COOKEVILLE — It didn’t matter how the Raiders won Friday. They just knew they needed a win to make some history.
And that’s what they did.
Sophomore Tyler Martin intercepted a Cookeville pass in the end zone with a minute to play, sealing a 26-7 Coffee County Central win over Cookeville, and setting off a celebration years in the making.
The win gives the Raiders sole possession of the Region 3-6A crown with a 4-0 mark and moves CHS to 6-2 overall, the most wins since 2007. It’s the first region title for the Raiders since 2010 when they beat – coincidentally, Cookeville – for what was then called a district title with a 3-7 record. It’s the program’s first region championship since the TSSAA expanded to 6 classifications.
“I’m so excited for the players, the coaches and our fans,” said a relieved Coffee County Head Coach Doug Greene after the game. “It was not a pretty ball game, but we found a way to win it.”
It certainly wasn’t pretty.
Coffee County missed out on multiple opportunities to put the Cavaliers away in the fourth quarter. Leading 17-7 to start the final period, the Raiders stalled out at the Cavalier 5 and then again at the Cookeville 2-yard line, turning the ball over on downs.
It looked like a third drive was going to stall out, but Red Raider quarterback Cole Pippenger broke loose and rumbled 35-yards for a score with 2:24 to play, putting the Raiders in front by 3 scores and effectively ending the game.
The Raiders only led 3-0 at the half thanks to a 30-yard field goal from sophomore Manny Gonzales.
It looked like Coffee County would pull away by the way the Raiders started the second half. It only took two play into the third quarter for senior Konor Heaton to rumble 43-yards for a score to put CHS up 10-0. Then on the next possession a play action pass connection from Pippenger to Jahlin Osbourne put the Raiders up 17-0 with 7 minutes to play in the third quarter.
“This means a lot,” said Osbourne, who hauled in 4 passes for 40 yards, including his touchdown reception. “We got to keep getting better. It means a lot but next up is winning a playoff game.”
The Raiders are 0-11 all time in the TSSAA State Football playoffs. The region title guarantees they will host a playoff game when that time comes – the first round is Nov. 4. The Raiders have only hosted playoff games twice before -1997 and 2007. Before that time comes, though, Coffee County has a chance to pick up 2 mores wins and reach 8 on the year, a feat not accomplished since 1981.
Big defensive effort
The Raider defense held Cookeville to just 190 total yards and 1 score – which came with 2 minutes to play in the third quarter.
The defense picked up 4 sacks of Cookeville quarterback Mace Thomsen (every sack means a $100 “Sack of Cash” donation to the Dennis Weaver Dream for Weave Foundation thanks to Bush Insurance, Al White Ford Lincoln, Unity Medical Center and Thunder Radio).
One of those sacks led to points. After the Raiders had a drive stall out at the Cavalier 2, Jayden Carter immediately gave the Raiders a pick-me-up, sacking Thomsen in the end zone for a safety and 2 points. It was 8 plays and 2 unsportsmanlike penalties on Cookeville later that Pippenger iced the game with his 35-yard run.
Pippenger finished 12-of-20 through the air for 120 yards and 61 yards on the ground. CHS was on the ground by Heaton, who rushed for 121 yards on 23 totes.
The Raiders got the interception by Tyler Martin and the forced safety by Jayden Carter. The defense also go an interception by Caiden Warren to end the first half and blocked field goal by Tyler Smith to start the game.
After a Raider muffed punt, the Cavaliers had a 38 yard field goal attempt but Tyler Smith busted through the line and blocked it, setting the Raiders up at their own 45. They took the 3-0 lead on that drive when Gonzales connected on a 30-yard field goal and never gave it up.
Other game notes
Penalties really junked up the second half. The Cavaliers were flagged 13 times for 137 yards, including 5 unsportsmanlike penalties and a coach ejection. The Raiders were flagged 14 times for 111 yards.
It was the first win for the Raiders over Cavaliers at Cookeville since 2002.
The Region schedule is over but the Raiders have two games left. They travel to Rockvale Friday, Oct. 21 in what could be a playoff preview. Then the Raiders return home to host Rhea County for senior night on Oct. 28 before hosting a playoff game on Nov. 4.
Hear the games every week on Thunder Radio WMSR – 107.9 FM, 1320 AM, Manchester Go app and thunder1320.com.
Thunder Radio photos by Holly Peterson