Before Friday’s game, Tuscola High recognized members of its 1972 football team, which tied Sanford for the 3-A state championship — the program’s lone state title. Woody Cornwell, Bryce Myers and the rest of this year’s Mountaineers then gave the old guys plenty to smile about.
Cornwell and Myers each went over the 100-yard rushing mark, and Tuscola’s defense held Smoky Mountain below 50 yards through the first three quarters as the Mountaineers won their WNCAC opener, 38-12, at C.E. Weatherby Stadium.
“I’m certainly proud of our kids,” Tuscola coach Brandon Allen said. “I felt like they came out and played extremely hard. … I felt like our defensive staff and kids picked up on some things that we weren’t quite ready for, and we adjusted quickly. I’m very proud of the effort our kids gave.”
Cornwell ran for one touchdown and threw game-sealing, second-half scoring strikes to Cody Wood (24 yards) and Damon McDaniels (42 yards). Adam Chambers had two interceptions for the Mountaineers (4-1), who shut out the Mustangs (2-3) until Zeb Speir hit Zechariah Carter on a 45-yard touchdown pass to pull within 17-6 in the fourth quarter.
Tuscola’s next possession started at its own 10, and Cornwell carried all four times on that drive — capping the 90-yard march with a 35-yard sprint into the end zone.
Smoky Mountain’s Chace Morgan returned the ensuing kickoff 99 yards for a score, but Cornwell promptly engineered two scoring drives to put the game away.
“There were a couple of instances where we thought we had the momentum, but we shot ourselves in the foot and didn’t capitalize,” Smoky Mountain coach David Napert said.
Perhaps Smoky Mountain’s best opportunity to turn the game in its favor was early in the second half when the Mustangs trailed by just 10 and recovered a fumble by Chambers near midfield.
Visibly upset with himself as he lined up in Tuscola’s secondary for Smoky Mountain’s first play after the turnover, Chambers stepped in front of Speir’s pass to Carter and picked it off at Tuscola’s 16 to reclaim the home team’s momentum.
“After that fumble, I got down on myself a little bit,” Chambers said. “But you’ve got to have short-term memory loss out there. I knew they were going to take a shot after that. I just played back, and I was ready for it.”
After struggling to run the ball in last week’s win at Swain, Tuscola got its ground game rolling.
The Mountaineers dominated time of possession with three clock-chewing drives and had 145 rushing yards at the break. Meanwhile Smoky Mountain’s offense never could find traction and managed just 29 first-half yards.
Despite dominating virtually every statistical category through the first 24 minutes, Tuscola took just a 10-0 lead into halftime on the strength of a 4-yard touchdown run by Michael Herbertson and a 27-yard field goal by Logan Lambert.