Bobcats upset Tigers in opening round
The Marshall County Tigers' stellar regular season didn't translate into postseason success, as MCHS was knocked out of the Class 4A playoffs in the first round for the third straight year when they suffered a gut wrenching 38-35 loss to archrival Giles County on Friday night at home.
Having defeated Giles County 34-17 just seven days earlier, the Tigers (8-3) held a 28-17 lead midway through the third quarter of Friday's contest, but saw starting quarterback Ashton Posey get knocked out of the game with an injury on their fourth touchdown drive.
Posey's injury proved to be a turning point in the contest, as the Bobcats (5-6) scored three straight touchdowns in a span of 6:22 to seize a 38-28 lead late in the third period.
After narrowing the gap to 38-35 on a two-yard touchdown run by senior tailback Chris Walker with 3:58 left in the fourth quarter, Marshall County made a goal line stand before driving to the Giles County 12 in the waning moments of the game.
The Tigers' valiant comeback attempt came up short, however, as Bobcat defensive back Dontarius Gilbert picked off a pass by MCHS backup quarterback Tanner Clark in the back of the end zone with :03 left to seal Giles County's three-point victory.
"After we got our quarterback knocked out in the third quarter, a lot of teams would have folded but we fought back," said Marshall County coach Thomas Osteen. "When you put so much into something and it doesn't go your way, that's why it hurts so much. It's a microcosm of life. Sometimes the best team doesn't always win."
Handing it over
Marshall County piled up 383 yards of total offense, but committed three costly second half turnovers. After struggling to run the ball early, the Tigers got their ground game going in the second half and finished with 224 yards rushing while averaging 5.6 yards per carry.
MCHS senior tailback Chris Walker left everything he had on the field, as he rushed for a game high 178 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries, caught five passes for 30 yards and a TD, and returned a punt 87 yards for a score.
Thanks to Friday's performance, Walker finished the season with 1,277 yards rushing while accumulating 1,914 all-purpose yards and scoring 31 touchdowns
"My heart breaks for Chris Walker. He's the leader of the this team and undoubtedly our hardest worker," said Osteen. "It's the first time since I've been coaching where the best player on the team was also the best person on the team. He's going to have a great football career wherever he signs and a great life."
Jay Howard also toted the ball four times for 41 yards, while Posey added 24 yards on five carries.
Posey had a productive night throwing the ball while he was in the game and completed 8-of-11 passes for 110 yards and a touchdown.
Clark then came in and completed 8-of-12 passes for 49 yards, but tossed two interceptions. Bobcat defensive back Blake Gentry also picked off Howard's lone pass attempt of the game and returned it 41 yards for a Giles County touchdown.
Howard was Marshall County's leading receiver and caught seven passes for 79 yards, while Curtis Keiler had two receptions for 43 yards.
The Bobcats, meanwhile, racked up 410 yards of total offense, which included 235 yards rushing on 38 carries.
Tailback Jordan Tucker led Giles County's ground attack by rushing for 124 yards on 21 carries, while quarterback Trevor Holder toted the ball six times for 57 yards and two touchdowns. Cameron Ordway added 34 yards on five carries as well and Gilbert tallied 25 yards on four attempts.
Holder only completed 7-of-18 passes, but made the Tigers pay when he did connect, as he threw for 175 yards and two touchdowns to go along with one interception.
Gilbert was Holder's main target and hauled in four passes for 62 yards and a TD, while Lucas Harrison had two receptions for 101 yards and a touchdown.
Senior Cale Shelton led the Tigers' defense with 14 tackles. Prentice Davis and Peyton Williams also notched nine tackles apiece, while J.Q. Haislip and Payton Hood each registered six tackles. Josh Franklin recorded five tackles for MCHS as well, and Steven Dangerfield and Antonio Shelton both had four tackles.
The Bobcats went three and out on their opening possession before Marshall County put together a six-play, 69-yard scoring drive that was capped by a 27-yard touchdown catch by Walker. Caleb Estes then tacked on the extra point to give the Tigers an early 7-0.
Giles County tied the game at 7-7 on their ensuing possession when Holder threaded a 31-yard touchdown pass to Gilbert through double coverage on 4th and 16.
The Tigers then committed a special teams blunder on the ensuing kickoff, as they mishandled a squib kick by Griffin Birdsong before the Bobcats pounced on the ball at the MCHS 40.
After advancing to the 10 with the help of an 11-yard catch by Gilbert and a Tucker 13-yard run, Giles County picked up only seven yards on their next three plays before settling for a 20-yard field goal by Birdsong to take a 10-7 lead late in the first period.
Back in front
The Bobcats lead proved to be short lived, as Marshall County pulled back ahead 14-10 early in the second quarter on a Walker four-yard touchdown jaunt that was set up by a 33-yard catch and run by Howard.
Giles County seized a 17-14 advantage on their next possession when Holder scored on a one-yard TD plunge to punctuate a five-play, 56-yard drive, but Walker put the Tigers back on top late in the second period by returning a Bobcat punt 87 yards for a TD to stake MCHS to a 21-17 lead.
Both teams came up empty on their final drive of the first half, before the Tigers lost the ball on downs at the Giles County 12 on their opening possession of the third quarter.
On their ensuing offensive series, the Bobcats faced a 4th and inches situation at their own 22, before Giles County coach Walt Smith decided to roll the dice and go for it. The gamble ended up blowing up in the Bobcats' face, as Gunner Southerland dropped Tucker for a two-yard loss on the fourth down run to set Marshall County up at the Giles County 20.
After the Tigers were penalized 15 yards for a chop block to set up a 2nd and 21 situation, Posey completed a 30-yard pass to Keiler to move the ball down to the one-yard line, but was knocked out of the game on the play. Walker then burrowed into the end zone on the next play to give Marshall County a 28-17 lead with 7:03 left in the third quarter.
The Bobcats quickly stemmed the Tigers' momentum, as Holder hooked up with Harrison for a 67-yard touchdown strike a few moments later to narrow the gap to 28-23. Williams tackled Holder short of the goal line on the two-point conversion run to keep the deficit at five.
After stopping Marshall County on downs at the MCHS 45, Giles County capitalized on the good field position when Holder scored on a two-yard TD run five plays later. Holder then found Harrison in the end zone on the two-point conversion pass to put the Bobcats up 31-28.
Things got worse for the Tigers on their next possession, as Gentry intercepted a pass by Howard on a trick play and raced 41 yards to pay dirt to stretch the Bobcats lead to 38-28 with :41 left in the third quarter.
Ordway then picked off a 4th down pass by Clark at the Bobcat 7 early in the fourth quarter, but MCHS' defense stepped up and forced Giles County to punt.
The Tigers finally got their offense back on track on their next drive and marched 58 yards to pay dirt in nine plays, highlighted by a Walker two-yard TD run, to slice the deficit to 38-35 with 3:58 left.
After Tucker returned an onside kick attempt by Marshall County to the MCHS 33, Giles County advanced to the six-yard line on three straight runs. The Tigers then bowed their necks and limited the Bobcats to five yards on their next three plays before Harrison was unable to haul in a 4th down pass by Holder in the end zone.
With only 1:24 left in the game, Walker ripped off consecutive runs of 15 and 18 yards before Howard picked up 13 yards on a shovel pass to move the ball to the Tiger 47. Following a seven-yard run by Walker, Howard sandwiched a pair of 10-yard receptions around a Walker 14-yard run to set MCHS up at the Bobcat 12 with :08 remaining.
The Tigers then took a shot at the end zone, but Gilbert intercepted a pass intended for Walker to clinch Giles County's victory.