The Pearl-Cohn football program has grown accustomed to winning.
And the Firebirds, who have piled up 31 wins over the previous three seasons, aren’t afraid to talk about it.
“We’re good, and we tell people we’re good,” senior linebacker Brayden DeVault-Smith said. “That’s just who we are.”
However, last December the Firebirds learned how it felt to be on the losing end, suffering a humiliating 48-8 defeat to Knoxville Catholic in the Class 4A state title game at Tennessee Tech’s Tucker Stadium.
“We’ve been very successful as a program and we go deep in the playoffs almost every year,” said Tony Brunetti, who is entering his 11th year as Pearl-Cohn’s coach. “But to get a taste of that and how it felt, that was tough.”
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Not long after Jimmyrious Parker’s 91-yard, first-quarter kickoff return for a touchdown, the Fighting Irish proceeded to reel off 48 straight points, handing the Firebirds their most lopsided loss in 16 seasons.
“It got pretty embarrassing pretty quick,” Pearl-Cohn senior defensive tackle Kenneth Miller said.
As difficult as that 40-point defeat was to take, though, it could pay dividends for the Firebirds this fall.
“We played on Saturday and on the very next Monday we were back in the weight room,” DeVault-Smith said. “It’s a tough thing to talk about, but that last game has definitely been driving us.”
Added Miller, “It took me a while to get over, but it’s making me want to push more, work harder and just do everything I can to the best of my ability.”
While Pearl-Cohn graduated several big names from last year’s team, including three Division I signees in quarterback Jimmy Ferrell (Alabama State), wide receiver Rontavius Groves (North Carolina) and offensive lineman Jaelin Fisher (Charlotte), the Firebirds said making a return trip to Cookeville this season isn’t out of the question.
“It’s hard to get there,” Brunetti said. “You need a little luck, you’ve got to stay healthy and you’ve just got to have consistent play.
“We learned from the butt-whooping we took in the state championship, and I think it’s motivation. If we can get back there we’ll have a different mindset and a different way of approaching it — the kids and the coaches.”
Pearl-Cohn, which returns its leading rusher Ke’Juan Vaughn and third-leading tackler Antowon Malone, opens the year against Hillsboro on Aug. 20 at Vanderbilt Stadium.
Pearl-Cohn under Tony Brunetti
Year Record Postseason
2015: 10-5 4A finals
2014: 11-3 4A semifinals
2013: 10-2 4A second round
2012: 3-7 None
2011: 7-6 3A quarterfinals
2010: 9-4 3A quarterfinals
2009: 5-6 3A first round
2008: 1-9 None
2007: 11-3 3A semifinals
2006: 10-4 3A semifinals