Two hands worth of penalties and two critical turnovers will have the McCracken County Mustangs reviewing a considerable amount of film over the weekend, as Henderson County came to Marquette Stadium on Friday night and walked away as 21-14 winners.
And Class 6A, District 1 regular-season champions.
Trailing by a touchdown with less than seven minutes to go, the Mustangs had considerable momentum on their side. Jackson Gruber had just blitzed the blind side of Colonels quarterback Ben Dalton and landed home, thwarting a fourth-down attempt inside Henderson County’s red zone.
A pair of 18-yard rushes from running back Hunter Bradley and wide receiver Jeremiah Hughes, followed by a 9-yard rush from Bradley, should’ve defined an ensuing drive to tie, or perhaps win, the game.
Except it didn’t.
After second-and-1 near the Colonels’ 30, an illegal procedure penalty, a false start penalty, and a sack of Pryor Lamb on third down made it fourth-and-24.
Dalton and the Colonels would get the ball back, convert two first downs to eat more than four minutes off the clock, and Pryor Lamb’s final pass attempt to Zack Masek wound up as a fumble to end the game.
“We’ve got to learn from it,” noted McCracken County coach Marc Clark. “We’ve got to learn from it. It’s unfortunate. Those are tough penalties in that spot against a good team.
“(But) we were in this exact situation last year, and found a way to get to the third round. As opposed to them coming down here against us, we’ve got to head up there to see them, and we’ve got to be ready to play better than we did tonight.”
Henderson got great field position on its opening drive, as McCracken County fumbled the directional kickoff along the right sideline. Jaheim Williams converted a fourth-and-4 with a 5-yard rush, and two plays later, Jordan Wright rushed up the left gap for a 13-yard touchdown and a 6-0 lead with 8:34 left in the first quarter.
McCracken County immediately answered, as Bradley’s 27-yard catch-and-run helped set up a 45-yard scamper from Hughes, and Bradley’s 2-point conversion run made it 8-7 just 70 seconds later.
Bradley’s 31-yard gash up the gut made it 14-7 with 10:48 left in the first half, and capped an eight-play, 55-yard drive.
On the final drive of the half, however, Dalton would carry the Colonels emphatically. Of his 125 rushing yards, 47 of them came on this series, and on third-and-6 with less than 30 seconds remaining on the clock, he hit Edmund Brooks over the middle for an 18-yard touchdown — PAT tying it 14-all.
Henderson County took the lead for good on its first drive of the second half, as Dalton’s 30-plus-yard gash and an offside penalty on third down primed Williams for a 2-yard touchdown.
“They’ve just got some good players,” Clark added. “Ben Dalton does a good job at what they do. Jaheim Williams does a good job at what he does. Jordan Wright does a good job at what he does. And they just made plays when they needed to.
“I thought we had a good game plan going in, and we just couldn’t get off the field. Our defense held up so firm most of the night, but offensively we’ve got to start figuring something out because we’re starting off well, but we’re not finishing games right now.”
Bradley finished with 108 yards rushing on 20 carries, but had more than 90 yards erased on two carries that came back on holding penalties.
Late in the third quarter, McCracken County’s Colton Crowell recovered a fumble, but two plays later, Lamb was intercepted on a deep throw by Williams.
Other stats of note, courtesy of James Garrett: McCracken County time of possession was 15:11, while Henderson County notched 26:09.
The Colonels were 5-for-21 on third down; the Mustangs were 3-for-13.
HENDERSON COUNTY 21, MCCRACKEN COUNTY 14
Henderson Co. 7 7 7 0 — 21
McCracken Co. 8 6 0 0 — 14
HC: Jordan Wright 13 run (Colton Evans kick), 7-0, 8:34 1Q
MC: Jeremiah Hughes 45 run (Hunter Bradley run), 8-7, 7:21 1Q
MC: Hunter Bradley 31 run (run failed), 14-7, 10:48 2Q
HC: Edmund Brooks 18 pass from Ben Dalton (Colton Evans kick), 14-14, 0:34 2Q
HC: Jahiem Williams 2 run (Colton Evans kick), 21-14, 7:59 3Q
HC Ben Dalton 2-11-19-1T-0I; MC Pryor Lamb 4-14-59-0T-1I
HC Ben Dalton 25-121, Jaheim Williams 16-48, Jordan Wright 13-45, Edmund 3-8; MC Hunter Bradley 20-108, Jeremiah Hughes 6-54, Pryor Lamb 4-(-16)
HC Edmund Brooks 1-18, Jaheim Williams 1-1; MC Hunter Bradley 1-27, Zack Masek 2-25, Jeremiah Hughes 1-7.
HC 4-2 (2-1), MC 4-2 (2-1)