COOKEVILLE – Central’s football team needed an extra day, extra miles on the bus, and an extraordinary defensive effort to achieve its ultimate goal Sunday.
Sophomore linebacker Kalib Fortner earned MVP honors as the Bobcats (13-2) beat Henry County, 14-9, in the Class 5A BlueCross Bowl at Tennessee Tech’s Tucker Stadium.
The game was postponed Saturday night due to inclement weather and moved to Sunday afternoon.
Central’s team went back to Knoxville after the postponement and made the return trip Sunday.
“We had to regroup,” Central coach Bryson Rosser said. “There was nothing we could do about it, so we went home and got as much sleep as we could, sleeping on the bus and what not.
“The guys go as I go, and as the leader, I take responsibility for that, and I kept them positive, kept them humble, kept them hungry, and obviously it worked out for us.”
It’s the first state football championship for Central, which ended the season on a 13-game win streak after starting 0-2. The Bobcats were state runners-up in 2016 and 1999.
“It’s just an unbelievable feeling,” said Rosser, in his fifth year as Central’s coach. “Fortunate again for us to get to this game, fortunate to get her twice in the last three years. We had a mission to finish this time. Obviously it was a championship game. It was tough.
“It came all the way down to the end. Hats off to Henry County and those guys and coach (James) Counce, but I just couldn’t be more happy for these guys. We were hoping that it would be a historic moment and obviously it is.”
Fortner had the team-high eight tackles, two sacks, and three tackles for loss.
Henry County (13-2) gained seven first downs and 131 total yards (59 rushing, 72 passing).
“We just had to shut them out every play we could and not let them get any more yards,” Fortner said. “Coming down to the end, it was very close but we came through and I’m just glad to be part of a defense with my boys.”
Central led 7-3 at halftime.
Henry County started its second drive at Central’s 25-yard line after a 15-yard punt into the wind by Carson Brengle.
The Patriots had a touchdown pass by Will Parrish called back for an illegal blocking penalty, and another TD pass negated when Parrish’s pass was ruled incomplete as Davy Harrod bobbled the ball while falling out of the end zone.
Two plays later, Darrius Stephens booted a 30-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead with 5:05 left in the first quarter.
Central drove to Henry County’s 27 midway through the second and was stopped when Dakota Fawver’s fourth-down pass was incomplete to Daunte Holliday after a hard hit by Joseph Travis.
Henry County ran three plays, punted, and Central started at its 36.
Two plays and a pass interference call later, Fawver rolled to his right, eluding a pass rusher, and threw a short pass to Holliday, who raced down the right sideline for a 39-yard touchdown.
Jarred Swislosky’s PAT kick put the Bobcats up 7-3 with 3:02 to play in the half.
“They got pressure up the middle, so I tried to scramble out and tried to motion Daunte to go down the field and he read it,” Fawver said of the TD pass. “It’s just the chemistry, he took off down the field and I hit him and he takes off and scores.”
Henry County recovered a fumble at the 50 on the opening drive of the third quarter and couldn’t convert.
Parrish was sacked by Fortner on third down from the 47, and Caleb Ferguson’s punt into the wind went 8 yards.
Central started at its 46 and needed eight plays to score.
Xavier Washington’s 10-yard TD run and Swislowsky’s PAT kick made it 14-3 with 2:47 left in the third.
The Patriots’ only touchdown drive was set up by a fumble recovery by Samari Rack at Central’s 36 late in the third.
On the seventh play of the drive, Jaylon Foster scored on a 10-yard run. Foster was stopped on the two-point conversion run. It was 14-9 with 10 minutes left.
“Our defense played a heck of a game,” Fawver said. “I can’t tell you how wonderful they played.”
Henry County got two more possessions, going three-and-out on their next-to-last drive.
The Patriots started their final drive at Central’s 44 after a 20-yard punt into the wind by Brengle.
They got to the Bobcats’ 20-yard line, where they faced second-and-1.
Parrish threw a pass across the middle that was broken up by Washington. On third down, Joseph Travis was tackled for a 4-yard loss by Washington.
On fourth down, Parrish’s pass was knocked down by Central linebacker Tyler Bost.
Fawver, a junior, took a knee on the next play, and the game ended.
“I’m really blessed and I’m really proud to be a part of this team,” Fawver said. “We faced a lot of adversity this year. We started out 0-2 and a lot of people cut us out of the equation and nobody believed in us, but we believed in each other and we believed in our coach. We didn’t give up the whole time. We just kept fighting and winning and here we are.”
Senior left guard/nose guard Ja’kobi Troutman said Sunday’s win was “bittersweet.”
“It’s sweet we won a championship going out, but this is the last time I’m going to play with my brothers right here,” Troutman said. “Hopefully it’s not the last time I see them, but it’s the last time I’m playing with them, but I’ll surely miss them and I’m glad we got to go out with a ‘W.’ ”