Demarco Moore, Sports Writer
MANCHESTER, Tenn. — Since the installation of its read-option style offense, the Coffee County Central High School football team has preached ball control and finishing drives with points.
Needing a win to keep their fading playoff hopes alive, the Red Raiders couldn’t have asked for a better start on Friday night against Region 3 Class 6A rival Riverdale.
However, as one mistake led to another, Coffee County couldn’t overcome its own miscues once the Warriors’ running game finally got going in a 56-21 victory over the Red Raiders, who are now eliminated from playoff contention.
It took the Red Raiders (2-6 overall; 1-4 Region 3 Class 6A) all of 1:54 from the opening kickoff to drive the ball 71-yards down the field on their first possession of the game. Coffee County bled the play clock down to five seconds before executing each play: back-to-back runs of 10 and 24 yards by senior Alontae Taylor, followed by a good gain by Cameron West.
After an incompletion, Taylor rolled right and connected with De’Aaron Rozier on a short pass that the senior running back darted up the sideline with for a 35-yard touchdown. Coffee County led 7-0 in a flash.
“Having the opportunity to go down, drive and get on the board first versus a 6-1 program is, I thought it was key,” said Coffee County head coach Ryan Sulkowski of his team’s fast start.
“Meanwhile, we get a stop and we’re moving down for a second [score].”
The Red Raiders had been prepping all week for Savion Davis, Riverdale’s 1000-yard rusher, and bottled him up on the Warriors’ opening possession. Riverdale would punt back to Coffee County, and the Red Raiders were once again on the move before making their first critical mistake of the game.
An errant snap on second down cost the Red Raiders 20 yards of field position, forcing them to punt two plays later.
“I wouldn’t say that was necessarily unfortunate, but anytime you get behind the chains in our type of offense it’s tough to dig out,” stated Sulkowski.
“I wouldn’t say it deflated us. I think it gave Riverdale hope, and they capitalized off of our miscues.”
Instead of the Red Raiders driving to potentially go up 14-0, Riverdale tied the game two plays later on a 54-yard touchdown run from Davis.
Coffee County’s misfortune would continue on the following possession. Taylor scrambled inside Riverdale territory for a good chunk of yardage, but before being tackled pitched the ball to a nearby Keishaun Creel on what looked like an illegal forward pass.
The Warriors recovered the football and were awarded possession even after a flag was initially thrown on the field. However, after a huddle on the near sideline, the officials ruled that Creel had maintained possession and fumbled the football, which by rule meant Riverdale had the game’s first takeaway, a call that didn’t sit well with Sulkowski.
“Bad decision – don’t get me wrong – but incorrect call on an illegal forward pass that was not called,” he explained.
“That was unfortunate, but it could’ve been prevented. We have to be smarter with the football.”
Much like the last drive, instead of the Red Raiders driving to go up 14-7, Riverdale capitalized two plays later on a go-ahead 55-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Taylor Yancey to Jarek Campbell.
Momentum had now swung in favor of Riverdale, but Coffee County continued to move the football down the field, driving all the way to the Warriors’ 29-yard line before a fumbled handoff cost the Red Raiders yet another quality possession.
“That’s those critical mistakes that we talk about, and things that stall out drives. We have to be able to finish those drives,” added Sulkowski.
Each mistake proved more costly, as Riverdale would go on to score 35-answered points after Coffee County’s opening touchdown drive.
Davis pushed the Warriors lead to 20-7 on a 24-yard touchdown run, and Yancey connected on his second and third touchdown passes of the first half to Kyle Scothern (13 yards) and Troy Hutson (16 yards) respectively, as Riverdale assumed full control of the game with a 35-7 lead at halftime.
Coffee County opened the second half with a 1-play scoring drive, a 63-yard touchdown run by Taylor, and scored its final touchdown in the fourth quarter when junior Darius Rozier made a leaping 13-yard catch in the back of the end zone.
Yancey ended up throwing four touchdowns for the Warriors, who also had a pair of 100-yard rushers in Davis (18 carries, 228 yards, 2 touchdowns) and sophomore Drew Smith (15 carries, 138 yards, 2 touchdowns).
Find an extended story with full stats, quotes and pictures in Oct. 18 print edition of the Manchester Times.
Reach Demarco Moore at email@example.com, and follow him on Twitter @iam__demo