The Pearl-Cohn defense did some growing up during the year, coach Tony Brunetti said.
A tough schedule early in the season gave the Firebirds the experience they needed to push through the Class 4A state playoffs.
Turnovers helped Pearl-Cohn race past Memphis East 27-14 on Friday night to earn a trip to the BlueCross Bowl on Dec. 5 to face Knoxville Catholic.
The Firebirds (10-4) forced four fumbles in the first quarter, recovering three to build a 27-0 lead.
That was all the Firebirds needed as their defense stifled the Memphis East offense.
“Here’s why we win — the players believe in the system, in the team and in the program,” Brunetti said.
Pearl-Cohn had some stiff competition early in the year, and that played a big part in a 6-4 regular-season finish. That included 5A quarterfinalist Hillsboro, Division II-AA finalist MBA and a Muscle Shoals, Ala., squad that went undefeated before an upset in the second round of Alabama’s 6A playoffs. There was also a loss to Christ Presbyterian Academy, which is now in the Class 3A finals.
Memphis East played Muscle Shoals as well during the regular season and lost.
But for Pearl-Cohn, having those tough games early could only bring a good learning experience for the Firebirds, Brunetti said.
Forcing turnovers and putting pressure on Memphis East’s offensive backfield throughout the game dwindled many opportunities the Mustangs had to put themselves back into the game.
Instead, Pearl-Cohn got plenty of opportunities to score in the first quarter and capitalized on them.
Pearl-Cohn’s Ke’Juan Vaughn ran for 108 yards and two touchdowns Friday. Quarterback Jimmy Ferrell threw for 166 yards and two touchdowns.