Despite their combined 17-1 record over the course of the 2020 season, Pearl-Cohn held a clear advantage when entering the Class 3A quarterfinal against Stewart County.
Outside of a slew of Division I talent on roster, the Firebirds were appearing in their sixth quarterfinal game over the past seven years. Stewart County was participating in their first ever third-round playoff game. The postseason experience allowed Pearl-Cohn to best the Rebels with a final score of 56-20.
Firebirds head coach Tony Brunetti spoke to the significance of Pearl-Cohn’s experience in the postseason, which has taught the program to emphasize the importance of each opponent.
“You still have to play a game every week,” he said. “Anybody can get beat. You just have to go prepare and play. I thought (Stewart County) came out and played hard. They found a little niche, they picked on that niche and that’s what you do as coaches. That’s something we have to go back, look at the drawing board and see how we can do better.”
The contest saw Mr. Football finalist Martino Owens and the Firebirds jump out to an early touchdown lead, thanks to a 42-yard pass that connected with Kyndrich Breedlove in the end zone.
Stewart County responded with a drive that was over eight minutes long. The series ended with a 1-yard plunge for six from quarterback Will Page. Pearl-Cohn answered in one minute and three seconds with another touchdown pass from Owens to Barion Brown.
The two teams’ offensive firepower died down until late in the second quarter. What was a one possession game ballooned into a 28-7 advantage by halftime, as running back Iven Dayton Jr. reversed field for a 7-yard score. Following a Rebels’ punt, Owens added to the lead by finding John Roberts for his third passing touchdown of the night.
Stewart County had an opportunity to trim the deficit in half moments before the break, but a touchdown pass from Page to Cole Shepard was negated due to two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.
“Momentum plays a big part in football, but high school football especially,” said Stewart County head coach Chanz Swartz. “That was a huge penalty; obviously, it takes points off the board and -- if you’re going to beat a team like that -- you have to stand up, fight, go tooth-and-nail with them and answer when they do. If not, it’s going to be a long night and the running clock is going to start quick.”
Pearl-Cohn scored on four of their final five drives. Owens once again connected with Breedlove and Brown to complete his five-touchdown performance and sophomore tailback Randall Hodges scored twice in the second half, completing the action offensively for the Firebirds.
Regardless of the score, Stewart County did not quit. Page tossed two more touchdowns in the third frame to keep the contest competitive. The three scores from Stewart County are the first points allowed by the Firebirds’ defense since an Oct. 2 game against East Nashville.
The Rebels’ loss eliminates them from the postseason, and concludes the most memorable year in program history. Stewart County won its first region title and playoff game ever and hopes to have laid out the groundwork for success in the future.
“I can’t say enough about the seniors that I have and even my coaches,” Swartz added. “It’s a special year; these guys have been playing football for us for a while now and they definitely made history.”
Pearl-Cohn is now one win away from returning to the Class 3A state championship game, where the Firebirds hope for their first title since the 1997 season. They now set their sights on the semifinals against Milan. The hosting Bulldogs have only played in one game throughout the postseason, but boast a 10-1 record alongside a 41-14 win against South Gibson in the quarterfinal round.
“(If) we play like this, we’re going to get beat,” Brunetti said. “Milan’s a pretty good team. We can’t blow coverages; (Stewart County) did a good job of scheming, they did a good job at what they do and it paid off. It’s all about desire, they wanted it. I don’t feel like we wanted it that much tonight. I feel like we played but, defensively, I don’t think we wanted it.”