MAYFIELD – There are losses, and then there are losses.
Marshall County coach Ron Barnard was almost giddy Thursday night after his team fell 42-14 to Graves County at Eagle Stadium.
“My babies battled,” Barnard said. “I’m proud of ‘em.”
His word choice not only showed affection for his players. “Babies” – underclassmen, promoted from junior varsity status as Barnard promised after the lackluster showing against Daviess County – carried the load for the Marshals.
Six days earlier, Barnard was frustrated – and fuming – after a loss Oct.19 at Daviess County.
The opponent scored the same number of points in each of the Marshals’ last two regular season games. The Marshals scored only one more touchdown against Graves County than they scored against Daviess County.
But the effort last week was markedly different; hence, their coach’s different attitude. Barnard went with his young players and they showed the fire in their bellies that he has been looking for.
“I don’t know if, at any one time, we had more than three drivers’ licenses on the field,” Barnard said. “Had a lot of permits, and some moped permits.”
Among the young players was sophomore Cole Barnard, the coach’s son, who threw for 196 yards and two touchdowns in his first varsity start at quarterback.
And some upperclassmen showed up to do a day’s work. A senior, Josh Joyce, caught both of Barnard’s TD passes. He and another senior, Noah Steele, combined for 11 receptions and 187 yards.
“I can’t say enough about [number] 10. Geez Louise, Noah Steele – wow,” Barnard said.
“And you see guys like [sophomore] Marty Holbrook and Nolan Nichols that just left everything on the field, their bodies were just spent. When you’re havin’ guys giving that kind of effort, man, they’ve bought in.”
The Marshals were outperformed by a talented team and eventually wore down. But, unlike the team’s performance the week before, they put up a fight.
The Marshals took the opening kickoff and stalled after three plays. Graves then took Brock Herndon’s punt to the 35 and proceeded to methodically march downfield, ripping off first-down yardage on three straight plays and capping a 65-yard drive with an 18-yard TD run by quarterback Peyton Puckett.
From that 7-0 deficit at the 7:34 mark, Marshall County put together an 80-yard drive of its own to tie the score at 7-7 with 4:16 left in the opening period.
Barnard started the drive with two incomplete passes. But on third-and-10, the lanky youngster hit the steady Steele for a 15-yard gainer and the Marshals were rolling. Four plays later, Barnard hit Joyce in stride over the middle for a 47-yard touchdown strike.
Graves regained the lead at 14-7 with 2:13 to go in the first quarter, on a 14-yard run by Zach Katzman. After the defenses forced three straight punts, Graves scored again to go up 21-7 on a 43-yard run by Joey Marshall with 8:04 left before halftime.
The Marshals finished the first half by scoring again, this time on a 10-yard completion from Barnard to Joyce at the 5:06 mark, then forced Graves to punt with 1:22 to go.
On the ensuing possession, Barnard was flushed from the pocket and fumbled, but Marshall recovered the loose ball. A fake punt failed to get a first down to keep the drive going, but Marshall stopped Graves at the 30 and with time running out, Steele fought through the Eagle protection to block a 47-yard field goal attempt.
The underdog Marshals went into halftime trailing 21-14.
There would be no second-half miracle. Graves put three more TDs on the scoreboard to finish out the season 8-2.
The margin of victory was not misleading. But the statistics underscored the Marshals’ effort. In falling to a highly regarded opponent, Marshall County moved the ball for 341 yards of offense, 145 on the ground and 196 by passing. They matched Graves’ 18 first downs. One interception by Barnard was the only turnover for either team and Marshall finished the game with only two penalties for 13 yards.
The Marshals take a 5-5 record into a state playoff encounter against Eastern in Louisville Friday.