COOKEVILLE, Tenn. — Corn Elder, Ensworth’s Mr. Football winner, left the game early in the second quarter, limping from the field with a high-ankle sprain.
He wouldn’t return, but the defending state champions didn’t miss him or a beat Thursday night in nailing down their second straight Division II-AA state title with a 48-10 victory over Baylor.
The Tigers also avenged their only loss, a 42-14 setback at Baylor on Sept. 16. It was the Red Raiders’ worst playoff loss since a 49-0 setback to Murfreesboro Riverdale in 1994, and it came in their first back-to-back state championship game appearances since 1972 and ’73.
Elder scored Ensworth’s second touchdown less than five minutes into the game, but the offensive stardom this night belonged to little-used Rico Watson, who had just 23 carries, 84 yards and a single touchdown in the Tigers’ first 12 games.
He tripled his 2011 output with a 221-yard, three-touchdown performance.
“Rico played a great game. He’s been an unsung hero,” Tigers coach Ricky Bowers said. “He’s so dependable and so team-oriented. He was injured and missed the first seven weeks, and I know a lot of kids that wouldn’t have even tried to come back. He waited for his turn and stepped up big when he got it.”
And junior quarterback Andrew Bowers, son of the Tigers coach, scraped up the leftovers, running 26 yards for one TD and throwing for two — 44 yards to Cory Batey and 31 yards to Myles Pasley. He finished with just 95 passing yards but completed four of six passes.
Ensworth rushed for 390 yards and five TDs and accumulated 485 yards of total offense.
Baylor gained 286 yards but quarterback Matthew Oellerich was limited to a 10-for-30 passing night and was intercepted twice. He and little-used Mike Davis were the Red Raiders’ leading rushers with 59 yards apiece.
“All year this team has found a way to win. That’s what I told them at halftime,” Baylor coach Phil Massey said. “It just seemed, though, that the harder we scratched the deeper in the hole we got. We wanted to get them in second-and-long and third-and-long situations, and that just didn’t happen.”
Early on, as in the Tigers’ first play from scrimmage, just the hint of Elder was enough. Ensworth ran a fake to Elder and a trap with Watson, who went 45 yards.
“We had [Rico] at fullback and all season when we’d had him there we had thrown a pass. We decided to try it and it worked,” Coach Bowers said.
In took Ensworth just three offensive plays and the Tigers had Baylor on its heels by two touchdowns.
Elder, a 5-f00t-10, 160-pound junior, took a handoff 38 yards for the second Tigers score after an interception by Vanderbilt-bound Batey.
Baylor scored on a 1-yard run by Oellerich, but the Red Raiders couldn’t seem to stop the Tigers, who scored on their first four possessions.
With Elder in the locker room receiving attention for his ankle injury, Bowers went up top for a 44-yard pass to Batey and then, following a 38-yard Henrique Ribeiro field goal, went 26 yards to give the Tigers a 27-10 advantage.
Baylor’s last scoring attempt in the second half came on a 37-yard field goal and proved to be Ribeiro’s first field goal miss inside 50 yards.
The night’s story, though, was Watson, who finished with an average of 13.8 yards per carry.
“It seems like it doesn’t matter who they put behind that big offensive line. When Corn went down they didn’t slow down at all,” Massey said.
While he was out, Watson has spent time in the film room, giving pointers to Elder. He must have kept his notes.
“It was hard being on the sidelines, but I’m a team player. It’s all about effort and being a leader,” he said.
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...