A seven-year drought of reaching the TSSAA Class 1-A semifinals came to end Thursday night in Huntland as the Huntingdon Mustangs defeated the Hornets 42-10 to set up a match with Lake County this Friday at Paul Ward Stadium in Huntingdon for the opportunity to play in the state championship game in Cookeville. The Mustangs last played for a state championship in 2012 losing to Gordonsville 21-20. A win over Lake County would make it five trips to the state championship game for the Mustangs.
The Mustangs took care of the Hornets with one of their strongest defensive efforts for the season and took advantage of great field position to defeat the Hornets. The Mustangs held the Hornets who entered the game with a strong rushing attack, to only 13 yards on the ground in the second half and 84 yards on the ground. The Mustangs held Mr. Football finalist Cameron Reed to just 46 yards on 19 carries. The Hornets did pass for 146 yards after completing 5-8 passes but 79 of those yards came on the last score of the game as the Mustangs had taken their starters out of the game.
The Mustangs started slow offensively as the only scored 13 points in the first half which was a season-low, but exploded for 29 second-half points and their defense continued to give the Mustangs the ball in great field position and the Mustangs took advantage. The Mustangs also scored on a couple of chunk plays when they were backed up with field position. The Mustangs had two ball carriers go over a hundred as the Mustangs rushed for 292 yards in the game. Konnor Pearson led the way with 107 yards on just seven carries and a touchdown, Hunter Ensley ran for 103 on 15 carries and two touchdowns, and Brandon Lawton ran 13 times for 89 yards and a touchdown. Ensley also completed 3-5 passing for 105 yards and two touchdowns.
Huntland won the toss to start the game and mounted a drive that started from their 26 and stalled at the Mustang 20 but Alex Morris knocked through a 37-yard field goal to give the Hornets a 3-0 lead. It was only the third time this season that the Mustangs trailed in a game. The Hornet defense then forced a Mustang punt and the Mustangs returned the favor with a stop of their own. Huntland’s Morris dropped back to punt but bobbled the snap giving Huntingdon’s Bo McLemore time to block the punt.
The Mustangs pounced on the loose football at the Hornet 15 setting up the first Mustang score of the night. Ensley ran eight yards to the seven and handed the ball to Lawton who sored standing up with 2:51 left in the first quarter. Cole Edwards was good on the P.A.T. and the Mustangs led 7-3. The Mustangs got the ball back after another Hornet punt and took over at their own 33. Lawton ran for three but the Mustangs were penalized five on the next play placing the ball at the 31. Konnor Pearson then found a seam in the Hornet defense and raced 69 yards for the score. The extra point was missed and the Mustangs led 13-3 and they would take that lead to the half.
The Mustangs got the ball to start the second half and the Hornets were forced to kick off from their own 25 after a penalty ended the first half. The Mustangs started at their own 40 after the return and found the end zone in four plays. Ensley threw for 13 on the drive and ran the final 13 for the score with 10:34 left in the third quarter. Ensley ran in the two-point conversion and the Mustangs led 21-3.
On Huntland’s next possession they gambled on fourth down and the Mustangs held and took over at the Hornet 45. It took the Mustangs nine plays and they had to overcome a block in the back penalty that negated an Ensley run for the touchdown but eventually found the end zone with 4:31 left in the third when Ensley ran for a yard and the touchdown. Edwards made the score 28-3 with the extra point.
The score stayed at the 25-point margin until 7:15 remained in the game when the Mustangs went 88 yards in eight plays to increase their lead. Ensley found Noah Belew in the corner of the end zone to complete the drive on a 12-yard pass for the touchdown. Edwards was good on the extra point attempt to give the Mustangs a 35-3 lead.
The next Mustang score came after a Huntland punt and came through the air again. Ethan Reliford hauled in a short pass from Ensley and outran the Hornet defense for a 66-yard score. Edwards put the final point of the night on the scoreboard for the Mustangs as he knocked through the extra point with 3:50 left in the game to make the score 42-3. The Hornets scored the final points of the night with 1:16 left in the game as Garrett Jernigan scored on a 79-yard pass play. Morris added the P.A.T. and a final score of 42-10.
The Mustangs now will face the high-flying Lake County Falcons who also enter the game at 13-0 as the Mustangs are. Kick-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Paul Ward Stadium.