DRAFFENVILLE – Seneca brought a lowly 2-8 record into the state football playoffs.
The Redhawks also brought a talented ensemble of young players who played as if unaware of their unimpressive record, and hammered out a 6-0 victory over Marshall County at Carroll Traylor Stadium Friday night.
Seneca returns home to face fellow Louisville-area school Butler – which won a 41-7 decision at home against Seneca on Oct. 21 – in the second round of the playoffs. Marshall County ends its season with a 6-5 record.
“Our defense played exceptionally well,” Marshals coach Ron Barnard said. “We held them to one touchdown, and that was off a turnover.”
A head-banging struggle saw the two teams combine for only 344 yards total offense. Seneca had the upper hand, getting 122 yards on 38 rushes and 63 yards through the air. Seneca running back Kyle Labroi was the workhorse, carrying 22 times and gaining 100 yards.
Marshall County netted 77 yards on the ground and 82 through the air.
Barnard, who had warned before the game that Seneca was much better than its record would suggest, knew his team would be facing a physically superior opponent.
“They looked big on paper,” he said. “And they looked even bigger in person.”
Still, the Redhawks struggled just as mightily to try to put points on the board against the Marshall County defense.
Labroi scored the game’s only points on a one-yard plunge into the Marshals end zone with 1:18 remaining in the third quarter. The conversion kick was no good.
The touchdown capped a short drive that began after Seneca’s Avery Stepp intercepted a Chase Clark pass near midfield and returned it to the Marshall 33. Labroi almost made it a one-play drive, scampering around right end for a 32-yard gain, the biggest rushing play of the evening, and Seneca had a first-and-goal.
Still, the TD didn’t come easily. The Marshal defense stopped Cody Mills and then Redhawk quarterback Lincoln Dover fumbled the snap, but recovered it to keep the threat alive with no loss of ground.
On the next snap, Labroi went into the end zone.
In three remaining possessions before time expired, the Marshals had to punt, then suffered their fourth turnover of the night on a mishandled exchange between quarterback Andrew Bennett and running back Brian Dueker, turned the ball over on downs and managed four plays, including a 20-yard pass from Bennett to receiver Logan Taylor, before running out of time.
The three times the Marshals got close to the Seneca end zone, turnovers snuffed out their chance to score.
“It was our own mistakes” that proved the difference, Barnard said.
After a bad snap to punter Lucas Jackson set the Marshals up at the Seneca 36, Clark threw downfield to Casey White, but the pass was over White’s head and cornerback Darryl Keels intercepted and returned it to the 32.
Just before halftime, Clark tried to drive the Marshals from their own 33 to a go-ahead score. A 16-yard completion to Noah Steele moved the ball to near midfield with 31.1 seconds left and Clark scrambled for nine yards to the Seneca 42 with 22.1 left, then got three more yards for a first down at the 39, and Marshall County called time out with 14.6 ticks remaining.
But Clark’s pass over the middle was intercepted by Seneca’s Michael Chase, and the Redhawks were content to go to halftime tied at 0-0.
On the opening possession of the second half, Seneca ground more than nine minutes off the clock, converting two fourth-and-one plays, before finally stalling at the Marshal 32. But on the first play of Marshall County’s first possession of the second half, Clark threw his third interception, this one to Aldwin Jackson, setting up Seneca’s touchdown drive.
Seneca had only one turnover, an interception by Steele after Taylor tipped the ball away from intended receiver David Keen at the Marshall County nine.
“You can’t have four turnovers in any game, especially a playoff game against a good team,” Barnard said.