TULLAHOMA – Most didn’t give the Nolensville High School football team much of a chance at taking down unbeaten Region 4-4A champion Tullahoma on the road Friday night in the Class 4A quarterfinals.
Most were wrong.
The Knights didn’t have a doubt in their minds they could upend the Wildcats and they did to reach the state semifinals for the second season in a row with a 15-14 road win.
In the 26th edition this century of Williamson County’s oldest high school football rivalry …
“Our goal all week was to get the game into the fourth quarter with the the chance to win it,” Nolensville coach Paul Derrick said. “Tullahoma is a great team and a lot of people didn’t think we could win.
“Our kids believed they could win from Monday to when the clock hit zero. They did everything they could to make it happen.”
Ryder Galardi threw for one touchdown, Samson Johnson returned a kickoff for a score and the Knights capitalized on a bad snap to record a safety with about five minutes to play – the difference for the final score.
“We’ll take that,” Derrick said. “I thought our defense did a great job overall. Tullahoma has been phenomenal all season and we wanted to make the drive the football.”
Nolensville suffered a 29-14 loss on Oct. 23 in their first trip to Tullahoma. The Wildcats still have not allowed more than two touchdowns in a game this year. The win in the first meeting was the narrowest margin of victory in 11 wins for Tullahoma – a 12th was due to a COVID-19 forfeit.
The home team clung to a 14-13 edge most of the second half after a missed PAT following Johnson’s return early in the third. With just over five minutes to play, Wildcats punter Justus Chadwick had a snap sail over his head. He tracked it down in a scramble and booted it out of the end zone for the safety.
On the next possession, Nolensville drained nearly the entire clock before the Wildcats took over with just 19 seconds to play at their own 35. Two quick plays moved the ball just three yards before a deep pass from Ryan Scott with one second to play came up empty in a crowd as Nolensville rushed the field in celebration.
“I don’t think I have ever been more proud of a group than I have before now,” Derrick said.
Johnson closed with 61 yards rushing, while Galardi threw for 146 yards and gained 47 more on the ground to help offset a couple interceptions. Tyler Nolen recorded 12 tackles, Mike McWilliams had nine and Grant Reeder six to how with a sack to lead the Knights defense.
Galardi found Chance Fitzgerald for an 8-yard touchdown late in the second quarter to open the scoring, while Scott responded with a 1-yard plunge just before the break. Jakobe Thomas broke loose for a 67-yard touchdown with 7:06 to play in the third to stake a 14-7 lead before Johnson answered with his return.
Thomas led Tullahoma with 235 total yards, including 174 on the ground.
Derrick said his team reached a crossroads in late September after a disappointing 28-14 loss at Columbia Central. His team has impresses sincere said.
“We could have gone either way after that, but the kids trusted the process and continued to grow,” Derrick said. “It’s been so rewarding to see this group come together and start to play their best football. They are just playing good team football right now.”
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Nolensville sandwiched the loss at Tullahoma in October with wins over Maplewood and Marshall County to close the regular season after that setback at Columbia. They beat Livingston Academy 38-14 in the first round and notched a 24-17 win over DeKalb County last week.
On Friday, the Knights return home to host defending champion Elizabethton for a state championship berth. The Fighting Cyclones edged Greeneville 24-20 Friday to advance. They defeated Nolensville at home in the semifinals last year en route to a state championship win over Springfield.