In a town like Gordonsville, a football state championship can mean everything to a community.
Senior linebacker Brandon McCoy explained it best when said, “When you think of Gordonsville, you think of football.”
One has to look no further than the Gordonsville High website for evidence of the sport’s importance to the small town in southern Smith County.
“We are state bound!” greets visitors in large scrolling text, followed by a message letting students and parents know that school will be closed for the entire county today as the Tigers (12-1) travel to nearby Cookeville to play Huntingdon (12-2) in the Class 1A state championship game.
Given the unexpected holiday, a large percentage of the town’s 1,213 people are likely to be in attendance to witness the Tigers play for their first state championship since 1984.
“Gordonsville lives, breathes, and eats football,” Tigers coach Ron Marshall said. “It’s long been a joke around here that if you wanted to rob somebody, do it on a Friday night because everyone in town is at the football game.”
Marshall, a Gordonsville native and former Tigers player, says all but two of his assistant coaches are alumni who played football for the school.
“We’re just a small community where you know everybody,” he explained. “All but two of our coaches played football on our field, so it’s really important to them too.”
Gordonsville features a group of 19 seniors that see this trip to the championship game as the culmination of years of hard work that spans most of their childhoods.
“It’s been a dream come true for us to make it to state. We’ve been thinking about it ever since we were little kids,” senior lineman and Mr. Football award winner Tyler Coen said. “We’ve been together for a real long time. We know each other so well. We hang out together before and after practice — we just share a real close bond.”
The group started playing together in third grade, and after winning 21 consecutive games on the way to three middle-school championships, the group entered high school with high expectations.
Those expectations turned to frustrations as the Tigers fell to perennial 1A powerhouse South Pittsburg in three consecutive playoff appearances, including a 32-14 loss in last year’s state semifinals and twice in the quarterfinals in 2009 and 2010.
This season, in the final opportunity for the senior class to get over that hump, Gordonsville defeated South Pittsburg 14-13 in the second round of the playoffs.
“Beating South Pittsburg in the second round was definitely something we’ve been working three years to try do,” senior quarterback Payton Watson said. “We’ve just been feeding off of that win.”
Riding the momentum from that win, the Tigers moved past Eagleville and Coalfield to set up the matchup with Huntingdon and record-breaking quarterback Jacob Warbritton.
Warbritton has accumulated 2,938 rushing yards in the Mustangs’ single-wing offense, setting the state record for most rushing yards by a quarterback and sitting 131 yards shy of breaking the state single-season rushing record.
“Not many people run that anymore,” Marshall said. “Therefore it’s almost impossible to simulate in practice. We’re fortunate in the fact that one of our teams in our region (Monterey) runs the single-wing. So we actually took our kids that were running our scout team and they stayed after practice every day and learned how to run it.”
Gordonsville will counter with a strong running game of its own. Junior running back Kaelin Cason is responsible for 1,868 yards and 27 touchdowns and Watson has 1,317 and 18 TDs.