By David Green
DRAFFENVILLE – Success for the Marshall County football team this year is not as simple as 1-2-3. It’s more like 10-20-30.
Scoreless for nearly 42 minutes Friday night, the Marshals got a pair of touchdowns in the final 5:53 to beat Crittenden County 15-2.
“We put 10 and 30 in the game,” coach Ron Barnard said, explaining the late production. “We didn’t want to play ‘em. But we had to. They are our big-play guys, them and 20.”
The numbers refer to block numerals on the jerseys of seniors Noah Steele (10), Casey White (20) and Jamie Gilland (30). All three are banged up, and Barnard has tried to get along without them as much as possible before district play begins.
In the final minutes Friday night, the third-year Marshall coach used two of his big guns and achieved the desired result. The Marshals improved to 4-2, while Crittenden dropped to 3-3.
White was unavailable Friday night, the fourth game out of six this year that the linebacker-tight end has missed since he suffered a deep thigh bruise in pre-season practice.
Steele and Gilland saw limited action, most of it on the defensive side – until the Marshals’ last two possessions.
Late in the game and trailing 2-0, the Marshals got the ball after a Crittenden punt and lined up on their own 20. On the first snap, quarterback Clay Allen found Steele streaking down the left sideline behind the Rocket secondary. The pass hit No. 10 in stride and the play covered 50 yards, to the Crittenden 30, .
On the next snap, another toss to Steele, this one a finesse throw that cleared Rockets defensive back Travis Gilbert as Steele went up behind him, covered 28 yards and set up a first-and-goal at the 2.
Nolan Nichols completed the three-play, 80-yard drive with a plunge into the end zone and the Marshals led 6-2. The margin grew to 8-2 when Allen found Cole Riley open for a two-point conversion.
Crittenden was not finished yet. Quarterback Gilbert drove the Rockets 70 yards, hooking up with Bobby Knox and Grant Gardner on passes, overcoming a 15-yard personal foul penalty that threatened to stall the drive and coming within 10 yards of a touchdown that would have restored their lead.
But on fourth-and-eight from the 10, Gilbert threw over the middle to Gardner, and Gilland batted the pass away, incomplete. The Marshals took over at the 10, with 2:06 left to play.
Nichols picked up 24 yards and moved the ball to the 34. Allen recovered a fumbled snap and then Gilland got two tough yards to the 36.
Then No. 30 got the handoff, dashed toward the left side and then cut upfield. He went 64 yards untouched for the clinching TD, and Brock Herndon’s conversion kick fixed the final score with 34.4 seconds to play.
The Marshal defense pitched a shutout. Crittenden’s only points came when Allen was tackled in the end zone on Marshall County’s opening possession for a safety 54 seconds into the game.
For the rest of the half, all of the third period and the first six minutes of the fourth quarter, the two offenses butted inconsequentially at each other, with Crittenden gaining an edge on the number of plays and the number of yards gained but neither team able to score.
At intermission, Crittenden had rushed for 63 yards, while the Marshals had a negative 10 yards total offense.
“Our defensive line played well,” Barnard said. “But their defensive line absolutely manhandled us. And it’s basically the same kids lining up against each other. Explain that to me.”
The offense, Barnard said, is tentative without the core trio of senior skills players, displaying a lack of confidence that does not show up during the week in practice.
“We’ve got game anxiety,” Barnard said. “I don’t know what it is.”
Steele, who missed his second game of the year last week at Mayfield, showed leadership in deed and in word.
“We came in at halftime and I challenged the locker room,” he said. “I challenged everybody to play harder.”
With the two passes he caught in the fourth quarter, Steele came close to topping the individual stats chart with 78 yards. Gilland edged him with 81 yards on five rushes, plus two catches for 12 more.
The late scores left the home team and home crowd upbeat.
“It feels great,” Steele said. “Good to be back out here on the field. Good to get a W.”