DRAFFENVILLE – There was a leaping, twisting, acrobatic catch by Cody Gregory, and several solid receptions by the hero of last week’s come-from-behind victory over Muhlenberg County, Noah Steele.
But those diamonds were conspicuous in a game when catching the football proved difficult, and the single effective weapon Marshall County had was minimized.
That was all Henderson County needed to cruise to a 35-6 victory, clinching the Class 6A District 1 championship for the fourth straight year, at Carroll Traylor Stadium Friday night.
“Man, those dropped balls killed us,” Marshals coach Ron Barnard said, alluding to a 14-for-33 passing statistic for junior quarterback Clay Allen. “It wasn’t just one kid. Everybody was dropping passes except maybe 10.”
That was Steele, who had three receptions for 45 yards.
Placekicker Brock Herndon, a soccer standout who decided to play football as well in his senior season, accounted for all the Marshals’ scoring with a pair of fourth-quarter field goals.
Linebacker Casey White had six tackles and seven assists and Jamie Gilland had five solo hits.
Other than that, it was a gloomy senior night for the Marshals against the team ranked seventh in the state by the Associated Press. But in some ways, it was a better effort than the score indicated.
The Colonels, who averaged 242 yards rushing per game in their first six contests – including a 107-yard effort in a game halted before halftime because of weather conditions – barely eclipsed the 200-yard mark, gaining 203 on 31 carries.
Highly regarded running back Keileen Chappell, who came into Friday night’s game with 846 yards and nine rushing touchdowns, got 102 of those yards and added two more TDs to his year’s resume.
Quarterback Hunter Comer was superb, getting 156 yards on a super-efficient 5-for-9 passing display, throwing two TD passes and rushing for another score.
But Henderson didn’t exactly gallop up and down the field against a Marshal defense that prides itself on defending the run.
They’ve galloped on a lot of people,” Barnard said.
This game started out that way, as Henderson took the opening kickoff and returned it to the Marshall 44, then marched the rest of the way in five plays, with Chappell going the last four yards to open the scoring at the 9:17 mark. Nicholas Gregory kicked the first of five conversions for a 7-0 lead.
However, the Colonels misfired on their next two possessions, giving up the ball on a fumble and a three-and-out punt.
The Marshals were unable to take advantage, and Henderson then mounted a five-play, 55-yard drive that was sustained by a 14-yard gain on a fake punt by James Bickers. Tight end Brennan Farley caught a 15-yard pass from Comer with just under 10 minutes left in the second period for a 14-0 advantage at halftime.
Henderson then scored on its first two possessions of the third quarter to build a 28-0 lead. Comer tallied on a five-yard run and then hit Cade Wilke with a 42-yard scoring strike.
The Marshals rose up to mount a threat as the third period neared its end. Gregory returned the kickoff to the 42 and a drive fueled by passes from Allen to Steele (13 yards) and Nolan Nichols (four yards) moved the ball to the Henderson 35. Another pass to Steele, running a fly route down the left sideline, went over his outstretched hands. Steele appeared to get his feet tangled with the Colonel defender, but no penalty was called.
That stalled the drive, but Herndon’s punt made contact with a Henderson player and the Marshals covered the live ball at the 13.
Five plays later, on a first-and-goal from the three, Nichols took a pitch and ground out one tough yard as the quarter ended.
After walking the distance of the field, the Marshals got one more yard on a carry by Tycen Henry, but two attempts by Allen were stopped by the Colonel defense, and Henderson took over at inside its own one.
After two plays netted only two yards, Comer hit Farley in stride for a 42-yard gainer. Chappell got 20 more yards on the next snap, Comer kept and ran to the two, and Chappell took it in for a 35-0 lead with 8:05 left.
Barnard said the pass to Farley, who caught four passes for 100 yards, was expected.
During a time out, the Marshals coach said, “I come out and tell ‘em, ‘They’re gonna run play action. We’ve got to cover the tight end.’ And we double-cover the tight end, and they still come up with the play.”
The 99-yard drive put an exclamation point on the victory but did not subdue the Marshals, who put together a 66-yard drive that was propelled by two pass interference penalties against the Colonels and the highlight-reel catch by Gregory which gave the Marshals a first down at the Henderson 10.
The drive stalled after a loss back to the 15, and Herndon came on for the first of his two field goals, this one from 32 yards out with 5:30 left to play.
The final field goal, Herndon’s third of the year, was from 30 yards with 45 seconds left.
The finish was a positive, Barnard said.
“Very easily, right there at the end, our kids could’ve given up,” he said.