Anderson Co. Caps Off Perfect Season With 4A Title

Mavericks Trail Early Again Before Rallying To Win

  • Saturday, December 3, 2022
  • John Hunt

Anderson County football coach Davey Gillum had tears streaming down his face at the end of Saturday’s Class 4A state football championship game in the BlueCross Bowl at Finley Stadium.

It was hard to tell if the tears reflected overall happiness in his team’s first state title or simply relief that a magical season had just ended with his team winning all 15 games, but probably a little bit of both.

The Mavericks trailed early – that’s been the case four times this fall – but rallied to win with a hard-fought 34-30 victory over the Pearl Cohn Firebirds, a scrappy team that finished with a 12-3 record.

The Firebirds lost their first two games of the season before winning a dozen in a row, but they couldn’t quite pull the trigger in this final game of the season.

“This is just completely overwhelming for me as a coach as I grew up in Anderson County and played my high school football there. These guys are my family,” Gillum said before talking to his team after the trophies had been awarded.

“That’s a really good football team we just beat. We knew they could score in a hurry and they did, but we never gave up and kept battling. It never goes how we planned, but to win this game is one of the best feelings I’ve ever had.

“It’s really hard to put into words just how I feel right now. We didn’t play our best game today by any stretch, but Pearl Cohn had a lot to do with that.

“Our willingness to keep fighting for each other and to stay together was the key today. It wasn’t very pretty, but we won and that’s all that matters,” Gillum added.

The Mavericks had never gotten past the semifinal round – they lost the last time in 1997 when Gillum was a player – so Saturday’s win is one that won’t be forgotten for a long, long time.

It was a tough loss for the Firebirds, who gave Anderson County all they wanted and more.

Coach Elie Brunetti certainly didn’t make any excuses for his team’s defeat in their biggest game of the season.

“They made the big plays when they had to and we didn’t, but it’s just too bad that either team had to lose today,” he said after receiving the runner-up coach’s award.

“It is what it is, but that fumble late in the third quarter really hurt us. We made some big plays and I’m happy about that, but just not enough,” he added.

The Firebirds received the opening kickoff and promptly scored on the first play, quarterback Keshawn Tarleton throwing a strike down the middle to a streaking D’Arious Reed, giving Pearl Cohn a 7-0 lead 13 seconds in following the extra-point kick by Lucas Wilder.

Misfortunes kept coming for Anderson County as they fumbled on the kickoff return, De’Anthony Nelson recovering and putting the Firebirds back in business at the Anderson County 24.

Malachi Cromwell picked up 23 yards on second down, setting up a one-yard blast by Zeion-Lafrederick Simpson on the fourth play, Wilder’s kick extending the lead to 14-0 with 10:47 still on the first-quarter clock.

The Mavericks rallied to tie the score with two TDs before the quarter ended, Walker Martinez hitting Bryson Vowell on a pass from the 3 with 7:33 showing and later a run from the 1 by Nick Moog.

The Firebirds regained the lead with 8:14 left before halftime when Tarleton hooked up with Reed on a 43-yard pass play, but again, the Mavericks answered when Martinez tossed an 11-yard pass to Eli Davis on a fourth-and-6 for the TD with 4:11 showing.

The extra point failed, so Pearl Cohn had a one-point lead that was extended to four at the half when Wilder booted a 34-yard field goal on the last play.

Both teams exchanged turnovers late in the third period, Keshawn Johnson intercepting a Martinez pass before Andrew Meier recovered a Firebird fumble at the 14 three plays later.

The Mavericks were able to capitalize as Gavin Noe bulled into the end zone from the 1 with 44 seconds left, Nelson’s PAT giving Anderson County its first lead of the game at 27-24.

Another touchdown pass from Martinez to Vowell from 16 yards out extended Anderson’s lead to 34-24 with 8:49 to play and the Mavericks seemed to have a little breathing room, but it didn’t last long.

Tarleton tossed his second 80-yard scoring pass of the game – this time to Donovan Higgins at the 8:36 mark, but the difference was four points when the extra-point kick was wide.

Nobody else scored after that and it was an interception by Vowell with 18 seconds left that ultimately locked up the win for Anderson County.

The Mavericks finished the day with 466 total yards on 86 plays, having a huge time of possession advantage as well with 31:42 to just 16:18 for the Firebirds.

Noe was the leading rusher with 138 yards on 30 trips and also had two catches for 24 yards to earn MVP honors.

Moog had 115 yard on 19 carries before leaving with a knee injury midway through the fourth quarter.

Vowell was the leading receiver with seven catches for 86 yards and two TDs while Davis had 42 yards on four grabs and also a touchdown.

Pearl Cohn was limited to just 49 yards rushing and 275 passing for a total of 324 yards on 38 plays.

Cromwell was the leading rusher with 43 yards on 10 attempts while Reed was the leading receiver with 178 yards on six receptions and two TDs.

Higgins finished with 95 yards on four grabs and one touchdown.

Perhaps the most interesting part of Anderson County’s story is the mascot, a lovable and well-behaved chocolate lab named Ella.

She’s a beautiful seven-year old pup who stays by her handler’s side all the time, but she also serves a purpose for the team as she trots out to retrieve the kicking tee following Anderson County kickoffs.

Asked if Ella would receive a championship ring like the rest of the players and coaches, Gillum smiled when he said, “I’m not sure she’ll get a ring, but she’ll get something special.”

Pearl Cohn had last won state titles in 1996 and 1997, but had finished second in 2019 when the Firebirds made their last appearance in the finals.

SUMMARY

ANDERSON CO.

14

6

7

7

-- 34

PEARL COHN

14

10

0

6

-- 30

PC

D’Arious Reed 80 pass from Keshawn Tarleton (Lucas Wilder kick) (11:47, 1st)

PC

Zeion Simpson 1 run (Lucas Wilder kick) (10:47, 1st)

AC

Bryson Vowell 3 pass from Walker Martinez (Chris Nelson kick) (7:33, 1st)

AC

Nick Moog 1 run (Chris Nelson kick) (2:44, 1st)

PC

Reed 43 pass from Tarleton (Wilder kick) (8:14, 2nd)

AC

Eli Davis 11 pass from Martinez (kick failed) (4:11, 2nd)

PC

Wilder 34 field goal (0:00, 2nd)

AC

Gavin Noe 1 run (Nelson kick) (0:44, 2nd)

AC

Vowell 16 pass from Martinez (Nelson kick) (8:49, 4th)

PC

Donovan Higgins 80 pass from Tarleton (kick failed) ) (8:26, 4th)

STATS

AC

PC

First Downs

23

11

Rushes-Yards

51-247

21-49

Passing Yards

219

275

Total yards

466

324

Passing (Comp-Att-Int)

18-35-1

11-17-1

Penalties-Yards

7-70

12-87

Punts-Average

1-37.0

6-34.2

Fumbles-Lost

1-1

1-1

Time of Possession

31:42

16:18

Individual Stats

Rushing: Gavin Noe 30-138; Nick Moog 19-115; Andrew Meier 1-0 (AC); Malachi Cromwell 10-43; Javion Kinnard 1-6; Donovan Higgins 1-4; Zeion Simpson 2-2; Keshawn Tarleton 4-(-6) (PC).

Passing: Walker Martinez 18-35-1 for 219 yards, 3 TDs (AC); Keshawn Tarleton 11-17-1 for 275 yards, 3 TDs (PC).

Receiving: Bryson Vowell 7-86; Eli Davis 4-42; Gavin Noe 2-24; Braden Miller 3-38; Nick Moog 2-29 (AC); D’Arious Reed 6-178; Donovan Higgins 4-95; Malachi Cromwell 1-2 (PC).

Records: Anderson Co. 15-0; Pearl Cohn 12-3

Most Valuable Player: Gavin Noe, Anderson Co.

(Email John Hunt at nomarathonmoose@gmail.com)

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