Tigers suffer tough semifinal loss
A second straight magical season came to a close Friday night at Lewisburg in heart breaking fashion as the Tigers lost a close 31-24 contest to upstart Knoxville Central after taking a 21-3 lead early on.
The Tigers jumped out to a 21-3 lead before the Bobcats closed the gap to 24-17 at halftime.
Knoxville Central did not allow Marshall County a score in the second half to move on to the TSSAA 4A state championship game Saturday at Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville.
"I think our lack of energy and when they took the ball away (led to the drought)," senior wide receiver Jay Howard said. "We weren't used to that and didn't take it like we should've."
Key Knoxville players lived up to the pregame hype as senior running back Jadarius Sackie finished with 144 yards on the ground, an interception, and a punt return, senior quarterback Trey Mitchell stayed calm after the early deficit to throw for 207 yards, two touchdowns and one more on the ground.
Highly recruited defensive end Isaac Buell disrupted the passing game all night to finish with five tackles and defensive back Rondrow Peeples grabbed his 12th interception on the season.
Sophomore Tiger quarterback Bo Wallace threw for 172 yards, but tossed two interceptions and was largely ineffective in the second half.
Tre Crutcher added another 100 yard game to his resume to go along with 10 receptions and Jay Howard closed out a storied career for Marshall County with over 150 return yards.
"Coach Shirley and I took a lot of pride in special teams because you never know when you can spark a big play and give your team that extra boost to motivate them for that drive down the field," Howard said.
D'Andre Brown sent the standing room crowd into a frenzy on the first possession when the two-way star scooped up a fumble and rushed 42 yards into the end zone for an early 7-0 lead after a Caleb Estes extra point.
The Bobcats tacked on a 31-yard field goal from Eli Holbert on the ensuing drive and after a 55-yard kickoff return from Howard, a Wallace pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage before Peebles grabbed the first of two Bobcat interceptions.
The Tiger defense forced a three-and-out on the Bobcats and quickly capitalized with a 59-yard touchdown run by Crutcher for the 14-3 first quarter lead.
Wallace went back to work on the next Tiger possession, hitting J.Q. Haislip for a 15-yard reception and Howard on a 15-yard catch before Liggett ran four more yards.
Haislip caught another 10-yard catch to set up a four-yard Liggett touchdown and Tigers fans started thinking about travel plans to Cookeville as the home team took a dominating lead 21-3 with 8:08 left in the second quarter.
The Bobcats, who came into the game with a multitude of close wins on the season, didn't panic and two minutes later, Mitchell hit Peebles for a 22-yard score to close the gap to 21-10.
The turning point in the contest seemingly came on the next possession as Matt Runions caught a pass for a first down and fumbled the ball as the receiver turned up field for extra yardage which was returned to the six-yard line and was promptly marched into the end zone by Sackie on the next play to turn what was a 21-10 halftime lead into a four-point game with 2:09 remaining in the second quarter.
Howard took another kickoff deep into Central territory, but the Tigers stalled inside the 10-yard line and had to settle for a 35-yard Estes field goal to push the Tiger lead back to a touchdown at 24-17.
The Estes field goal was the last points on the night for the Tigers and the Bobcats finally broke through to tie the game at 24-24 just four minutes into the third period.
The Bobcat comeback was complete when a 10-yard Bobcat out route turned into a 55-yard gain after a multitude of missed Tiger tackles and Mitchell strolled into the end zone on a one-yard run with 7:21 remaining in the game.
The Tigers had one last shot after the Bobcats punted with 1:22 remaining but Wallace couldn't get anything going with the receivers and a last second Hail Mary fell harmlessly to the ground well short of the end zone to end the game and the Tigers season at 12-2.
"What I took away from this season is no one can take away what you have with your brothers," Howard said. "I absolutely loved playing my four years with Marshall County and being a Tiger means something to me."
"I made memories since the first day I was a freshman till the last game of my senior year," Howard continued. "I set records and have a great bond with my teammates and will always be a great memory when I come and see my little brother follow in my footsteps."
Knoxville Central 3 14 7 7-31
Marshall County 14 10 0 0-24
Marshall County-D'Andre Brown 42 fumble return, Caleb Estes kick
Knoxville Central-Eli Holbert 31 field goal
Marshall County-Tre Crutcher 59 run, Estes kick
Marshall County-Kamron Liggett 4 run, Estes kick
Knoxville Central-Rondrow Peebles 22 pass from Trey Mitchell, Holbert kick
Knoxville Central-Jadarius Sackie 6 run, Holbert kick
Marshall County-Estes 35 field goal
Knoxville Central-Louis McNair 26 pass from Mitchell, Holbert kick
Knoxville Central-Mitchell 1 run, Holbert kick
First downs-Knoxville Central 17, MC 12
Rushing yards-Knoxville Central 167, Marshall County131
Passing-Knoxville Central 198, Marshall County 163
Penalties-Knoxville Central 4-20, Marshall County 8-71
Fumbles lost-Knoxville Central 1, Marshall County 1
Knoxville Central-Michael Miburo 2-8, Trey Mitchell 4-11-TD, Rondrow Peebles 2-8-TD, Jadarius Sackie 23-141-TD, Jahvere Weste 1-(-1)
Marshall County-Tre Crutcher 1-59-TD, Kamron Liggett 21-72-TD, Bryce Wallace 7-0
Knoxville Central-Trey Mitchell 17-25-2TD
Marshall County-Jay Howard 0-1-0, Bryce Wallace 17-26-2INT
Knoxville Central-Louis McNair 5-99-TD, Shermar Moore 5-32, Peebles 3-27-TD, Tony Reeves 4-53
Marshall County-Crutcher 10-101, J.Q. Haislip 2-23, Howard 2-19, Liggett 2-12, Matt Runions 1-6