LOUISVILLE — Paducah Tilghman proved it can play with the best, pulling off a big win on the road at Christian Academy-Louisville 41-34. The Centurions were ranked first in Class 3A with 11 wins and one loss under the former Blue Tornado quarterback Thomas Cantwell as head coach.
A mixture of solid offensive drives combined with bigger defensive stops when it mattered most, made the difference for the Blue Tornado in the second half of play.
Freshman quarterback Jack James threw for 176 yards on 11 of 22 passes and a 51-yard touchdown pass to Camdon Marshall. Joemari (JoJo) Starks had an impressive night himself, as he completed his first rushing plays of the season, totaling 97 yards and a touchdown.
The Centurions started off the game strong as Gavin Copenhaver, CAL’s leading rusher, found the end zone at the 8:55 mark in the first quarter. A quick possession turned punt by the Blue Tornado and the Centurions found themselves with the ball again. This time the Blue Tornado stood their ground to force the field goal, but CAL couldn’t convert.
Queue JoJo. One play was all it would take as the running back took the ball to the house for 80 yards to tie the game at seven with 3:34 remaining in the opening quarter.
The home team proved why they are ranked number one as they marched down the field for Copenhaver to score again, this time from the 1-yard line to go up 14-7.
Another big defensive stop forced the Centurions to fumble just minutes later, giving the Blue Tornado great field position at the 25 yard line resulting in a Malachi Rider touchdown. It took the visiting team just four plays and just over a minute to find the end zone.
Jump to the one minute mark remaining in the half and John Kiebler pulled off another big defensive play resulting in a pick-6 and the 19-14 lead.
Easton Messer added to his impressive rap sheet by going coast-to-coast to dazzle the home crowd to end the half and help his team back to the lead, 21-19. It might have seemed like déjà vu for the Blue Tornado when Messer came out from the half, to do the same exact thing he ended the half doing; return the ball to the end zone for an 82-yard kickoff return. Just like that CAL was up 27-19.
This struck a chord for the visiting team and they would go on to tie the game at 27 thanks to Rider finding the end zone and completing a successful 2-pt conversion. With 9:20 left in the third quarter it was still anybody’s game.
The Centurions shot themselves in the foot by getting called for roughing the kicker and what was a fourth and long punt situation, turned into first and 10 for Tilghman. A 51-yard TD pass from James to Marshall was just the capitalizing play that the Blue Tornado needed to shift the momentum even more and take the 34-27 lead with 1:55 left in the third quarter.
Add a 61-yard run from Brian Thomas just a minute later and the Blue Tornado were now up 41-27 and looking at a major victory.
CAL marched down the field with an eye on the end zone when the defensive pressure and interception by Marshall on 4th and 1, crushed the Centurions chances of scoring on the play. Their scoring chances were far from other though, as their next possession turned into a touchdown thanks to Messer who juked out multiple Tilghman defenders on the 41-yard touchdown pass.
With 6:05 remaining in the game The Blue Tornado found themselves up 41-34 and thanks to the Tilghman defense that would be the final score of the night.
Paducah Tilghman advances to the final four of the class 3A state finals and will play Glasgow (11-1) on the road. The game is slated to start at 7 p.m. EST, 6 p.m. CST on Friday, Nov 26.