Tigers fall late to Stratford
Marshall County coach Thomas Osteen has made a point of putting together a grueling non-region schedule during his three-year tenure at Lewisburg and Friday was no exception as the Tigers traveled into the heart of downtown Nashville to take on perhaps the greatest turnaround story of the 2016 season in the undefeated Stratford Spartans (6-0).
The Spartans, who lost 38-20 to Marshall County in 2015, were able to put together a plan that held the Tigers scoreless in the second half for the first time this season on the way to a stunning 28-21 victory in front of almost every media entity in the mid-state at the East Nashville school.
"Hats off to Stratford, they were better than us Friday night," Osteen, who suffered just his second regular season loss in the past two years, said. "They out hit us for a lot of the night and made more crucial plays at key moments than we did."
"We emphasize to our kids the importance of ball security each week," Osteen continued. "You can't turn the ball over three times to a team like Stratford and expect to win the game, especially when two of them set them up with short fields."
The match-up featured two highly recruited players in Stratford's T.J. Carter, a running back transfer from Hendersonville High, who committed to Memphis over offers from Auburn, Kentucky, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, South Carolina and Tennessee.
Tiger linebacker Cain McWilliams who chose MTSU over South Carolina and Georgia State joined Carter with both players putting on a show as Carter ran for 176 yards and three out of his teams four scores, while McWilliams led the defense with 14 tackles, one tackle for a loss, one quarterback hurry, and a sack to go along with 15 rushing yards.
The Tigers took a lead on a Tre Crutcher score early the contest, but the Carter led Spartans scored on the Memphis commit's five-yard touchdown run with 4:28 remaining in the first quarter.
The visitors scored with ease on the next series as Tiger quarterback Bryce Wallace faked the hand off to McWilliams and hit Jay Howard for a 54-yard strike that set up Kamron Liggett for the four-yard touchdown run and after a Caleb Estes extra point Marshall County seemed in control of the ballgame at 14-7 with 2:51 left in the first period.
The unraveling started on the next series when Wallace threw an interception which was returned to the Tiger 11-yard line and the Spartans scored at ease on a Josh Trueheart quarterback sneak to tie the game back up at 14.
Kamron Liggett added his second score of the game and the last Marshall County points of the contest to give the Tigers a brief lead in the second quarter at 21-14 but once again, the Spartans had an answer when Carter scored his second touchdown on the night to knot the contest at 21-21 going into the half with the Tigers uncharacteristically giving up more points in the first half than the defense had allowed in a game in 2016.
The decisive score of the night would happen just four minutes into the third period on a Spartan fourth-and-11 when Carter slipped past the Tiger secondary to catch a wide open 26-yard touchdown pass for the 28-21 edge.
The Tigers defense stepped up and held the Spartans scoreless for the rest of the contest and Marshall County had one last chance for the tie on the Stratford 25-yard line when Wallace found a wide open Dagon Stacey on the goal line, but the sophomore receiver bobbled the catch and ball was turned over on downs.
With the game all but over with just over a minute remaining, the Tigers caught a huge break when Trueheart fumbled the snap while in victory formation, trying to down the ball to run out the clock.
"I feel we never gave up," Osteen said. "That was never more evident than Tae Tae Lyttle blowing up their center and forcing a fumble that gave us one more chance at the end of the game."
The Tigers drove the ball to midfield, but a Wallace interception ended the game and gave the Spartans its biggest win of the season and gave the Tigers a loss which Osteen felt the players could learn from.
"I feel that our players will learn from the loss and hopefully realize again just how hard that winning is and that you must maximize each moment during the week with full focus in order to be fully prepared for any situation," Osteen said. "We win as a team and lose as a team. This loss falls on no one player tonight. I think that our players will respond in a great manner and devote themselves to getting better."
The Tigers lost a regular season game for the first time since August 28 of last year, but fortunately the loss did not count towards the region record which Marshall County will resume with a Homecoming game on Friday at Preston Hopkins field versus Lawrence County.
"We made a bunch of big stops (on defense) but the offense didn't execute well," Crutcher, who finished with a season low 39 receiving yards, said. "We could sit here and point the finger but that's not going to get us any better. So we've got to come out and dominate this Friday against Lawrence County and keep our focus on the goal we've set out the achieve."
Marshall County 14 7 0 0-21
Stratford 7 14 7 0-28
Marshall County Offense
Passing-Bryce Wallace 12-23-137-TD-2INT
Rushing-Kamron Liggett 1560-TD, Cain McWilliams 5-15, Bryce Wallace 11-(-1)
Receiving-Jay Howard 3-57, Tre Crutcher 5-39, Kamron Liggett 3-32, JQ Haislip 1-9
Tackles-Cain McWilliams 14 (sack), Hunter Cummings 9, JQ Haislip 8, Trent Richardson 8, Miciah Greer 4, Jayshon Wilcox 4, Tavi Mclean 4, Trey Crutcher 3, Donathon Tears 3, Tristan Maxwell 2, Bennett Flemming 2, Kamron Liggett 2, Tae Tae Lyttle 2 (fumble recovery), Hunter Lancaster 1, Josh Johnson 1
PAT-Caleb Fields 3-3
Punting-Dagon Stacey 4-185
Kickoff Returns-Jay Howard 2-12, Kamron Liggett 1-16
Punt Returns-Tre Crutcher 1-4