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By BRIAN LANGLEY
Morgan County News
KNOXVILLE-Wartburg had a good defensive game plan to confuse and slow down Christian Academy of Knoxville's offense. It worked for nearly a half. However, the Warriors used a decisive edge in depth to erupt 27 second-half points and pull away for a 43-6 win over a determined Bulldog team.
"We played well first half, especially defensively. We had a good game plan. I want to take my hat off to Rodney Ellison. For the game plan we put together, he was able to execute it fairly well. We were able to confuse them. Good teams will figure that out and make the adjustments at half-time," explained Wartburg head coach Dan Shoemaker.
"Depth was a huge issue tonight. Toward the end of the third quarter, we were just dead. We were running bodies in, we played a lot of kids tonight, but the down side to that is the starters you got are starters for a reason. So when they get tired and down, it's hard to compensate for that."
CAK took a hard-earned 16-0 lead into the locker room and knew they were in a battle against a much-improved Wartburg team, which picked off two passes in the first quarter.
"I think they (CAK) realized they were in a dog fight at half-time, and they knew they had a fight ahead of them. They started wearing us down and they got a little more physical in the running game. We were prepared to stop the passing game, but the running game really started wearing us down in the second half," offered Bulldog defensive coach Rodney Ellison.
The Warriors (3-2, 1-1 in Region 2-A) aired it out for 45 passes and threw for two touchdowns in the final sixteen minutes for good measure.
"CAK has a great offense and I knew it would be a hard defense to stop. I thought that we had a game plan that would work, and I thought our players executed it well. We disguised our coverages a little bit and put in some new coverages for them. The players just responded well and I think it was confusing their quarterback a little bit. In the second half, we started getting tired and they started catching on to the stuff we were doing a little bit. We knew it would be a hard night for our defense, but I thought the kids really played well," said Ellison.
CAK had a good opening drive going, but Wartburg's Tyler Trout intercepted a Michael Fromke pass in the end zone and Wartburg took over at their own 20.
Wartburg's Travis Hamby got the people on the visitors side bleachers on their feet with a 45-yard run on his team's first play from scrimmage. Trout hit Colton Blakney for a 15-yard pass a little later in the drive to get inside the 20. A couple of plays later and CAK's Ethan Poe picked off Trout to end the drive.
"Had we punched that first one in, it might have been a different ball game," Shoemaker remarked.
Two plays later and Wartburg's defensive lineman Josh Jackson picked off his first career pass and gave the 'Dogs the ball at the CAK 25.
Neither team threatened the rest of the quarter, but early in the second quarter CAK's Andrew Castro ripped off an 86-yard touchdown run. A bad snap on the extra point kept the lead at 6-0 with 10:58 left in the first half.
The Warriors added one more touchdown later in the first half when Castro punched it into the end zone from one yard out to cap a 10-play, 53-yard drive aided by a personal foul penalty against the 'Dogs. Matthew Warren added the extra point for a 13-0 lead with 5:12 left in the second quarter.
CAK ended the half with a 30-yard field goal by Warren to push the lead to 16-0 at the break.
Field position set the tone to start the second half. Wartburg's dangerous return man Eugene Poole was tackled at his team's seven-yard line to open up the third quarter. After a three-and-out and a 30-yard punt by Drew Jenkins, CAK was already at the Bulldog 24. Five plays later and Castro scored his third touchdown on a one-yard run. Warren added the PAT for a 23-0 advantage with 8:44 left in the third period.
Poole then broke free for an 84-yard kick return to set the Bulldogs up at the CAK 6. Wartburg needed all four plays before Trout hooked up with Blakney for a 5-yard scoring pass. Jenkins missed the extra point, but Wartburg had sliced the lead to 23-6 with 6:58 left in the third.
After Wartburg's defense stood tall and stopped CAK's next drive on downs, CAK would score on their next three drives to put the game away. Fromke hit Davis Burton for a 33-yard scoring toss, Fromke connected with Nelson Pinkstaff for a two-yard touchdown, and Carson Pegram added 12-yard scoring run to help the Warriors push the lead to 43-6 early in the fourth quarter.
The Bulldogs pieced together another nice drive with Rusty Phillips breaking loose for a 40-yard run, but they ran out of downs at the CAK 19.
The Warriors then ran out the clock to preserve their 43-6 victory at home.
Wartburg's offense was led by the rushing of junior Travis Hamby (9-69). Rusty Phillips added 23 yards on 5 carries. QB Tyler Trout was 3-10 for 15 yards passing with 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions passing. Phillips was 3-7 for 13 yards through the air. Philip Daugherty also took some snaps at quarterback in the first half. Colton Blakney (3-27, 1 TD) was the star at receiver. Eugene Poole returned 5 kicks for 124 yards for the 'Dogs.
"I played three quarterbacks in the first half. It's hard to get any continuity there, because each quarterback has a little different package, because they do different things," said Shoemaker.
"The second half, we were able to get Tyler (Trout) back for a little bit and do some things with him. We still had trouble running the option with him, because of that hand, and that was tough. We tried to get the ball into Eugene's (Poole) hands some tonight, but weren't real successful with that."
CAK's balanced offensive attack was led by the passing of senior signal-caller Michael Fromke (25-43 for 276 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT). Andrew Castro (13-162, 3 TD) led the ground game to 216 yards. Taylor Moran (10-99) and Davis Burton (2-73, 1 TD) led the Warriors in receiving.
Wartburg's defense was paced by Eugene Poole (11 tackles), Adam Spence (8 tackles), Drew Jenkins (6 stops, 1 behind the line) and Tyler Trout (5 tackles, 1 INT). Josh Jackson (1 Int, 1 tackle behind the line), Rusty Phillips, Travis Hamby and Michael Lloyd each added 4 tackles. Monte Branstetter and Stephen Carroll each totaled 3 hits on defense.
"The secondary played great. It is hard to single out one person tonight, because I thought the whole defense did an outstanding job. Even though Tyler Trout got hurt on the offensive side of the ball, he came back and played his heart out for me tonight. He did a great job playing centerfield," said Ellison.
Shoemaker bragged on his secondary.
"The secondary played lights out I thought, especially in the first half. We had them (CAK) confused and had them on the ropes there a little bit in the first half," said Shoemaker.
Wartburg defensive coordinator Rodney Ellison and line coach Steven Cochran chart the official defensive stats for the Bulldogs each week, which will be provided in the News-Sentinel and in the season stats in the Morgan County News each week. The stats in the game story each week are compiled by the Morgan County News.
The #1-ranked Alcoa Tornadoes (3-1) come to Wartburg this Friday night for a Region 2-A affair. This will be the first regional game for Alcoa, who is coming in after a 56-0 win over Booker T. Washington.
"We got to control the ball and we have to figure out some way to keep the ball out of their offenses, because it is very high-powered. We have to grind it out. This might be a three yards and a cloud of dust week for us," said Shoemaker.
Alcoa will enter John R. Dillon Field with a talented bunch of players. Quarterback Chase James leads a high-powered offense, which features receiver Sam Thompson, tight end Tyler Robinson, and running backs Taharin Tyson and Jaron Toney.
"I will tell our team that the guys you are playing with against this Friday night, in two years you will see them playing on Saturday somewhere. I watch Kentucky and I see Randall Cobb and Kyrus Lanxter. I see Brandon Warren at UT. You get to measure yourself against the best and see where you are. Twenty years from now, when those guys have NFL careers, possibly, you can tell your kids you played against him in high school," said Shoemaker.
Wartburg owns two wins against Alcoa with a 20-13 victory in 1996 and a 21-7 triumph in 2002. Meanwhile, Alcoa enters Friday night's game with an impressive 37-game winning streak against Region 2-A teams dating back to the 2003 season.
"I hope that our kids look at this as an opportunity to play a great team and don't back down, and look at it as an opportunity to shake up the whole state of Tennessee. We need to come out and play as hard was we can, and you know special things can happen sometimes," Ellison added.