Entering Friday night’s game, it was hard to envision the Cornersville Bulldogs and Huntingdon Mustangs matching their double overtime contest from a year ago. Both teams entered the game undefeated with a berth in the class 1A semifinals up for grabs. Paul Ward Stadium was absolutely packed with fans before kickoff and they helped to create a big game atmosphere from the opening kickoff onward.
Cornersville began the game on offense after Huntingdon won the coin toss and deferred until the second half. The Bulldog offense has been prolific all season but the Huntingdon defense totally shut down their attack early. Cornersville was held without a first down gained on their first three possessions but the Bulldog defense stepped up and also prevented Huntingdon from reaching the endzone. It was a prolonged back and forth battle for field position until Cornersville’s Cameron Whitaker burst through the Mustang defense on a sweep play for a huge gain down to the Huntingdon seven yard line. Whitaker finished the drive off himself a few plays later by powering into the endzone on a dive play up the middle to give Cornersville the 7-0 lead halfway through the second quarter. The 7-0 margin would hold up until the halftime break as the teams entered their locker rooms with the outcome of this one still very much undecided.
The second half began with Huntingdon going on a prolonged offensive drive behind the rushing efforts of QB Hunter Ensley and running back Brandon Lawton. The Mustang offense was forced to fight for every yard by the physical Bulldog defense led by Eli Woodard, Trenten Warren, Houston Williams, and Dylan Baus but Huntingdon finally managed to put a drive together into Cornersville territory. However, the drive seemed about to stall after multiple penalties pushed the Mustangs into a 3rd and 44 yards to go situation. Huntingdon called a safe play by running a counter with running back Daquan Robinson but Robinson broke free down the sideline and made two defenders miss downfield before running 66 yards for the improbable touchdown. The electric touchdown run sent a jolt through the home crowd and the Mustangs took hold of the momentum with the score tied at 7-7 with eight minutes left in the 3rd quarter.
Cornersville responded by leaning on running back Eli Woodard to power the ball down the field. Woodard and Cameron Whitaker ran hard all night and the toll it was taking on the Mustang defense became apparent in the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs moved methodically down the field but a fumble and fourth and goal failed conversion stopped their next two drives. Another lost fumble on a punt return late in the 4th quarter could have meant disaster for Cornersville but the Bulldog defense stepped up after every turnover and offensive stall to keep Huntingdon from moving into scoring position. With 4:57 left on the clock, Cornersville began their final drive at their own 20 yard line.
The Bulldogs had moved the ball better in the second half but the success had come almost exclusively through the rushing attack. Now, QB Henlee Mitchell and his receivers would have to step up to move the ball quickly down the field before time expired. They proved up to the task. On 4th and 6 from just over the Huntingdon 40 yard line, Mitchell threw up a prayer to senior WR Blake Pickett who fought through double coverage to make a leaping catch at the Mustang 5 yard line. It was a great throw and catch and set up the game winning pass a few plays later when tight end Peyton Finch hauled in a catch in the corner of the endzone with seventeen seconds left in the game. The PAT was blocked but it didn’t matter as Pickett intercepted a last Hail Mary attempt by Huntingdon to seal the 13-7 victory for Cornersville. It was a thrilling victory for the Bulldogs and was the first road playoff victory in school history. Cornersville will now travel again for a semifinal matchup with Lake County next week.