McCracken County had a major question to answer ahead of Friday’s 57-0 shellacking of Apollo in a Class 6A playoff opener at Marquette Stadium.
What would the Mustangs do without starting running back Hunter Bradley, whose 1,600-plus yard season was cut short with a severe leg injury last week against Christian County?
Enter Jeremiah Hughes and Carter Roland.
The pair combined for 234 yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries.
“You’ve just got to prepare yourself mentally,” said Hughes, who had 12 carries for 157 yards and two touchdowns for the Mustangs. “My whole team was rallying around me, and my coach, of course, he put me on. You’ve just got to get the job done.”
Hughes’ 63-yard touchdown run, paired with a 44-yard rumble from Roland put the game out of reach in the first half. With 6:51 until halftime, it was 28-0.
Franklin Hayes 42-yard catch – his second touchdown of the half and fifth touchdown in his last six catches – with a two-point pass from Wheat to Pete Holmes, signaled the running clock with 5:38 until halftime.
At halftime, it was 36-0.
“You turn off all distractions and you play for No. 16,” said Hayes, who had three catches for 66 yards and two touchdowns. “He’s a great player and a valuable part of this offense. We wouldn’t have gotten here without him. We played for him.”
The Mustangs defense orchestrated an incredible turnaround, too, from shootout to shutout, six weeks removed from an 81-51 slugfest against Apollo in Owensboro.
In addition to those 51 points, McCracken allowed 686 yards (409 rushing and 177 passing).
On Friday, the Mustangs allowed 57 total yards (7 rushing and 50 passing), holding Apollo running back Harold Hogg to 16 yards on 12 carries.
Hogg ran 25 times for 358 yards and four touchdowns in that last meeting.
“They’ve been questioned all year,” McCracken coach Marc Clark said of his defense. “We (the coaches) knew that they were better than, maybe, they had performed. The kids just came out and did their jobs tonight. I couldn’t be prouder of them.”
McCracken County 14 22 7 14 – 57
Apollo 0 0 0 0 – 0
McCracken County: Elijah Wheat 7 run (Ben Schofield kick), 7-0, 7:09 1Q
McCracken County: Franklin Hayes 10 catch from Wheat (Schofield kick), 14-0, 4:54 1Q
McCracken County: Jeremiah Hughes 63 run (Schofield kick), 21-0, 11:40 2Q
McCracken County: Carter Roland 44 run (Schofield kick), 28-0, 6:51 2Q
McCracken County Hayes 42 catch from Wheat (Wheat pass), 36-0, 5:38 2Q
McCracken County: Hughes 2 run (Schofield kick), 43-0, 6:38 3Q
McCracken County: Ethan McKendree 7 fumble return (Schofield kick), 50-0, 7:15 4Q
McCracken County: Kolton Reeves 40 interception return (Schofield kick), 57-0, 3:40 4Q
McCracken County: Jeremiah Hughes 12-157-2, Carter Roland 8-77-1, Elijah Wheat 4-21-1; Apollo: Harold Hogg 12-16-0, Evan Miller 1-5-0, Chase Rhinerson 1-0-0, Wes Daugherty 3-(-1)-0, Damian Lovinsky 8-(-13)-0.
McCracken County: Elijah Wheat 8-15-129-2 TD-0 INT, Jack Bennett 0-1-0-0-0; Apollo: Damian Lovinsky 5-13-50-0-2, Chase Rhinerson 0-1-0-0-1.
McCracken County: Franklin Hayes 3-66-2, Zander Mayes 3-37-0, Nick Massek 1-23-0; Apollo: Brandon Husk 4-40-0, Eric Smith 1-10-0.
McCracken County: 8-3; Apollo: 4-7.