By Thomas Sellers Jr.
The task appeared simple for the Tipton-Rosemark Academy Rebels Friday night.
Go out on your home field and take care of business against the 2-5 Clarksville Academy Cougars and earn a postseason spot. Ahead 14-0 heading into the fourth quarter, TRA was 12 minutes away from celebrating on the soggy turf of TRA Football Stadium.
But the Cougars roared back with 21 unanswered points. Despite a late drive by the Rebels ending in a touchdown pass attempt in the end zone, Clarksville Academy pulled off the upset 21-14.
“Winning tonight puts you in the playoffs,” TRA Head Coach Collin Pinner said. “You win tonight and you win next week, that gives you the five-seed. I don’t know if we were looking ahead or if we overlooked our opponent? I don’t have the answer for it right now except that we better regroup and get focused on Columbia.
“We’ve just got to get into the playoffs,” he added. “We are a good football team when we decided to play hard. Tonight I thought a lot of people, all I can say is we overlooked Clarksville. We looked at the record instead of watched the film. I told them all week, they have a very good football team.”
Cougars and Head Coach John Crosby came down to TRA with a game plan to keep the contest close. Clarksville wanted to stop TRA weapons like Tyler Byrd, Jonah Van Kampen and running back Mac Fullen. Fullen was fresh off a 5-touchdown, 400-plus yard performance in a win over Trinity the previous week.
Mac was neutralized throughout the first half. But his brother Payne Fullen found some holes in the Cougar defense from the quarterback position. The younger Fullen hit wideout Ethan Petrowski for a 32-yard gain setting up the first score of the contest.
On the next play, Rebel JT May bull-rushed into the end zone from 4 yards out to make the score 7-0 with 1:15 remaining in the first half.
The halftime score of 7-0 wouldn’t change until Mac was on the attack. The school’s all-time leading rusher added to his total by taking a handoff 57 yards to the house to make the tally 14-0 with 20.7 seconds left in the third quarter.
“I think we got up 14 and we took our foot up off the gas,” Pinner acknowledged. “Right now we don’t have that killer instinct. We just don’t know. And the only way to learn how to win, Coach Wheeler told me this a long time ago, ‘The only way to learn how to win is win.’ Our guys haven’t done a whole lot of winning and we’ve got to learn how to end opponents.”
The Cougars were far from done. Clarksville finally cracked the scoreboard with 11 minutes and 37 seconds remaining in the game when quarterback Miller Barnett connected with Delondre Wilson from 25 yards away.
Trailing 14-7, Clarksville deadlocked the game at 14-14 at the 4:15 mark when Barnett hit Tyson Hagewood up the sideline for a 22-yard TD pass.
TRA (4-4) had a chance to drive down the field and regain the advantage. The Rebels’ drive stalled and Clarksville forced a punt.
A bad snap gave the Cougars great field position.
Clarksville advanced the ball to the 2-yard line. Barnett took care of the rest with a quarterback sneak to give the Cougars a 21-14 lead with 17 seconds left.
The Rebels used two Payne Fullen to Byrd completions to have a shot at the end zone with 4 seconds remaining. TRA’s final pass to the end zone was incomplete.
The Rebels now have to fight for a playoff spot and will take on the Columbia Academy Bulldogs next Friday at Rebel Field on Senior Night.
“We’ll find out next week what kind of heart they have in them when we take on Columbia,” Pinner said. “From my seniors, I want leadership in practice. That means we have to bring it. We don’t have big numbers and it’s really easy to have a senior against a freshman in practice then go half-speed to get the job done. What happens is we roll out here on Friday nights and we can’t compete at the line scrimmage and places like that because we’re not ready..
“If the seniors are not going to hold these young guys and themselves accountable to play to the very best of their abilities in practice,” he concluded, “you’re going to keep seeing the same results. They have to decide they want to take leadership.”