Pearl-Cohn vs. Hillsboro: 5 takeaways

Pearl-Cohn vs. Hillsboro: 5 takeaways

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Pearl-Cohn vs. Hillsboro: 5 takeaways

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Pearl-Cohn coach Tony Brunetti gives instructions during Saturday's game against Hillsboro.

Pearl-Cohn coach Tony Brunetti gives instructions during Saturday’s game against Hillsboro.

Hillsboro coach Craig Clayton looks on during Saturday's game against Pearl-Cohn.

Hillsboro coach Craig Clayton looks on during Saturday’s game against Pearl-Cohn.

Hillsbro running back Barrion Claybrooks picks up some first-half running room during Saturday's game against Hillsboro.

Hillsbro running back Barrion Claybrooks picks up some first-half running room during Saturday’s game against Hillsboro.

Hillsboro running back Barrion Claybrooks finds some first-half running room during Saturday's game against Hillsboro.

Hillsboro running back Barrion Claybrooks finds some first-half running room during Saturday’s game against Hillsboro.

Five takeaways from Pearl-Cohn’s 9-7 win over Hillsboro on Saturday at Vanderbilt Stadium:

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Pearl-Cohn quarterback Xavier Shepherd escapes pressure from Hillsboro's Joseph Honeysucker during the first half of Saturday's game at Vanderbilt Stadium.

Pearl-Cohn quarterback Xavier Shepherd escapes pressure from Hillsboro’s Joseph Honeysucker during the first half of Saturday’s game at Vanderbilt Stadium.

Defensive struggle: In a game that featured 59 points a season ago, this year’s edition was a defensive struggle as Pearl-Cohn and Hillsboro combined to score a mere 16 on Saturday.

In fact, Pearl-Cohn’s offense, which averaged more than 33 points per game in 2015, was kept out of the end zone altogether despite reaching the red zone on three different occasions.

“Defense did a terrific job,” Hillsboro senior defensive lineman Ben Hutch said. “We handled everything. They were in the red zone plenty of times and we stopped them. Our offense just needs to have that same motor as the defense.”

Hillsboro, meanwhile, which committed five turnovers in the loss, managed its only score in the game’s opening minutes as senior JaVonta Payton sprinted 61 yards for a touchdown to tie things up at 7-7 with 8:42 remaining, on the Burros’ second possession.

Game-changer: With both offenses sputtering, Pearl-Cohn relied on its defense to produce the go-ahead score as senior defensive lineman Kenneth Miller dropped a Burros ball carrier in the end zone for a safety with 42 seconds left in the third quarter. 

“We stepped up in the trenches,” Miller said. “We needed a stop and defense won this game. The offense struggled but you know we’ve got their backs.”

A running affair: While the rainy weather probably had something to do with it, both Pearl-Cohn’s and Hillsboro’s passing attacks were virtually non-existent on Saturday.

Instead, both teams’ primary running backs carried the offensive load.

Hillsboro senior Barrion Claybrooks tallied 112 yards on 14 carries to lead the Burros, while Pearl-Cohn’s Ke’Juan Vaughn ran 18 times for 88 yards.

Hillsboro quarterback Darius Smith threw three interceptions in the losing effort, while Firebirds junior Xavier Shepherd finished 3-for-11 passing for nine yards with an interception.

Return specialist: Saturday marked the second straight game in which Pearl-Cohn’s Jimmyrious Parker has come up with a special teams touchdown.

Parker, who returned a kickoff 91 yards for a score in last year’s Class 4A state title game, produced Pearl-Cohn’s only touchdown of the game, returning a punt 61 yards for a score just minutes into the game.

Tough tests ahead: With Saturday’s game in the rearview, both Pearl-Cohn and Hillsboro face stiff Week 2 competition.

The Firebirds take on Division II-AA foe Montgomery Bell Academy on Friday, while Hillsboro heads to Murfreesboro for a nationally-televised game against Class 6A Oakland.

Reach Michael Murphy at 615-269-8262 and on Twitter @Murph_TNsports

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