Last week, McCracken County pulled off the upset of Mayfield in a 45-35 stunner at War Memorial Stadium.
This week, the Cardinals are gearing up for a rivalry matchup against Graves County, having beaten the Eagles in each of the last 10 seasons.
Still, to underestimate Mayfield would be — at this point — a critical error.
The last time the Cardinals lost to McCracken in the regular season, in 2015, Mayfield went on to win a Class 2A state championship.
Is it fair to assume the Cardinals (3-1) will have a chip on their shoulder Friday night?
“I hope we have a chip on our shoulder,” Mayfield coach Joe Morris said. “I don’t think our kids enjoyed losing. I know our coaches didn’t enjoy losing. We’ll regroup and get better. It’s no disgrace losing to McCracken County. They’re a very good football team. But, we can’t give up three or four big plays. We can’t turn the ball over three or four times. It’s like I told them (the team), ‘People aren’t going to lay down for you because you’ve got Mayfield on your jersey.’”
Morris said it doesn’t matter whether the game before was a win or a loss, the Battle of the Birds is almost always good for an exciting contest.
“The game is always tight,” he said. “We know we’re going to get their best shot. Hopefully, they’re going to get our best shot. We had a good week of practice. Our guys are focused, maybe the most focused they’ve been all season.”
Graves County interim coach Nick Kemp, hearing of last week’s upset across town provided a spark of optimism coming off his team’s 34-13 loss to Paducah Tilghman — in which the Eagles mustered only 141 yards passing and 122 yards rushing.
“The kids know what type of game this is in the community and for themselves,” Kemp said. “They want to win this one, bad. That’s what we talked about (this week), is they (Mayfield) can be beat. It’s kind of like that Rocky movie (Rocky IV) when he (Rocky Balboa) hits him (Ivan Drago) and it’s like, he (Drago) is human. He can bleed. But, that’s what we talked about, is they can be beat, and by a McCracken team that we felt like we could’ve played with. We didn’t. And, right now, McCracken is rolling. Mayfield’s a great team and they’ve got I don’t know how many wins in a row against us. That’s in the kids’ heads for sure, but I’m trying to let them know that they can be beat, and this is how McCracken did it. So, let’s see how if we can do it.”
Junior quarterback John Ben Brown has stepped in admirably for Ryan Mathis, who graduated last spring.
So far this season, Brown has passed for 682 yards, seven touchdowns and one interception.
Last week, Kemp said, was a bit of a step back for the first-year signal-caller, who went 11-of-28 for 141 yards and a touchdown.
“Last week, he regressed a little bit,” Kemp said. “We didn’t have a very good week and the offense wasn’t going. He made lots of mistakes. But, he’s our guy going forward and he’s going to do a good job. We see lots of good stuff out of him in practice. (The issue is) just getting that comfort level for the game. I don’t know if he was nervous for the Tilghman game. But in the Murray game, he comes out (and does well), I don’t know if there wasn’t pressure, or what it was, but him in the Murray game and in the first half of the McCracken game is not what he was the other night. That’s what we’ve got to get him back to. We’ve got to get his confidence back and let him know he’s our guy and we trust he can do it. He’s just got to go out there and get it done.”
Kemp also said he’d like to see an improvement with the Eagles’ leadership.
“I expect more,” Kemp said. “And, I wish there was a little bit more leadership coming from these guys. Cody (Goatley) does a great job leading. We’ve got some other kids, Sam Thompson, he’s one of those a lot of people don’t know about, but he’s a defensive lineman for us and he does a good job of leading. The main thing we’ve got to have is younger guys stepping up. We’ve got 13 seniors and only nine of them get quality varsity reps and starting reps. I’d like to see some of these younger guys step up with leadership, but that’s something we’re working on every week.”
This week’s top games
Game of the Week
Battle of the Birds: Mayfield vs. Graves County
When: Friday, 7
Where: War Memorial Stadium, Mayfield
Notable: Both Mayfield (45-35 against McCracken County) and Graves County (34-13 against Paducah Tilghman) are coming off losses last week. The Cardinals (3-1) are winners of the last 10 meetings between both teams. The last time Graves beat Mayfield was a 29-12 win on Sept. 19, 2008.
Prediction: Mayfield by 28
McCracken County vs. Marshall County
When: Friday, 7
Where: Carroll Traylor Stadium, Draffenville
Notable: The Mustangs (2-2) have won the last two games. Quarterback Elijah Wheat was 18-of-32 for 369 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions against Mayfield last week. Franklin Hayes (11 catches, 272 yards, three touchdowns) and Hunter Bradley (27 carries, 150 yards, two touchdowns) were also vital parts of the offense in the upset of the Cardinals. Linebacker Dawson Smothers was a standout for the Marshals (2-2) last week, with a school-record 28 solo tackles in a 20-14 win over Calloway County.
Quotables: “McCracken has been playing the best football around these past couple of weeks. They are well coaches and have proven they can put up big numbers on the ground and in the air. Our goal is to play fundamentally sound against all of their sets and not give up the big play. If we can do that and establish drives on offense we can have some success. This game starts our district run and our players know the importance of this game and the ones to come.” — Marshall County coach Evan Merrick
“Marshall County is our most important game of the season not only because it is our next game but also because it is the opening game of our district slate. They have an offensive scheme that requires you to play extremely disciplined defensively and can expose us if we do not do our jobs. Defensively, they have a scheme that is fundamentally sound and their players play with good technique.” — McCracken County coach Marc Clark
Prediction: McCracken by 35
Paducah Tilghman vs. Calloway County
When: Friday, 7
Where: McRight Field, Paducah
Notable: Jayden Freeman was a star for the Blue Tornado (3-1) last week in its win over Graves County. He ran 19 times for 280 yards and four touchdowns. For the Lakers (0-4), Kanyon Franklin ran 15 times for 72 yards and both his team’s touchdowns in its loss to Marshall County last week.
Quotable: “Calloway County is a much better team than their record indicates. They have one of the top receivers in the region, but have had some unfortunate injuries at quarterback. We are a little more beat up than usual, but are starting to develop an identity as a team, and I’m excited with how our defense played last week. Hopefully we can fire on all cylinders tomorrow night, come away healthy, and improve on some of our areas of weakness.” — Tilghman coach Jonathan Smith
Prediction: Tilghman by 35
Trigg County vs. Murray
When: Friday, 7
Where: Perdue Field, Cadiz
Notable: Cam Jordan completed six of his eight passes for 177 yards, three touchdowns and an interception for the Tigers (4-0) in a 46-8 win over Ballard Memorial last week. For the Tigers (3-1), quarterback Hunter Utley was 28-of-41 for 314 yards and a touchdown, while receiver Tommy Waldrop had 11 of those catches for 138 yards and no touchdowns in a 21-7 win over Union County.
Quotable: “We are looking forward to a very tough matchup this week. We’re their homecoming so that’s probably a little more motivation for them. Both schools are looking at this as a statement game. They are 4-0 and look very sharp across the board. We are still moving a couple pieces around but still comes down to the same ole thing fundamentals. Obviously we need to clean up the penalties for this big game and slow down Cam, which is a whole added challenge. Mid-season form is where you can be at this point but we really want to see ourselves ahead of that. It should be a great matchup and the two schools haven’t played in a long time which adds a little extra to it.” — Murray coach Keith Hodge
Prediction: Trigg by 7
Other statewide games to watch
Caldwell County vs. Union County
When: Friday, 7
Where: Tiger Stadium, Princeton
Prediction: Caldwell by 28
Louisville Ballard vs. Louisville Fern Creek
When: Friday, 7
Where: Cardinal Stadium, University of Louisville
Prediction: Ballard by 21
Bowling Green vs. Louisville St. Xavier
When: 7, Friday
Where: Bowling Green High School
Prediction: St. X by 21