Tigers capture Homecoming win over Wildcats
Coming off arguably the toughest or one of the toughest first half schedules in the season in the entire state, the Marshall County Tigers needed a big win in the worst way Friday night.
Fortunately for the Tigers, a winless Lawrence County (0-7, 0-3) was on tap for the homecoming festivities and Marshall County pulled away in the second half to pick up its second win and first region victory of the season with the 29-8 final.
"We just got better all week long, took the coaching and came out here and played hard," senior defensive back Keshun Gentry, who finished with nine tackles, said. "Of course it was homecoming, so we had to get the win."
The good news is the Tigers held the Wildcats to just 162 total yards of offense and a dismal 24 yards on the ground on 31 carries.
The bad news is that Marshall County (2-4, 1-2) scored the lowest amount of total points in the Wildcats seven losses and let Lawrence County hang around the entire first half and went into the break clinging to a slight 16-8 advantage.
"I feel like we knew that they weren't that good of a team but we still came out and gave them everything that we had," Dagon Stacey, who finished with two key interceptions, explained. "We had a few errors that we need to clean up before Giles County next week, but I'm really glad to get a big region win for the team."
Continuing a strong fourth quarter from last week against Pearl-Cohn, senior running back Elijah Taylor was the key to the Tigers strong ending on Friday night, scoring both second half touchdowns to put the game out of reach.
Taylor, who missed his entire junior season with a torn ACL, led the Tigers with 80 yards on 11 carries.
"I'm ready to go," Taylor emphasized. "It's my senior year and I got a year taken from me so I'm anxious to get back into the swing of things."
"I don't give up and just keep on moving those feet," Taylor added. "I don't let the first man tackle me."
As good as the offense was throughout the contest, the defense is what ultimately won the Tigers the game.
Tez Allen played an incredible ballgame, as the defensive lineman finished with eight tackles, 4.5 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks, and one quarterback hurry.
Antonio Warren led the defensive charge with 10 tackles, Jayshon Wilcox finished with two tackles, both of which were sacks, and Kel Greer finished with nine tackles to go along with one catch for 15 yards and one carry for 10 yards.
Connor Hilton followed up a massive game against Pearl-Cohn with seven tackles against the Wildcats and Carter Shirley added three tackles and 1.5 sacks.
"I think we were very physical on both sides of the ball but even more so on defense," Christian Stacey, who finished with six tackles, a tackle for a loss, and two passes defended, said. "We had a very good game plan going in and I think we executed the game plan very well."
The Tigers put pressure on Wildcat quarterback Alex Carr all night long as the Lawrence County signal caller completed just 17-of-33 passes for 120 yards and two interceptions.
The Wildcats were even less successful on the ground with leading rusher Gage Thigpen finishing with a mere 24 yards on eight attempts, his second lowest yard total of the season.
The Tigers drew first blood as junior running back Javarria Rucker scored from five yards out just over halfway through the first quarter and Jon Estes nailed the extra point for a 7-0 lead.
The defense came up big on the next possession forcing the Wildcats into a safety and pushing the lead to 9-0 in the process.
The game started to look like an easy rout as Rucker took the ensuing kickoff 65 yards for the score and extended the Tigers’ lead to 16-0 with just under four minutes remaining in the opening period.
That would be all the offense the Tigers would muster in the first half and Thigpen made the game more interesting with a four-yard touchdown run, followed by a two-point conversion pass to J.D. Beford to cut the lead to a one possession game at 16-8.
"We kind of tuned up some things in the locker room at halftime," Christian Stacey said. "We kind of swapped around, making sure our calls got around and everything. I think we were pumped up and just came out with more energy than them in the second half."
Taylor set the tone early in the third quarter with a four-yard plunge at the 7:59 mark, but the extra point was off the mark and the lead remained within reach.
But the Tiger defense remained unmovable and the Wildcats were forced to punt on two straight possessions.
The Tigers turned to the senior running back again on its first possession of the fourth quarter and Taylor did not disappoint, dragging two Wildcat defenders before shaking the players off and running 22 yards into the end zone to extend the lead to it's final at 29-8 at the 10:59 mark in the fourth quarter.
The Tigers also got a glimpse into the future as freshman back-up quarterback Bryson Hammons hit Kel Greer for a 15-yard strike before setting up an 70-plus-yard touchdown pass that was eventually called back for a highly questionable personal foul call.
With the Lawrence County game in the books, the Tigers once again resume its gauntlet of a non-region schedule with a visit to Pulaski for a matchup with longtime rival Giles County.
The meeting will bring the Tigers ever-improving defense against former Marshall County standout quarterback Bryce Wallace, who defected to Giles just days before the start of fall camp.
Wallace continues to put up great numbers for the Bobcats (3-3) with 1542 yards for 16 touchdowns and just four interceptions, while also leading Giles on the ground with 358 yards and six more scores.
"I'm expecting them to have some athletes," Gentry said. "Bryce Wallace, who played here for three years, is pretty good and we're expecting to see his best on Friday, so we've just got to prepare to stop him."
Lawrence County 8 0 0 0-8
Marshall County 16 0 6 7-29
Marshall County-Javarria Rucker 4-yard run, John Estes PAT.
Marshall County-Ak’y Howard safety.
Marshall County-Javarria Rucker 65-yard kickoff return, Estes PAT.
Lawrence County-Gage Thigpen 4-yard run, J.D. Bedford 2-pt. conversion pass from Thigpen.
Marshall County-Elijah Taylor 3-yard run, PAT NG.
Marshall County-Elijah Taylor 25-yard run, Estes PAT.
Total Yards: Lawrence County 162, Marshall County 203.
Rushing: Lawrence County 24, Marshall County 110.
Passing: Lawrence County 138, Marshall County 93.
Marshall County Offense
Rushing: Elijah Taylor 11-80-2TD, Malik Thomison 6-11, Kel Greer 1-10, Javarria Rucker 4-9-TD.
Passing: Malik Thomison 5-8-78, Bryson Hammons 1-1-15.
Receiving: Dagon Stacey 1-37, Marcellus Campbell 2-27, Kel Greer 1-15, Javarria Rucker 2-14.
PAT: John Estes 3-4.
Kickoffs: McAlister Wilson 5-279-2TB.
Punting: Dagon Stacey 2-59.
Kickoffs: Javarria Rucker 1-65-TD, Marcellus Campbell 1-38, Kel Greer 1-0.
Tackles: Antonio Warren 10, Kel Greer 9 (.5 SACK), Keshun Gentry 9, Tez Allen 8 (4.5TFL), Connor Hilton 7, Christian Stacey 6 (TFL, 4.5 SACKS), Keylin Talley 6 (FUM REC), Marcellus Campbell 3, Dagon Stacey 3 (2INT), Carter Shirey 3 (1.5 SACKS), Jayshon Wilcox 2 (2TFL, 2 SACKS), Kaden Whitson 1, Joseph Gold 1, Bennett Flemming 1, Austin Wright 1, Terry Gulley 1 (.5 SACK), Lamarion Pierce (FUM REC), Ak’y Howard (SAFETY).