MORGANFIELD — Was it the cold weather? A hangover from an eye-opening loss at Mayfield last week? A lack of focus and energy?
Whatever it was, something went terribly, terribly wrong for Paducah Tilghman football on Friday night, as the Blue Tornado unloaded from the bus, promptly committed five turnovers, and got back on the bus with a 49-7 Class 3A, District 1 loss to Union County.
Five turnovers from Tilghman, combined with an unofficial 244 yards rushing with three touchdowns from senior wrestling star Corithian Seales-Portee, spelled Big Blue’s doom...and pushed Union County to its first win of what’s been a wild ride of a 2020 season.
“You can’t turn the ball over five times against any team,” noted Tilghman coach Jonathan Smith. “I don’t care who they are. I think turnovers are obviously the No. 1 problem, but I don’t think we were ready to play. That’s what that boils down to, and that just comes down to the head coach, if you just want my honest opinion.
“I thought we had a good game plan. I thought we had one of the best weeks of practice that we’ve had in a very long time. We had some very physical practices this week. Obviously, I was upset coming off of last week’s loss, and there were some things that I had to address with both the players and the coaches. I addressed them, and I felt like the kids met the challenge Monday through Thursday. But obviously, we stepped out onto the field tonight...”
And struggled, in all phases.
Three lost fumbles (two on rushes, one on kick return) and two interceptions from freshman Jack James loom large, with Union County’s Kris Hughes putting an emphatic exclamation point on the game with a 46-yard return of a pick for a touchdown, and a 48-0 lead with 4:11 left in the third quarter.
But truth be told, the game was over at halftime, with the Braves up 35-0.
James was picked off on the fourth play of the game, and two plays later, Seales-Portee rumbled for a 24-yard touchdown right up the middle.
On Union County’s second drive, a 59-yard gain right up the middle from Hughes would set up a field goal opportunity — one the Braves turned into a fake pass from Ben Shreve to Hughes for a 9-yard touchdown and a 13-0 advantage.
Braves quarterback Cannon Sheffer added to Tilghman’s misery with 11:35 left in the first half, as he easily scampered up the middle for a 29-yard score and a 19-0 lead.
Tilghman’s biggest play, a 49-yard pass from James to Darionte Ragsdale, would lead to a field goal chance from Shelby Nickal: a rare 23-yard miss.
Union County would answer with an 11-play drive, including nine rushes from Seales-Portee, that culminated in a 24-yard score from the senior and a 25-0 edge.
Tilghman would fumble the ensuing kickoff, and Seales-Portee...who had more than 200 yards rushing by halftime...punched it in on 3rd-and-6 for a 33-0 lead.
“He’s physical, and the thing about it is, it’s not just about him being physical...but his feet just don’t stop moving,” Smith added. “When you’ve got four or five guys trying to wrap him up, and his feet are still moving, and you don’t take him to the ground, he’s going to wiggle out of it. He’s a heckuva back, and he’s probably the toughest running back that we’ve seen all year, in terms of just his ability to make one guy miss and then everyone else he’ll make a path out of.”
Still slightly within reach, the Braves would remove any doubt, when Sheffer hit Shreve for a 24-yard score on fourth down.
On the very next play, Hughes had his pick-six ... putting even more ice on a chilly, chilly night.
Perhaps an overwhelming favorite heading into the game, Tilghman hadn’t lost to Union County since a 21-13 defeat in Morganfield on Oct. 9, 2009.
The Blue Tornado were without star safety Camdon Marshall, too, as he wasn’t dressed for the game with an undisclosed injury.
UNION COUNTY 49, PADUCAH TILGHMAN 7
Paducah Tilghman 0 0 0 7 — 7
Union County 13 22 14 0 — 49
UC: Corithian Seales-Portee 24 rush (Chris Sabino PAT), 7-0, 10:06 1Q
UC: Kris Hughes 9 pass from Ben Shreve (PAT missed), 13-0, 8:05 1Q
UC: Cannon Sheffer 29 rush (2 pt. fails), 19-0, 11:35 2Q
UC: Corithian Seales-Portee 26 rush (Sheffer 2 pt. pass to Hughes), 27-0, 2:39 2Q
UC: Corithian Seales-Portee 6 rush (Sheffer 2 pt. pass to Hughes), 35-0, 0:22 2Q
UC: Ben Shreve 24 pass from Cannon Sheffer (Chris Sabino PAT), 42-0, 5:25 3Q
UC: Kris Hughes 46 INT TD (Chris Sabino PAT), 49-0, 4:11 3Q
PT: Darionte Ragsdale 27 pass from Jack James (Shelby Nickal PAT), 49-7, 11:24 4Q
PT Jack James 9-14-94-1T-2INT; UC Cannon Sheffer 3-6-30-1T
PT Malachi Rider 6-33, Ky Barner 2-8; UC Corithian Seales-Portee 27-244-3, Kris Hughes 5-84, Cannon Sheffer 3-23-1
PT Darionte Ragsdale 3-91-1; UC Kris Hughes 1-9-1, Ben Shreve 1-24-1
PT 3-3; UC 1-4
Follow Marlowe on Twitter @dreamarlowe85, call him (270) 575-8661, or email him at emarlowe @paducahsun.com.