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Valley Teams Rewriting History This Season

Posted on Friday, January 26, 2024 at 1:40 pm

SHANE SHOEMAKER – Sports Writer

The three teams in the Sequatchie Valley are doing something that has either never been done before, or hasn’t been done in decades.

Heading into the seventh week of the prep football season, the Marion County Warriors, South Pittsburg Pirates and Whitwell Tigers are all 6-0.

The Warriors were the most recent team to go 6-0 back in 2021. They finished the season 9-2, losing in the second round of the playoffs to Watertown.

The Pirates were 6-0 a season just before that, going 13-2 on the season that led them to the TSSAA 1A State Championship. They lost to Fayetteville.

The last time the Tigers went 6-0, they had their most successful season in school history, finishing the season 15-0 and with a state title.

Through due diligence and research, most records we found dated back only to 2001 for the three teams, so it’s undetermined if a feat like this has ever happened before, though it does seem highly unlikely.

Before the rearranging of regions and other circumstances, the Warriors, Pirates and Tigers all played one another. The last year they were on each other’s schedules was all the way back in 2014, when they made up the 1A District 6.

That was the last season the Warriors and Tigers competed against one another. The long, storied rivalry between the Warriors and Pirates, however, didn’t end until after the 2019 season. The Pirates and Tigers have continued playing one another and will be meeting each other on Oct. 26 for what will likely determine the winner of the 1A Region 3 title.

The trios of teams are vastly different from one another in scheme, roster and overall team makeup, yet have striking similarities as well.

All three have extremely productive offenses, but the most effective tactic has been their staunch defenses leading to their undefeated seasons.

“Our coaches have done a really good job stressing the importance of playing really good on defense,” Whitwell Head Coach Rocky Stephenson said. “We’ve been bending a little bit, but we haven’t given up the big play. We haven’t broken, so to speak. We have a scrappy group; we’re not oversized. But the guys give a great effort.”

Whitwell is averaging 1.2 interceptions a game, with a total of 12 turnovers created.

Through six games, the points allowed by each team are as follows: Warriors-59, Tigers-58, and Pirates-21. That gives a point differential of plus-292 for the Pirates, plus-136 for the Tigers, and plus-125 for the Warriors.

That wasn’t something the Warriors could say last season, when they were averaging giving up 26.4 points a game and finished with a plus-38.

“We’re getting off the grass on defense,” Warriors’ Head Coach Tim Starkey said. “Last year, I feel like there were a lot of times where it was third and long, and you know, teams were getting first downs on us. This year, the defense is doing a good job of getting the ball back to the offense.”

Out of the three teams there’s only one team that has multiple shutouts, the Pirates. They’ve enforced the 30-point mercy rule three times this season.

“I feel like our team is doing a good job of taking it one game at a time and just focusing on trying to go 1-0 each week, Pirates’ head coach Wes Stone said.

“You know the guys, they worked hard in the offseason … and we talked about becoming a better team. We weren’t trying to predict our record or anything like that. We just wanted to improve on last year’s record. That is a goal for us. We just take one game at a time. We just got to stay focused each week and don’t look too far down the road … and don’t look behind us too much – just stay in the present.”

“Our coaches have done a really good job, stressing the importance of playing really good on defense. We’ve been bending a little bit, but we haven’t given up the big play. We haven’t broken, so to speak. We have a scrappy group; we’re not oversized. But the guys give a great effort.

Zach Rollins, Ben Barton, Bennett McDougal….

“He’s definitely our leader on both sides of the ball. He’s a type of guy that the kids rally around and respond to. He’s real football savvy. He’s like having a coach out there. We’re lucky to have him.”

“We have a tough task ahead of us. The boys, they know we’re going to be traveling. We look forward to the challenge. It’s going to be challenging.”

In his first three games, he threw for 303 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions. In his last three games, including Friday night against the Panthers, he’s thrown for 565 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. His completion percentage has also made a massive jump, from 45.3 in his first three games to 69.8 in his last three.

“I think a lot of it is just being more prepared. That’s the word I’ve been using thus far, just for the simple fact last year we were playing with a lot of inexperience. And I think some of the experience we have now on the field is taking place as to why we’ve been successful.

“It’s not just the young guys [from last season] that are now juniors. We had some juniors last year that was taking every snap that was the first time they ever had to do that in big moments. The offense and defense as a whole – just more experience on both sides of the ball – has been a huge blessing to our football team.

“We’re getting off the grass on defense. Last year, I feel like there was a lot times where it was third and long, and you know, teams were getting first downs on us and we just couldn’t get off the grass on third down last year. This year, the defense is doing a good job of getting the ball back to the offense. Being year two in a new system on offense has been great being able to get the ball in good field positions and to have a chance to score and put up points.

The LB corp – Taylor Schwarber, Braden Coffelt, Josh Langston, Ashton Martin (the only sophomore that plays for them). “It’s hard on an offense when you got linebacker tackling the ball as well as they are right now.

Defensive line, DE chase McFalls, Ryan Kitchens, “The heart of our defense is definitely that line backing corp.”

“He’s just worked harder. He started the season off inconsistent and he knew he was better than what he was playing. You know, you talk about a kid that on Sunday nights, he’s out here on the game field under the lights to our receivers and his dad just trying to get some extra work in. He’s now showing why he’s our starter because he’s a guy that’s talented and runs our offense well and making plays for us.”

The Marion Tribune – September 28, 2023