DRAFFENVILLE – On a miserable Friday night at Carroll Traylor Stadium, Muhlenberg County threatened to add insult to discomfort. The Mustangs led favored Marshall County 16-13 and time was running out.
In the final minute, the Marshals rose above the cold, wind-driven rain and the Mustangs. With 52.5 seconds left to play, junior quarterback Clay Allen fired an 18-yard pass to senior receiver Noah Steele in the Muhlenberg end zone, and the Marshals prevailed 20-16 in their first district game.
“We needed somebody to stand up, and he did,” coach Ron Barnard said of Steele, who last week caught two passes from Allen to set up a come-from-behind 15-2 victory over Crittenden County.
The evening’s events were as puzzling as the game was dreary and rain-soaked.
The Marshals effectively throttled Muhlenberg’s running game, which had averaged 315 yards per game, and running back Braxton Drake, who had rushed for 136 yards per game. The Mustangs netted only 36 yards on the ground.
Yet, after Marshall County struck early and built a 13-0 lead, Muhlenberg roared from behind to take the lead on three unanswered scores – a 32-yard field goal by Nick Huff just seconds before intermission, a 79-yard touchdown pass from Chase Deason to Drake and a one-yard plunge by Anthony Mason – and led 16-13 with 4:17 left to play in the third quarter.
The TD pass was the Mustangs’ first this season. The reception by Drake was only his third catch this year. Huff’s field goal was his and the team’s first of the season.
And the game started out with Muhlenberg fumbling the kickoff return. Nolan Nichols covered the loose ball at the 18 and on the third play of a short drive, he carried the ball the final two yards for his third rushing touchdown of the year. Brock Herndon kicked the PAT and the Marshals led 7-0 with 10:35 left in the opening quarter.
It was the start of a stellar night for Nichols, who went on to rush for 105 yards and added six solo tackles and another four assists.
The two teams exchanged punts and with 7:39 left before halftime, the Marshals scored again, this time on a three-yard pass from Allen to Dalton Greenfield. Herndon’s kick was low but the Marshals had a 13-0 lead.
The tide began to turn just before halftime. Herndon misfired on a 32-yard field goal, but with only 40 seconds left, Muhlenberg raced downfield and set up the field goal by Huff that made it 13-3 at intermission.
On the Marshals’ first possession of the second half, Maurice Clay picked off a pass inside the Marshal five-yard line, and the Mustangs struck quickly, with the long pass play covering the final 79 yards of a 96-yard drive. A two-point conversion run failed, leaving Marshall County with a 13-9 lead.
On the next possession, however, Clay got his second interception, this one coming near midfield on an option throw by Steele. The Mustangs moved to the one, setting up Mason’s plunge.
Marshall County drove to the Mustang two, but on a fourth-and-goal from the four, Herndon misfired again on a 21-yard field goal try.
The Mustangs punted, the Marshals turned the ball over on downs and Muhlenberg needed only to run out the final 5-1/2 minutes.
But the Marshal defense held and forced a punt with about two minutes to play. The kick was a short one, going out of bounds inside midfield. A catch by Steele and a personal foul penalty against Muhlenberg gave Marshal a first down at the 18 with just over a minute to play.
On first down, Allen found Steele in the end zone.
“It is what it is,” said Barnard, who continues to be puzzled by the tentative play of his offense. “We were lucky to win this game,” he said.