DRAFFENVILLE – Marshall County battled Graves County on even terms for roughly two-and-a-half quarters.
Graves dominated the last 14 minutes, scoring three unanswered touchdowns to win 49-28 in high school football action Friday night at Carroll Traylor Stadium.
It was the eighth straight win for the Eagles over the Marshals and sends the Marshals into the playoffs with a 1-9 record. Graves finishes the regular season 8-2.
Marshals coach Ron Barnard credited his team with playing hard, but noted the 21-7 disadvantage of the second half.
“When we needed to answer, we didn’t have the ability to answer,” Barnard said.
The Marshals also had no answer for Graves running back Cody Crider, who carried the ball 29 times for 337 yards and five touchdowns.
Marshall County’s Nolan Nichols had a blockbuster performance of his own, going 243 yards on 30 carries and scoring two TDs. The effort pushed Nichols over the 1,000-yard mark for the season, with 1,047 yards and nine rushing touchdowns.
The senior workhorse also had an interception and seven solo tackles on defense.
Marshall stopped Graves on the opening possession of the game and then took a 6-0 lead, driving 63 yards on seven plays with Nichols going the final 2 yards at the 9:17 mark.
Graves tied the game almost immediately, with Crider breaking loose for a 74-yard run on the first snap of the ensuing possession. Hector Garcia nailed the first of seven conversion kicks to give Graves a 7-6 edge.
Marshall kept the offensive dominance going with an 11-play, 89-yard drive to once again take the lead on the next series. The drive was capped by a three-yard scoring pass from Clay Allen to Austin Spicer, the sixth TD catch of the season for Spicer. Then Allen found Lane Roberts in the end zone for the two-point conversion and a 14-7 lead at the 5:09 mark.
Graves tied it quickly on a 26-yard pass from Peyton Puckett to Jake Williams, and then the defenses asserted themselves, with Marshall County going three-and-out and then Graves coming up short on a fourth-and-2 effort, stalling after seven plays at the Marshall 3.
The Eagles then went back on top 21-14 when Dustin Vessell picked off an Allen pass over the middle at the 35 yard line and took it to the end zone.
Marshall County drove from its 20 to the Graves 23, utilizing a fake punt on a fourth-and-3 near midfield to pick up 20 yards on a direct snap to Cole Barnard. But the drive stalled and Graves regained possession, then marched 67 yards in six plays. Crider’s second TD made it 28-14.
Marshall County cut the lead to seven points with a 10-play, 67-yard drive of its own, with Nichols getting the touchdown on a 23-yard run, and with just under two minutes before halftime, it was 28-21.
Nichols came up with an interception of a Puckett pass during the final minute, but the Marshals could not cover the 82 yards separating them for a tying score before the half ended.
Marshall County took the kickoff to open the second half and drove 80 yards to tie the game at 28-28 on a 23-yard pass from Allen to Roberts at the 7:33 mark.
The Marshals then had Graves on the ropes when a high snap sailed over Puckett’s head and Joseph Middleman covered the fumble to give the ball back to Marshall County on the first play of Graves’ next possession.
But the Marshals could not advance the ball from the Graves 35, and Graves began to pull away, with all three of its second-half touchdowns coming on runs by Crider.
The Eagles stepped up the intensity of their defense by blitzing.
“They started getting to Clay a little bit and that’s what messed up a lot of our rhythm,” Barnard said. “Every time we tried to throw it, they were hassling Clay, and we just couldn’t get anything going.”
Spicer, the Marshals’ leading receiver, caught eight passes for 102 yards and Roberts caught three for 69 yards.
On defense, Iverson Ware had 11 tackles, six of them solo.