Raider D contains McEwen star running back to help Moore County advance

The Raider defense stops McEwen’s Tommy Willis on third down to force the punt on Friday night in Lynchburg. Moore County shut down the Warrior’s star running back in the second half. (PHOTO CREDIT: Jeff Reed)

LYNCHBURG, Tenn. — A one trick pony can get a Class 1A high school football team through the regular season but once playoff season begins, things change. That’s what happened Friday night in the first round match between the Moore County Raiders and the visiting McEwen Warriors.

Prior to kickoff, both teams lined up their captains. On the Moore County sideline stood four defensive linemen. The Raider coaching staff knew their defense would need to shutdown the Warrior star running back, Tommy Willis, if Moore County planned to advance.

Make no mistake, the Warrior’s #35 is an excellent player. The six foot two, 230 senior running back came into the Raider game with 190 carries for nearly 2,000 rushing yards and 24 regular season touchdowns. He was also a semi-finalist for Class A Mr. Football in 2021. And on Friday, the Raiders played bend-but-don’t-break defense to stop him – shutting down the Warrior offense in the second half.

Raiders take early first quarter lead

McEwen won the toss and deferred to the second half. On the ensuing kickoff, the ball took an awkward bounce past Logan Hegwood and went out of bounds giving Moore County the ball at the 35 yard line.

On first down, QB Dawson White connected with Alex Copeland for a seven yard catch. Then, White fumbled and recovered on the next down — losing three yards on the play. He made up for it on the next down by scrambling six yards for the first down. The next Raider pass fell incomplete to make it second and 10. White then completed a three yard pass to Keller Morey but it wasn’t enough for a first down and Moore County punted.

The Warriors Willis did the heavy lifting on the first McEwen series – and really, every series after that. He managed a first down then the Warriors fumbled on the next down for a three yard loss. On second and 13, Willis ran left and was met by Morey to make it third and seven. With 4:19 to play in the first, the Warriors punted.

Morey fair caught the kick off and returned it to near midfield to set up first and 10. QB White then connected with Morey for another Raider first down. White’s next pass fell incomplete but he handed off to Hegwood on the next down for an eight yard run then a face mask call gave Moore County the first down. White’s next pass fell incomplete then on second and 10, he connected with Will Baker who ran it all the way to the 39. On the next down, White called his own number for a nine yard gain to set up second and one. Then, he made a man miss and walked into the end zone for six points. Blake Bradford’s PAT gave the Raiders a 7-0 lead with 2:05 to play in the first.

The quarter ended with the Warriors driving near midfield.

The Raiders Alex Copeland snags a Keller Morey pass and runs for a Moore County touchdown with one second remaining on the first half clock. Copeland led for the Raiders with two touchdowns. (PHOTO CREDIT: Jeff Reed)

Raiders tie the game before halftime

It took Willis three more up the gut plays to get McEwen on the scoreboard. On first and one, he muscled through the Raider defense for a Warrior score. The the two point conversion failed and Moore County led 7-6.

Hegwood returned the kickoff to the 40 then he, White, and Baker managed three straight first downs before fumbling. McEwen recovered and took over possession.

The Warriors then ate up 7:54 minutes of the second quarter on an 16 play drive that gave McEwen a 14-7 lead with 37 seconds to play before halftime.

Undaunted, the Raider offense used 36 of those game clock seconds to tie the score before halftime. White threw to Morey for a first down then tucked the ball on the next play for another. White’s helmet came off on the next down — forcing him to sit out a play. With one second to play, back up QB Morey connected with Alex Copeland for six more points. Bradford’s PAT tied the score, 14-14.

Thanks to the Raider defense, it was as close as the Warriors would get. They completely shut down Willis in the second half of play.

McEwen got the ball first and managed a nine yard gain before fumbling on second and one. Eli Brown recovered and the Raiders took over near midfield.

Runs by White and a catch by Morey set up third and three, then White’s pass went in and out of the hands of his receiver. Facing fourth and four, the Raider coaching staff decided to trust their offense and it worked. White connected with Baker for six points. Unfortunately, the PAT bounced off the upright. With 8:26 to play in the third quarter, Moore County led 20-14.

They scored again on the first possession of the fourth quarter. White handed off to Hegwood for five yards then completed a pass to Copeland for his second touchdown of the night. Moore County then decided to go for two. White dropped back and seeing no one open, tucked the ball for the conversion. With 10:43 to play in the game, Moore County scored their final points.

The 28-14 win ended McEwen’s season and earned the Raiders a trip to McKenzie for a second round game.

In the post game huddle, Raider Head Coach Kris White told his team he was proud of their gutsy win.

“You shut them down in the second half,” he said. “We did what we had to do.”

White also challenged his team to be more aggressive on offense against McKenzie.

“In the playoffs, you can’t stop yourself offensively,” he said. “When we get stops, we got to take advantage of it.”

Alex Copeland led with two touchdowns

Alex Copeland led for Moore County with two touchdowns. Will Baker and Dawson White added a score each. Blake Bradford managed two of three in point after attempts. White also managed a two point conversion

On the ground, White led with 15 carries for 70 yards followed by Logan Hegwood with seven carries for 36 yards. Keller Morey led the receivers with five catches for 96 yards followed by Will Baker with 52 yards and Alex Copeland with 49 yards.

On defense, Dawson White led with 14 total tackles (including nine solo tackles) followed closely by Landon Smith with 13 tackles. Peyton Martin also earned double digit tackling numbers with 10 total. Martin also managed a sack.

Moore County will travel to McKenzie this Friday to take on the top ranked Rebels. The 2021 Class 1A runner up beat Wayne County 63-0 last Friday.

It won’t be the first meeting for the two teams. Last year, the much younger and much less experienced Raiders lost to McKenzie 63-12 in a first round game. The perennial power house would go on to lose to South Pittsburg 24-21 in the championship game.

For those who plan to make the three hour trip north west to McKenzie, the football field is located in Carroll County at 101 Bell Avenue in McKenzie between middle school and the elementary school. For those who can’t make the drive, you can listen for free on The Lynchburg Times Raider Radio or watch the Moore County Sports Network Broadcast on the NFHS Network, which does require a subscription. •

{The Lynchburg Times is an independently-owned, community newspaper located in Lynchburg, Tennessee the home of The Jack Daniel Distillery. We focus on public service, non-partisan, rural journalism. We cover the Metro Moore County government, local tourism, Moore County schools, high school sports, Motlow State Community College, as well as whiskey industry news and regional and state stories that affect our readers.}