By Gary Smith
When members of the Peabody Golden Tide football team and fans were counting their blessings on Thanksgiving Day, the opportunity to host four state playoff games at home probably made the list.
Last week’s 35-21 win over Waverly, in the semifinal round, completed a four game sweep of preliminary games and earned Peabody a berth in the state championship contest, The Tide (13-1) is scheduled to play state power Trousdale County (11-3) at 11 a.m. Thursday in Cookeville. The Yellowjackets edged Meigs County 32-29 in the semifinals.
To defeat explosive Waverly, Peabody was forced to contend with adverse weather conditions and attempt to contain the Tigers’ precision passing game, which featured several Class AA Mr. Football Finalists. Trenton accomplished this difficult task by utilizing a versatile offensive attack and deploying a relentless defense that forced five Waverly turnovers.
A key factor is Peabody’s 35-21 win was a second half comeback, in which the Tide outscored Waverly 28-7 to transform the 14-7 halftime deficit into an impressive 14-point victory.
Jaime Hernandez’s recovery of a Waverly fumble on the Tigers’ first offensive series, set-up the game’s initial touchdown. Cooper Baugus’ 40-yard touchdown on a quarterback keeper highlighted the six-play, 63-yard drive. Isaiah Hicks kicked the extra point for a 7-0 PHS lead.
After JC Eubanks’ fumble recovery thwarted Waverly’s third possession, the Tigers tied the game early in the second quarter on JD Dixon’s 35-yard touchdown on a burst over the left side. Sam Dellinger booted the extra point to knot the score at 7-7.
Wet field conditions played key roles during two second quarter possessions. Wide receiver Eli Hammonds caught a pass from quarterback Cooper Baugus and appeared to destined for a long touchdown, but fumbled the ball away after a 39-yard gain.
After Jarel Dickson sacked Montez Bradley out of Wildcat formation for a seven-yard loss on third down and a heavy rush forced an errant throw on fourth down, the game looked to be tied at halftime. However, a center snap eluded the grasp of Noah Halbrook, who was operating at quarterback out of Wildcat Formation and defensive lineman Andrew Rumsey executed a 13-yard touchdown on a scoop-and-score fumble retrieval. Dellinger tacked on the extra point and Waverly led 14-7 at intermission.
“I am proud of our resiliency. Eli (Hammonds) fumbled the ball in clear space, when it just slipped out of his hands. It just shows how poor the weather conditions were in this game. Our guys never let the weather bother them. At halftime, we said “flex or flinch” and they came out ready to play. I am so proud of the team, especially Eli. That is something that is hard to overcome. Going in for a touchdown and then fumbling. He never thought anything about it. He just came back the second half of the game and continued to do big things on both sides of the football,” noted PHS Head Coach Shane Jacobs.
“Eli Hammonds is the best free safety in West Tennessee. There is nobody I would take over Eli. From our defensive secondary, Eli makes every adjustment, makes every call and sees every formation. The average fan does not realize the importance Eli brings to our football team. Eli and, of course, Courtlen Wade are the backbone of our defense. They are going to come to play. They are coaches on the field, who understand the game plan 100%. They get us lined up. There were a lot of formations Waverly was throwing at us, but Eli and Courtlen continued to get us lined up and kept us going. The leadership they provide us defensively is phenomenal,” praised the coach.
“The fumble Eli had and the fumble Noah (Halbrook) had right there, that gave Waverly seven points right before halftime, never phased out kids. They knew we were going to come out and battle for each other. That is all we can ask of them and for that I am proud of them,” acknowledged Coach Jacobs.
Starting the third quarter, Peabody surprised Waverly with an onside kick, which was executed by Bryce Franks and recovered in the vicinity of midfield by Desmond Tyler. The Tide capitalized on the opportunity to surf a short field, when Baugus broke free for a touchdown on a QB keeper on the first snap from scrimmage. Hicks added the extra point to tie the score 14-14.
Hammonds’ interception at the Tigers’ 28-yard line paved the way for Jarel Dickson’s 75-yard TD blast around the left perimeter. Hicks’ extra point kick sailed equidistance between the two uprights to register the point-after-touchdown (PAT) for a 21-14 advantage.
After the visiting squad tied the game again at 21-all on Dixon’s 11-yard TD catch and Dellinger’s extra point, Peabody sandwiched touchdowns around Halbrook’s pass interception to ice the 35-21 win. Contributing the scores were: Baugus, on a 48-yard QB scramble for his third TD and Dickson, on a nine-yard power play for his second six-pointer. The specialty group of long snapper Colton Cloyd, holder Eli Hammonds and kicker Isaiah Hicks negotiated all five of Peabody’s extra points en route to the 35-21 win.
“Obviously, the couple of touchdowns Jarel (Dickson) had were just gutty runs on which he refused to go down. Our guys play as hard as they can. They just refused to lose. I don’t know if that was the difference in the game. I am sure Waverly has gutty kids, too. Numbers 11, 37 and 45 played their hearts out for Waverly, but we have a bunch of gutty kids and I think that was the difference. We have really good kids who give it everything they have got,” acknowledged Coach Jacobs.
Statistically, Peabody amassed 313 yards rushing and 65 yards passing for 378 total yards and nine first downs and Waverly registered 137 yards on the ground and 193 yards through the air for 330 total yards and 13 renewed series. Tide quarterback Cooper Baugus completed three-of-10 passes and Tigers’ QB Gavin Stanfill went 11/27/2 in the aerial department.
PHS relinquished two-of-five fumbles and WHS surrendered three-of-seven drops. The home team was penalized on three occasions for 25 yards and the visiting squad was flagged four times for 40 yards.
Leading rushers for PHS were: Cooper Baugus, with 22 scrambles for 168 yards and three touchdowns and Jarel Dickson, with 11 carries for 142 yards and two TDs.
Top defenders included: Bryce Franks, with eight solo tackles, four assists and two tackles-for-loss; Jaime Hernandez, with five primary strikes, six secondary hits, three TFL, a quarterback sack and a fumble recovery; JC Eubanks, with 5-1, two fumble recoveries and a TFL; Noah Halbrook, with 4-0, an interception and a pass deflection; Jarel Dickson, with 3-5 and a QB sack and Jasper Albea, with 1-2 and a TFL.
In response to Peabody (13-1) earning a berth in the state championship game, Coach Jacobs, challenged, “We are not satisfied by just getting to the state championship game. We have the goal of winning it and we intend on giving it everything we have to try and go win it, Thursday.”