Lake County pushed through the semifinal wall on Friday night as they beat Huntingdon to advance to The BlueCross Bowl in Cookeville this Friday.
The last two years the semis seemed to stifle the Falcons with both stops coming at the hands of Cornersville. This past Friday though, Lake County left no doubt who they were and how powerful they really are.
Hours earlier, in the Lake County High School gym, a crowd gathered to show support for the Falcons. The atmosphere was exciting as different people shared with the team over the PA system. The Falcons were welcomed with an amazing introduction by Principal Preston Caldwell. Jason Tubbs, Damio Yancy, Rob Bledsoe, Jenna Leland, Greg Ross, and Coach Puckett all spoke to the team and the crowd of fans.
Coach Puckett assured the crowd that Lake County would win by multiple touchdowns.
Three players, Campbell Puckett, Izaiah Matheny, and Jamarion Higgins, spoke to their fans. Finally, Chuck Stewart with Cottonwood Baptist Church spoke and then prayed for their safety and travel.
Before leaving, the LCHS cheerleaders (led by Kellie Medina) presented pillows to each player on the football team that said “DON’T SLEEP ON US” with each players’ name and number on them. The pillows were presented by the cheerleaders and the LCHS Beta Club.
The players exited and went to chapel. After chapel, the players headed to Huntingdon with a stop to eat.
There was an intensity in the air as the stadium began to fill up with fans and the quiet of the afternoon faded away. Soon the stands were full, and people were standing three deep all around the stadium fences.
Officials meetings, the national anthem, and the coin flip all sped through to the first snap. The whistle blew, the officials placed the teams, and the game was started.
Hunter Ensley, the quarterback from Huntingdon, took the kickoff at the 9-yard line and ran it out to the 30 before being tackled. The drive started with a pair of penalties on both teams on the first two snaps that moved the Mustangs forward and then back. Ensley was dropped by Tanner Snyder on the first official snap for a loss and run out of bounds on the next snap by Snyder. After an incomplete pass, Huntingdon punted the ball to Lake County.
The Falcons took the ball, after Cayden Puckett fielded the punt, on the 37-yard line. Larry Tubbs ran the ball on the first play for 12 yards to the 49-yard line. Tubbs, with the help of the offensive line, moved the team to the end zone for the game’s first touchdown. After sprinting 51 yards for the score, Tanner Snyder added the two-point conversion to put Lake County up 8 – 0 with 9:53 remaining in the first quarter.
Huntingdon, led by Ensley, went on an 11-play drive starting on the 26-yard line. After several short bursts, a big 19-yard run by Brandon Lawton, and a facemask penalty, the Mustangs seemed to be making some strides at the 22-yard line. The Falcon defense, though, stood tall and forced a fourth down and ten. The Mustangs lined up for a field goal, but it was no good. The visiting crowd erupted in cheers and the Falcon offense bounded onto the field.
After forcing the turn over on downs, Lake County could not get anything going and punted the ball back to Huntingdon.
Huntingdon started on their own 48-yard line. After a completed pass and runs by Ensley and Lawton, the Mustangs scored with 1:29 remaining in the first quarter. The extra point by Austin Baker was no good, leaving the Falcons with the lead, 8 – 6.
The next Falcon drive started in the first quarter and ended in the second quarter with a punt. Huntingdon would have as much success against the Lake County defense on their next drive. They punted and the ball went out of bounds for a touchback.
Tubbs, for LCHS, took the ball on the first snap for 68 yards on this drive. Tanner Snyder, the Lake County Mr. Football Semifinalist, took the ball the last 11 yards on the next play for the touchdown. After Snyder tacked on the two-point conversion, Lake County led the Mustangs 16 – 6 with 9:06 remaining in the second quarter.
On the ensuing kickoff, Ensley took the ball back for a touchdown for Huntingdon. The touchdown was negated on a penalty and brought back to the 37-yard line to start their next drive.
Huntingdon mounted a 12-play drive that looked to be a highlight with a pass from Ensley to Ethan Reliford for twenty-one yards. Tackles though, by Cayden Puckett, Malachi Taylor, Colby Thompson Mason, and Izaiah Matheny stifled any momentum that the Mustangs had. Huntingdon finished the drive with three straight incomplete passes. They turned the ball over on downs on the 27-yard line on fourth and thirteen.
Lake County made short work short work on their next drive of getting into the end zone. Snyder ran through a hole and up the field for 73 yards for the six points. Snyder ran the two-point conversion in to put Lake County up 24 – 6 with 4:28 remaining in the first half.
After the kickoff, Huntingdon started the Mustang’s drive on the 34-yard line. Despite a couple of false start penalties, Huntingdon’s Devin McClerkin had a good run but was stopped by Malachi Taylor. With 3:15 remaining in the second quarter, an Ensley pass was snatched out of the air by Cayden Puckett.
Lake County did not get anything going on the next drive and punted the ball back to Huntingdon.
Hunter Ensley was hit hard by Campbell Puckett on the first play of the drive. But on the second play, Ensley passed the ball to Bo McLemore who ran for 68 yards for a Mustang touchdown. Keyshon Gross stopped the two-point conversion. With :47 seconds remaining in the half, Lake County was ahead 24 – 12.
On the kickoff, Huntingdon tried an onside kick, but it was smothered by Cayden Puckett After three short plays, Lake County ran the clock out and went to the locker room to end the first half.
Lake County received the kickoff to start the third quarter. In a bold move on the part of Head Coach Josh Puckett, the Falcon offense went for it on fourth and three on their first drive. They turned the ball over on downs and gave Huntingdon a really short field to work from on the 29-yard line.
On the second play of the drive, Damarion Abbott ripped the ball out of Ensley’s grip and recovered the ball to give Lake County the possession back on the 27-yard line.
The next five drives would result in punts for both teams. Huntingdon started a drive at the end of the third quarter that extended into the fourth quarter. On the first play of the fourth quarter by Huntingdon, Izaiah Matheny stripped Brandon Lawton and then Snyder fell onto a fumble and recovered the ball for Lake County.
When asked if Huntingdon threw in some wrinkles with adjustments after halftime, Coach Puckett said, “Not really. We didn’t play well right after halftime, but we settled down and got it worked out.”
With runs by Snyder and Tubbs, the Lake County offense moved the ball quickly down the field. Tubbs ran the ball in for the touchdown. The two-point conversion failed but Lake County led 30 – 12 with 9:49 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The crowd got even louder and more excited. The anticipation of winning the game and moving on to the state championship began to fill the stadium.
During the beginning of the second half, rumors about the Greenback and South Pittsburg score started permeating the crowd. Greenback had scored to pull ahead of South Pittsburg to win 27 – 26. If Lake County could pull off the win, they would be playing Greenback in the state championships.
Huntingdon started an eleven-play drive that resulted in a touchdown with 3:15 left in the fourth quarter. There was murmuring that Huntingdon did not seem like they were in a big hurry with minutes, rather than seconds, ticking off the clock.
Ensley, though, seemed to be working harder than anyone as he pushed himself diving through the pylon against two defenders for the six points. He also added the two-point conversion.
Huntingdon tried to onside kick, but Keaton Samons sucked it in and fell on it to keep the ball for Lake County. Huntingdon drew within ten points, trailing 30 – 20 with about 3:15 remaining in the game.
Lake County started running the clock. Tubbs and Snyder trading carries. The offensive line, although they’d been going all game, continued to play outstanding football.
On a third and three, Snyder was going for the first down and it seemed that Huntingdon had him stopped. Snyder dropped the ball on the turf and before anyone else could react, he reached his long body out to recover the ball. The fumble and stretch gave Lake County the first down.
With 2:03 on the clock, Lake County got a delay of game. Despite that, the offense ran the rest of the time off the clock with runs by Tubbs and Snyder.
Coach Puckett praised his defense for bailing out his call to go for it on fourth down. “Our defense has been the strength of our team for 3 years,” he said. “Those guys are good players and Coach Canada does a great job of getting us ready on defense.”
Then the bedlam, sparkling cider sprays, and the explosive confetti started as the Lake County fans poured out of the stands and onto the field. It was a large celebration by the crowd that lasted for a while after the game had ended.
Head Coach Josh Puckett spoke about the challenge ahead in playing Greenback by saying, “I feel good about the matchup. They have some good skill players and a QB that loves to throw it around. It’s definitely two contrasting styles.”
When asked about his takeaways from the game, Coach Puckett replied, “We dominated up front. That’s what I take away from it. We were very physical and controlled the game.”
Huntingdon had a total of 62 plays for 289 yards total. They had 156 yards passing and 133 yards rushing. They were 4-11 on third down conversions and 1-2 on fourth down conversions. They had 3 turnovers with 2 fumbles lost and threw one interception.
Lake County had 45 plays with 336 yards. All of the offensive yards were rushing yards. They had 9 first downs. There were 1-10 on third down conversions and 0-2 on fourth down conversions. They had no turnovers.
Tanner Snyder was 0 – 5 passing but had 11 rushes for 117 yards and 2 touchdowns. Larry Tubbs had 25 rushes for 219 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Defensively, Izaiah Matheny had 10 tackles. Keyshon Gross had 9 tackles. Tanner Snyder had four tackles, with one tackle for loss and a fumble recovery. Cayden Puckett had six tackles and one interception. Damarion Abbott had four tackles and one strip and fumble recovery. Eight other players had tackles and defensive stats against Huntingdon.
The kicking game was working well on Friday as well. With Colby Thompson Mason averaging 45.8 yards per kickoff and Larry Tubbs averaging 38 yards per punt, the Falcons found themselves in good field position most of the night.
Other than some bumps and bruises, Lake County is healthy and ready to play, according to the coaching staff.
Anyone who would like to help support the trip for coaches, athletes, and cheerleaders can contact the school to make donations. Tickets can be purchased at the school. If the tickets are purchased at the school, Lake County gets to keep more of the sales than if they are bought online or at the game.
Lake County will play the Greenback Cherokees on Friday at 11 in The BlueCross Bowl in Cookeville at Tennessee Tech University. They will travel on Thursday.