Forget the turkey and pumpkin pie. For the first time in school history, Nolensville will be playing football after Thanksgiving, and they couldn’t be happier about it.
The Knights (11-2) jumped out to an early lead and cruised to a 42-6 victory over the visiting DeKalb County Tigers (8-5) in the Class 4A state quarterfinals.
On offense, Knights running back Ryan Pistulka ran for three touchdowns and 167 yards on just 14 carries (averaging almost 12 yards per carry).
And on the other side of the ball, the Knights defense held the Tigers to just 143 yards of total offense, continuing their dominance in the playoffs.
Now Nolensville—in its fourth year as a football program—will travel east to take on Elizabethton on Friday, Nov. 29, in the state semifinals, just one win separating them from the school’s first appearance in a title game.
“I want out players to embrace the moment and enjoy it and they came out here and did that tonight,” Nolensville Head Coach Paul Derrick said. “There’s nothing like playing playoff football and we’re just having fun. We’re enjoying the journey.”
With a steady rain falling throughout the game, the Knights got off to a rough start after their first offensive play of the game resulted in a fumble recovery for DeKalb County.
But after the Nolensville defense held its own and forced a turnover on downs, Pistulka ripped off a 64-yard that put the Knights inside the Tigers’ 10-yard line. The senior running back then finished the job with a 2-yard touchdown run to give Nolensville a 7-0 lead.
After Nolensville defensive lineman Brayden Clark picked up back-to-back sacks to help put the Knights back on offense, the Knights scored again—this with running back Samson Johnson rushing for a touchdown.
The Knights successfully put pressure on and bottled up Tigers quarterback Axel Aldino throughout the game and prevented DeKalb County from gaining much traction on offense.
But in the Tigers’ defense, few teams have been able to break through the Nolensville defense—especially in the playoffs. After losing their last two regular season games, the Knights have been dominant during the postseason, outscoring their opponents 122-21 through three playoff games so far.
“The whole game plan was to shut down the run game and put pressure on the quarterback, and we were able to do that early and often,” Clark said. “We know how dangerous [Aldino] is and how important it was contain him.”
Less than two minutes after Johnson’s touchdown, the Knights regained possession and now it was quarterback Ryder Galardi’s turn to use his arm to help Nolensville’s cause. Galardi found wide receiver and 4A Mr. Football finalist Tim Coutras open for a 27-yard touchdown pass to give the Knights a 21-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Toward the end of the first half, Galardi used his legs this time and ran over a DeKalb County defender on his way to a 30-yard touchdown run—the only score of the second quarter—to give the Knights a commanding 28-point lead at the half.
DeKalb County lost a fumble to open up the second half, and Pitsulka quickly made the Tigers pay by ripping off a 36-yard touchdown run going right up the middle.
In a case of déjà vu, Pitsulka ripped off an almost identical touchdown run late in the fourth quarter—rushing up the middle again for another 36-yard score—to close out the scoring.
Tigers running back Nathaniel Crook scored the only touchdown of the game for the Tigers in the fourth quarter to prevent DeKalb County from suffering a shutout loss, but by then it was too late to mount a comeback.