 loss to Cookeville was a 94-yard kick return by League. And senior Johnny Smith can put the Pioneers on the board without getting into the end zone. Against Shelbyville he booted a 35-yard field goal.
For their part the Red Raiders have demonstrated at least competence in backfield depth. Leading rusher Cody Howes is averaging 5 yards per carry and has been sharing ball carrying responsibilities with Dalton Carter, Hunter Smithson, Ben Hosea, freshman Reece Pratt and others. After last week’s game at Columbia, Davis said he plans to continue with a “backfield by committee” and will ride the hot hand.
The Raiders need to continue to improve on the ground to help out senior quarterback Peyton Meeker, who has been forced to throw early and often to overcome early deficits. So far this season Meeker has completed 26 of 64 passes for 334 yards and four interceptions.
Chris Vaughn (8 receptions, 106 yards) and Cole Hawkins (9-94) continue to do the lion’s share of pass-catching for Coffee County. Howes, Grayson Miller, John Reece Gilmer and freshman Garrett Eldridge have also demonstrated the ability to haul in passes.
The Warren County defense tends toward the dynamic with a lot of blitzing and on-field formation changes but have still given up 94 points in three games.
Defense has also been a challenge for the Raiders, who have allowed 142 points in three games.
Kickoff tonight is at 7 p.m.