By Gary Smith
With a 17-9 win over Trousdale County in the Blue Cross Bowl Class 2A State Championship Game played Thursday at Cookeville, the Peabody Golden Tide (14-1) proved legendary coach Bear Bryant’s quote that “offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships.”
In a quest to win the program’s second state championship, Peabody entered the title game with an explosive offense that averaged 43.3 points per game and a dominate defense that limited opposing teams to only 6.3 points per outing.
When Peabody’s offense was held to 166 total yards and 17 points, the defense stepped-up and helped secure the win. Red Zone defense played a key role as the Tide thwarted Trousdale County’s three-of-four trips inside the 20-yard line. Several of the most crucial plays occurred in the fourth quarter, when TC threatened to trim the Tide’s 17-7 lead.
Faced with a fourth down situation at the 17-yard line, the Yellowjackets were forced to relinquish the football, when PHS linebacker Jaime Hernandez recovered a fumble in the backfield.
With field position deteriorating due to holding and illegal formation penalties, the Peabody offense was backed up into the shadows of its own goal posts. Jake Gregory and Braden Hawkins combined to sack quarterback Cooper Baugus in the end zone for a safety, which narrowed Trousdale’s deficit to 17-9 with eight minutes left in the game.
The outcome of the contest hung in the balance until the PHS defense executed a Red Zone stop to preserve the win. Operating behind a large line, TC attempted to overpower Peabody with a ground attack, but the Tide defense rose to the occasion and fended off the 11-play series. Defenders Qua Parks and Jarel Dickson chased down and sacked quarterback Keyvont Baines for an 18-yard loss at the PHS 24 to place a quietus on the threat. The home team offense ran out the clock to clinch the hard-fought 17-9 win.
Evaluating Tide’s defensive performance, Peabody Head Coach Shane Jacobs praised, “We have had good defensive play all year long. Coach (Tab) Vowell does a super job with our defense. Coaches Vowell and (Steve) Mathis had our guys ready to play. I think we practiced six times this week getting ready for this offense. It is such a good offense. Our guys were physical, rallied to the ball and Coach Vowell had them ready to go. We were really fortunate that we played well, defensively.”
The majority of Peabody’s offensive success ran through quarterback Cooper Baugus and wide receiver Noah Halbrook as each player contributed a touchdown. Playmaker Halbrook gave Peabody early momentum by returning the game’s opening kickoff 65 yards to Trousdale’s 30-yard line. Trenton reeled off six plays before fumbling the ball away at the six-yard line.
Even though the Tide failed to score, it managed to dictate field position during the early going. “It was a low scoring ballgame. Our offense did all that it could do. Even though we only scored 17 points, we did a good job of flipping the field with field position and putting our defense in good situations. We played good defense all day long, but we were able to play good defense, because we had the field to our backs. The offense kept moving the ball and kept playing field position. We sort of knew that was going to be the case coming in,” explained Coach Jacobs.
With the defense’s assistance, the Trenton offense generated enough points to win the game.
After the TC offense was relegated to going three-and-out, PHS took advantage of a midfield vicinity start to tally the game’s first points. Isaiah Hick’s 29-yard field goal buoyed the Tide’s 10-play drive and floated the PHS lead to 3-0, with 3:43 left in the first quarter.
“We knew coming in that it would be a tight ball game and that it would be hard to run the ball between the tackles, because Trousdale County had us outsized a little bit inside. We told the guys that it was going to be a grind and we have not kicked many field goals this year, but we might have to kick a field goal or two. We felt like the game would come down to special teams and trying to find points in the kicking game. We told the guys to understand that and be patient,” informed the coach.
After the Yellowjackets went in front 7-3 on Keyvont Baines’ touchdown on a five-yard quarterback keeper and Heath Chasse’s kick late in the first quarter, Trenton retaliated with a pair of touchdowns to open up a 17-7 advantage after three frames.
BlueCross Bowl MVP Cooper Baugus accounted for both PHS touchdowns as he scrambled for a 38-yard TD and launched a 51-yard scoring bomb to wide receiver Noah Halbrook.
“Cooper Baugus’ pass and Noah Halbrook’s catch down at the goal line was a Sportscenter Top 10 Highlight. Those were catches Noah has made all year long. Across the state, he has not gotten the recognition that he deserves because he does not put up numbers and he doesn’t do that because of the big scores we have had going in at halftime. Noah is as good as anybody in West Tennessee and the state. He is phenomenal, a special player,” praised Coach Jacobs.
Statistically, Peabody registered 58 yards rushing and 108 yards passing for 166 total yards and nine first downs and Trousdale County logged 180 yards on the ground and 47 yards through the air for 227 total yards and 11 renewed series. The Tide completed 10-of-14 passes and the Yellowjackets went 3/10/ in the aerial department.
PHS did not drop the football and TCHS relinquished its only fumble. The home team was penalized on eight occasions for 75 yards and the visiting squad was flagged six times for 45 yards.
Offensive leaders included: Baugus, with 15 keepers for 30 yards and a touchdown; Jarel Dickson, with 10 rushes for 13 yards and Halbrook, with three carries for 12 yards and five receptions for 80 yards and a TD.
Top defenders included: Courtlen Wade, with eight solo tackles and two assists; Jaime Hernandez, with five primary strikes and four secondary hits; Qua Parks, with five initial contacts and two assists and JC Eubanks, with 3/5.
Coach Jacobs acknowledged, “Our guys played as hard as they could and they always will. I was proud of the effort, because a lot of our guys showed their toughness by playing through injuries. We had a ton of guys banged-up coming in and got a ton of guys banged-up during the game. It is just unreal the competitive nature and the fight that these guys have inside of them. This is just a special group of kids that we have in Trenton. They absolutely played their hearts out for this town, their school and for each other. It is incredible the fight that they have. They truly have the heart of a champion. It is really special how much, especially the seniors have meant to this program in terms of leadership. I am happy for our town and our kids. It is really cool to find a way to win a state championship.”