WHITWELL, Tenn. — Austin Nunley did not see the football sail end over end through the uprights. He didn't have to, however, as the entire population of Whitwell let him know that he had nailed the 21-yard field goal as time expired.
The senior capped an impressive eight-play, 50-yard drive that began with 3:41 remaining by kicking his first field goal of the season Friday night to lift Class 1A's third-ranked Tigers to a hard-fought 17-14 win over 2A's sixth-ranked Trousdale County.
"It's easy to want to look up and see where the ball is going, but I just stayed down like I'm supposed to all the way through my follow-through and then heard everybody screaming," said Nunley, who has a 43-yard field goal to his credit but had not made one yet this season. "I kept telling myself it was just like an extra point, trying to stay calm."
The doubters, if there are any left, can now recognize that Whitwell is very much for real and is in the midst of a special season unlike this community has seen to this point. The Tigers improved to 7-0 for the first time in program history and play next week at top-ranked South Pittsburg (7-0) for the Region 3-1A championship.
Whitwell's strength all season has been its defense — which had allowed just 15 points through six games — and that was the case again as Trousdale managed just 206 total yards, with much of that coming on the game-tying drive late in the third quarter.
"Our players feed off our defense," said Tigers first-year head coach Randall Boldin. "They fly to the football, and they gave our offense some energy we needed to get that last drive going after we stopped them.
"The guys rose to the challenge against a very good team tonight."
After Trousdale struck first, going 51 yards in just five plays with sophomore Kobe Ford wiggling his way through the Tigers defense for a 3-yard touchdown run. But Whitwell answered on the ensuing possession, going 61 yards in 10 plays, capped when Dawson Holloway passed to Hudson Petty for a 12-yard scoring slant to convert fourth-and-4.
Those two hooked up again on a fourth-down pass early in the third quarter, this time converting fourth-and-8 with a 33-yard TD to go up 14-6. But this time it was the Yellow Jackets (4-3) counterpunching with a 10-play, 65-yard scoring march, ended by Baines' 5-yard run, followed by his two-point run to tie the game.
From there the teams traded punts over the next four possessions before the Tigers held on fourth-and-6 from their 45. That set up the winning drive, helped along by a 13-yard run from Trace Condra on third-and-12 and a 31-yard pass from Petty to Garrett Shrum on a play that followed two runs by Petty out of the shotgun.
"Their safety was coming up to key on me, so the coaches called for that pass play and Garrett made a great catch for a huge play," said Petty, who had 114 yards of total offense. "A win like this really helps build confidence for us. When we do what we're capable of, we're hard to handle."
Contact Stephen Hargis at email@example.com or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis.