By Shannon Fagan, WEIS Sports Director
CENTRE – There’s one thing Jacob Cornejo hates and that’s losing.
The senior running back did everything he could to get shed of that feeling from a week ago against Fort Payne. He ran for 300 yards on 19 carries and scored five touchdowns in leading the Warriors to a 56-28 victory over Central of Florence on Thursday night in the first round of the Class 4A state football playoffs.
The win – Jacob Kelley’s 50th of his head coaching career – sends the Warriors (10-1) to next week’s second round where they will play either Haleyville or North Jackson. That playoff game is set for Friday evening.
“Honestly, I don’t want to lose. I want to win this thing (state championship),” Cornejo said. “I’m going to make sure everything goes as planned. We went there last year, and we know what it takes, but we need to prepare more for what we need to do.”
Cornejo is alluding to the trouble the Warriors had defending the Wildcats’ misdirection offense in the first half.
Central (6-5) punched the Warriors in the mouth on their opening possession of the game, but a fumble recovered by Jace Turner killed a substantial drive.
Four plays after the turnover, Cornejo scored his first touchdown on a 24-yard run to give the Warriors a 7-0 advantage with 6:04 remaining in the opening quarter.
The Wildcats countered on the ensuing drive to tie the game. Hunter Palmer capped a 13-play, 84-yard drive with his 2-yard touchdown run to even the score at 7-7.
Cornejo put the Warriors deep in Wildcat territory again on a 47-yard run down to the Wildcat 23-yard line with 26.3 seconds to go before halftime. However, on the next play, Warrior quarterback Carson Tittle fumbled. Brock Price made the recovery for the Wildcats.
Ten plays after the turnover, Palmer scored a second touchdown – this one from 19 yards – to five Central a 14-7 lead with 6:10 remaining in the first half.
Palmer led the Wildcats with 158 yards on 25 carries with three touchdowns. He also caught a pair of passes for 56 yards.
“They do a great job of running that offense,” Kelley said of the Wildcats. “I was telling the guys in film this week when I was in high school we ran that offense. It was much easier to prepare for because you saw it a lot more, ran it a lot more, but now nobody hardly runs it anymore. Alexandria runs a variation of it, but it’s in the shotgun. It’s completely different when the quarterback gets under center. It was hard to get the full-speed look (at practice).”
The Warriors tied the game on their ensuing drive. Following a Cornejo 4-yard run to get inside Wildcat territory, Tittle connected with Ben Moseley on a 48-yard touchdown pass to even the score at 14.
Tittle connected on all four of his pass attempts in the game for 102 yards and a touchdown. Moseley caught two of those passes for 72 yards and a score.
Following a Wildcat punt, Cornejo scored again on a 57-yard run to provide the Warriors a 21-14 advantage.
Turner came up with his second turnover of the game when he intercepted Central quarterback Jackson Brewer. A 9-play, 89-yard drive resulted in Cornejo’s third touchdown of the half. This one came from the Wildcat formation from three yards away with less than 30 seconds remaining in the half to put the Warriors in front 28-14 at halftime.
Cornejo compiled 224 yards on 11 carries with three scores in the first half.
“Jacob is just so special,” Kelley said. “He’s getting really close to setting a school record for yards in a career. When he gets in a zone like that, and the line is bulldozing like that, you just turn him loose. He makes it look so easy. I just hope everybody in this community realizes how special that kid is. Every Friday night he’s the ultimate Warrior.”
Cherokee County received the ball to open the third quarter, and Cornejo struck again. This time he scored a 3-yard run with 9:50 left in the quarter to make the score 35-14.
A Wildcat punt resulted in another Cornejo touchdown. This one was from 14 yards and it gave the Warriors a 42-14 lead.
Keyshawn Woods added a 17-yard score before the end of the third quarter, and Tae Diamond delivered a 4-yard score in the fourth for the Warriors’ final touchdown.
Central scored a pair of touchdowns in the fourth quarter on quarterback Jackson Brewer’s 21-yard toss to Logan Galliano. Palmer added a 1-yard score with 3:23 remaining for the final.
Brewer completed 5-of-10 pass attempts for 92 yards and a touchdown. Donevin Farris finished with 69 yards on 16 carries.
“It was good to kind of put the first round behind,” Kelley said. “We’ve still got a long way to go. We’ve got to continue to get better and better, play a little bit more together. We’re so used to enforcing our will and being so dominant. It feels like a little bit of a loss when we give up a first down or a big play. They’ve just got to relax and play together and continue to grow together. You only find that in adversity. There’s definitely some more learning moments for us, but on to round two.”