MURRAY — Paducah Tilghman football was going to need a complete game, in all three phases, if it wanted to beat Murray on its historic turf of Ty Holland Stadium on Friday night.
And so, the Blue Tornado obliged.
Senior wideout Brian Thomas erupted for 145 yards receiving and two touchdowns, freshman running back Malachi Rider returned a kickoff 80 yards for a first-quarter touchdown, junior kicker Shelby Nickal drilled a 21-yard field goal in the fourth quarter for a two-score advantage, and Tilghman’s defense came away with four interceptions and two fumble recoveries — all necessary, in order to edge the rough-and-tough Tigers, 31-21.
“All 60,” noted Tilghman coach Jonathan Smith. “All 60. But here’s the thing: in three years of being a head coach, it seems like we’ve won a lot of the games that we were supposed to win, and we’ve struggled to win in a lot of the games like this one — when it came down to a dogfight.
“And we’re such an inexperienced team. I called them out at halftime, and I’m pretty sure everyone heard it. If there was paint to be peeled on the walls, I probably peeled it. But the thing I’m more proud of than anything else, is that our guys are special — because they found a way to win.”
Tilghman’s M.O. under Smith has been to run the ball as emphatically and as brutally as possible, something Murray’s defense did a terrific job erasing. The Blue Tornado brought with them more than 1,000 yards rushing in the first three games of the 2020 campaign, but pulled away with only 52 yards on 28 attempts against the Tigers behind strong efforts from the likes of senior Sebastian Lawrence, junior Devin Lee and linebacker Andrew Orr.
So instead, defense, special teams and passing had to answer the call.
Each time Murray scored, the Blue Tornado responded. After a Tilghman three-and-out, the Tigers opened the game on a 20-play drive (aided by three Tilghman penalties), and nine minutes later took a 6-0 lead on a Rowdy Sokolowski keeper.
Sixteen seconds later, Rider was being lifted by his teammates in the end zone — kick return touchdown in his stat line.
A deep pass interference, and an ensuing 19-yard gash from Sokolowski, set up Murray’s second score, as Sokolowski hit Ashkahn Nabavi on third-and-goal from the Tilghman 7-yard line.
A minute later, Thomas was gliding to his first score, 47 yards on a dart from freshman sensation Jack James.
Murray opened the second half with another terrific drive, capped by a 44-yard gash right up the middle from Brendan Dahncke (schoen!) to give the Tigers a 20-14 advantage.
Tilghman, however, would score the next 17 points for the win. Fifty seconds after Dahncke’s gash, James hit Thomas for a 69-yard slant on third-and-13 —Nickal tying it at 21-all.
Blue Tornado safety/wideout senior star Camdon Marshall then showed why he was moved to his new role, when he made two critical over-the-middle catches (totaling 50 yards) to convert long third downs, eventually leading to a 3-yard Rider touchdown and a 27-21 lead with 4 seconds left in the third frame.
With six minutes left in regulation, a punt would carom off of Dahncke’s chest. Tilghman would recover, and Nickal would ice it with her 21-yarder.
Murray would get strong showings from its running game, as Sokolowski, Dahncke and speedster Charvelle McCallister would combine for more than 180 yards rushing and two scores.
But the turnovers, and miscues on special teams, were the difference.
“I thought we brought it,” noted Murray coach Keith Hodge. “I thought in the first half, we controlled the line really well, did some really good things and kept their offense on the sideline. And that was our goal: to not let their playmakers get out there and do what they do. Because, bottom line? They’re faster than us. They’re faster than anyone else in western Kentucky. Top to bottom, they’re extremely fast. And I thought, other than some big pass plays where we didn’t do our assignment ... I thought we played with them really well.
“In the second half, we just let off that gas. We started playing higher, instead of sticking to our gameplan. And it kind of started showing. We didn’t get as many first downs in the second half, and I thought that really played a big part in it.”
PADUCAH TILGHMAN 31, MURRAY 21
Paducah Tilghman 7 7 14 3 — 31
Murray 7 6 8 0 — 21
MUR: Rowdy Sokolowski 4 run (Caden Cain kick), 7-0, 2:48 1Q
PT: Malachi Rider 80 kickoff return (Shelby Nickal kick), 7-7, 2:32 1Q
MUR: Ashkahn Nabavi 7 pass from Sokolowski (kick failed), 13-7, 5:50 2Q
PT: Brian Thomas 47 pass from Jack James (Nickal kick), 14-13, 4:48 2Q
MUR: Brendan Dahncke 44 run (Sokolowski run), 21-14, 10:37 3Q
PT: Thomas 69 pass from James (Nickal kick), 21-21, 9:48 3Q
PT: Rider 3 run (Nickal kick), 28-21, 0:04 3Q
PT: FG Nickal 21, 31-21, 6:24 4Q
PT: Jack James 15-28-1-217; MUR: Rowdy Sokolowski 4-12-4-35.
PT: LeBran McMullen 3-26, Camdon Marshall 3-9, Malachi Rider 10-8, Jarmorie Sabbs 3-7, Khiland Moss 1-6, Joemari Starks 1-4, Amarion Robinson 1-3, Uriah Virzi 1-1, Brian Thomas 1-0, Jack James 4-(-12); MUR: Brendan Dahncke 13-81, Rowdy Sokolowski 13-58, Charvelle McCallister 18-54.
PT: Brian Thomas 7-145, Camdon Marshall 4-63, Malachi Rider 1-11; MUR: Andrew Orr 1-19, Devin Lee 1-8, Ashkahn Nabavi 1-7, Charvelle McCallister 1-1.
Paducah Tilghman 3-1, Murray 2-2.