Firebirds rally past Marshall County in heartbreaker By Chris Sierssports@t-g.comNASHVILLE — For about two and a half quarters, Thursday night’s Region 5-AAAA matchup between Pearl Cohn …
NASHVILLE — For about two and a half quarters, Thursday night’s Region 5-AAAA matchup between Pearl Cohn and Marshall County (6-1, 4-1) played right into the Tigers’ game plan.
But the game evolved into a tale of two halves as the Firebirds (6-2, 6-0) outscored the Tigers 28-3 in the second half and escaped with the key 35-23 region victory over Marshall County.
“We felt like for two and a half quarters, we executed our game plan as well as we could. I hate we couldn’t figure out a way to get another score on the board in the first half,” Marshall County coach Thomas Osteen said.
Out of the gates, the Tigers forced the Firebirds offense to go three and out and took just 48 seconds off the clock.
An 18-yard punt set the Tigers up at the Firebird 35-yard line and moving the ball at a snail’s pace, playing the clock game.
It was a second-down, 18-yard run by senior tailback Demari Braden that put the Tigers on the board first with 8:49 left in the first.
Pearl Cohn answered the early Tiger score in short order when Javion Kinnard broke a 38-yard touchdown run to even the score at seven apiece, barely three minutes later.
The Tigers continued to get a short field and on the next four drives, found themselves inside the Pearl Cohn 10-yard line.
But on those possessions, the Tigers managed just one touchdown—an eight-yard pass from junior quarterback Silas Teat to sophomore Aja Jones.
That touchdown pass gave Marshall County a 17-7 lead with 8:45 left in the half.
While the offense was able to stay on the field and keep the chains moving, defensively, the Tigers wreaked havoc on the Firebirds in the second quarter, holding Pearl Cohn to two three and outs and an interception by senior linebacker Montai Vaughn, which set up the touchdown pass from Teat to Jones.
With the chance to really blow the game wide open, the Tigers orchestrated a four-minute drive that pressed to the one-half yard-line and on fourth down, Marshall County appeared to cross the goal line, but an illegal substitution penalty by Pearl Cohn called the score back.
On the next play, the Firebirds got off the field with a goal-line stand.
“That would have changed the complexion of the game,” Osteen said.
Pinned deep in their territory, the Tigers were able to force a punt with 1:34 left and once again pressed inside the 10-yard line, but were held to a 23-yard field goal by Joyce as time expired, giving Marshall County a 20-7 lead at the half.
Even with the opportunity to put the game out of reach, Marshall County still held a two-possession lead entering the second half.
But while the Tigers were able to play the clock control game and rely on effectively moving the chains throughout the first half, Pearl Cohn’s defense began to stiffen up and with 5:02 left in the third, Kamari Thompson picked off a pass by Teat and returned it to the Firebird 42-yard line.
On the next play, quarterback Keshawn Tarlton went to the air and connected with Kinnard on a 58-yard touchdown pass.
Luck bounced the Tigers’ way on the next possession following a muffed punt return by Pearl Cohn that set Marshall County up well within Firebird territory, but for the fourth time inside the 10-yard line, the Firebirds held the Tigers out of the end zone and forced a 26-yard field goal by Joyce, once again making it a two-possession game with 11:01 left in the game.
While known for their warp-speed offense, the Firebirds took the following drive to the Marshall County 30-yard line and took over three minutes off the clock before the Tigers forced a turnover on downs with 7:45 left in the fourth.
Leading by nine, momentum bounced back in favor of the home team as Pearl Cohn intercepted Teat for the second time in the game and set up a one-yard touchdown run by Kinnard to pull within two points.
With the momentum shifting to the home team, it was Jones who came up with a 66-yard kickoff return to the Pearl Cohn 23-yard line that appeared to set the Tigers up to either run the clock out or find a score to put the game out of reach.
The drive, however, stalled around the Firebird 20 and on a 37-yard field goal try, it was Pearl Cohn that broke through, blocked the kick and returned the ball 70 yards to take its first lead of the game, 28-23, with just over three minutes left.
Needing to move the ball quickly Antomme Cowthorn returned the following kickoff to the 29-yard line, but again the drive struggled to gain traction and on fourth and eight, a Tiger fumble gave the ball to the Firebirds on the Marshall County 15-yard line.
Two plays later, Malachi Cromwell found paydirt for the final score of the night.
“When you play somebody good, it’s a game of inches and a game of plays. Hats off to them (Pearl Cohn), but I’m so, so proud of our kids. I told them no matter what happened this week, we would find out a lot about our football team and we have a lot of fighters on this team,” Osteen said.
Indeed the Tigers found out plenty as they stood toe-to-toe with one of the top Class 4A teams in the state.
Braden was the driving force for the Tigers’ offense that kept Pearl Cohn’s offense on the sideline for much of the game.
He had 23 carries for 90 yards and a touchdown to lead Marshall County.
“He’s a warrior. We’ve expected that out of him all year. Such a good kid and such a good player. I wanted to win this for the kids, and they’re hurting right now, but they should take away a lot of confidence from this game as well,” Osteen said.
Teat completed 13-of-29 attempts for 122 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions.
In leading up to Thursday night’s key region matchup, Osteen said it was tough to simulate the Firebirds’ tempo and speed at which they run their offense, but his staff was still able to generate a plan to slow Pearl Cohn down.
“Last year, they went that way and we didn’t have a good plan for them. This year, we practiced it. You can’t simulate it in practice, but we at least had a plan,” Osteen said.
That game plan held arguably the top offense in the state to just 14 points through three and a half quarters.
While Thursday night’s loss was a ding in what’s been a perfect run through 2022 for the Tigers, Marshall County still has a goal of not just making the playoffs, but aiming for home-field advantage in the playoff opener.
“We’ve got three games left. We still have to win one more to get in the playoffs. We’re banged up after this game. We knew how physical it would be. But that’s what football is. You get yourself off the ground, dust yourself off and go again next week,” Osteen said.
The Tigers will be back in Nashville on Thursday night, traveling to Glencliff, before finishing the season at home against Montgomery Central and Greenbrier.
Marshall Co. 7 13 0 3 — 23
Pearl Cohn 7 0 7 21 — 35
MC — Demari Braden 18 run, (Wyatt Joyce kick), 8:49.
PC — Javion Kinnard 38 run, (Lucas Wilder kick), 5:43.
MC — Joyce 27-yard field goal, 11:43.
MC — Aja Jones 8 pass from Silas Teat, (Joyce kick), 8:45.
MC — Joyce 23-yard field goal, 0:00.
PC — Kinnard 58 pass from Keshawn Tarlton, (Wilder kick), 4:51.
MC — Joyce 26-yard field goal, 11:01.
PC — Malachi Cromwell 1 run, (Wilder kick), 5:25.
PC — D’Arious Reed 70 blocked field goal return, (Wilder kick), 3:18.
PC — Cromwell 12 run, (Wilder kick), 1:21.