SAM COWAN – Sports Writer
The Marion County Warriors beat the Fayetteville Tigers 21-14 at home Friday for their fourth win of the season.
The Warriors scored two touchdowns in the last three minutes of the game to flip the scoreboard for a comeback victory in the regional contest.
Marion County head football coach Tim Starkey said his team played its most complete game of the season to win the highly competitive matchup.
“We’ve been preaching that we need to play four quarters, and we’ve just been inconsistent with our play throughout the game, but last night, I think, finally, we played a four-quarter football game,” he said.
After the first two drives of the game ended in punts, the Tigers drove inside of Marion County’s 10-yard line, but the Warriors stepped up on defense and forced an incomplete pass on fourth down to halt the possession.
Following another punt from the Warriors, the Tigers drove 89 yards in eight plays and capped the possession off with a touchdown pass to take a 6-0 lead with 8:24 left in the first half.
The teams traded punts for the remainder of the half as the Warriors were unable to put up any points through the first two quarters.
They trailed 6-0 at halftime.
The Warriors gained some momentum a few minutes into the third quarter when a Fayetteville fumble was recovered by defender Josh Langston for a turnover.
A 32-yard run by Brody Leonard put the Warriors in a goal-to-go situation, and Sam Pickett carried the ball into the end zone from six yards out a few plays later. Leo Polovin hit the extra-point attempt following the touchdown to give the Warriors a 7-6 lead with 8:07 left in the third quarter.
The Tigers responded with a 66-yard drive that took almost 10 minutes off the game clock and ended in a short rushing touchdown and a two-point conversion to put Marion County back behind by a score of 14-7 with 10:35 to go.
The Warriors made it down to Fayetteville’s 20-yard line on their next possession, but the drive stalled from there with a turnover on downs giving the ball back to the Tigers.
The Tigers then made it past midfield before the Warriors stuffed a fourth-down run for a turnover on downs of their own to get the offense the ball back with 4:53 on the clock.
Marion County quarterback Tilton Pickett and Leonard connected on a 42-yard pass to quickly move the ball back into enemy territory, and EJ Wilson scored on a 17-yard run a few plays later for a touchdown.
Another successful point-after attempt by Polovin tied the score at 14-14 with 2:52 remaining.
The Tigers gained just two yards on their ensuing possession before being forced to punt the ball back to the Warriors with 1:25 left to play.
Tilton Pickett threw consecutive completions to Sam Pickett for 43 yards and Jayden Eakin for 30 yards to put the ball just one yard away from the end zone.
Leonard finished the drive by carrying the ball into the end zone from there, and Polovin hit another extra point to give Marion County a seven-point with just 23 seconds left.
The Tigers brought the ball up the midfield with two seconds to go and threw up a Hail Mary pass, but Leonard intercepted the ball a few yards in front of Marion County’s end zone to seal the narrow win.
Tilton Pickett completed 10 passes for 186 yards in the game.
Leonard carried the ball 12 times for 43 yards and caught a pass for 42 yards.
Sam Pickett had 68 receiving yards on five catches and 59 rushing yards on six carries.
Eakin had one catch for 30 yards, and Braydon Coffelt recorded two receptions for 24 yards.
Wilson carried the ball twice for 19 yards. Ashton Martin had nine rushing yards on three carries.
Starkey said that the win will be critically important for his team as they prepare to play the remainder of their regional schedule.
“By winning the game, it put us in a good position to control our destiny in the region. The goal is to be a No. 1 seed so we can host playoff games, and we did that by our win,” he said. “We just want to continue to clean up mistakes and be better from last night’s ballgame.
With the win, the Warriors improved to 4-0 on the season and 1-0 in regional play.
They will next play Friday at home against Sequatchie County High School. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.