MIDDLETOWN, Ky. – Pulling the upset of Louisville Eastern, ranked eighth in the Courier-Journal’s Litkenhous ratings in comparison to Marshall County’s lowly No.29, was always going to be a long shot.
The Eagles made short work of any chance the Marshals might have hoped for, scoring four times in the first quarter and rolling on to a 49-7 victory at Eastern Field Friday night in the first round of the state football playoffs.
The Eagles got a 47-yard interception return by Aaron Nix, a 20-yard run by Ryan Watkins and a pair of short runs, three and six yards, by Tre Harrison to take a 28-0 lead in the first period.
They added three more TDs in the second period, on an 11-yard run by Cody Wolfe, a seven-yard run by Harrison and a one-yard run by Nix.
The Marshals got the only tally of the second half, with senior Noah Steele hauling in a pass from quarterback Clay Allen in the end zone as time ran out in the third period.
“We just weren’t aggressive enough,” coach Ron Barnard said. “We tried to feel our way too much. You can’t do that against a team like Eastern. You have to be the aggressor. I don’t know if that was in our team’s personality.”
There was no great discrepancy between yards gained, first downs or other offensive statistics, largely because Eastern played most of the game in Marshall County territory and did not have far to go to get to the end zone.
Added to that, the game was barely under way before a late-season specter reared its ugly head. Sophomore Cole Barnard’s first pass was picked off by Eastern’s Aaron Nix, who raced 47 yards to the goal line for the first score of the game.
It was a grim reminder of two weeks ago, when Daviess County rode three interceptions – two of them coming in the first quarter – to a victory that sent the Marshals to Louisville for the opening round of the playoffs. Daviess returned two interceptions for touchdowns.
After Nix’s TD, the Eastern offense did the rest of the scoring Friday night, but they used three more interceptions – another by Barnard and two by Allen, a junior – to set themselves up in short-field situations.
What Marshal mistakes didn’t do, Eastern’s defense took care of in the first half. After the early interception, the Marshals went three downs and punt, three downs and punt and one down and intercept on their next three possessions.
The Marshals ended the first period with the third interception, thrown by Allen and picked off by Shane Fields.
On the bright side, that pick came after Allen drove the team 33 yards, picking up two first downs, including one on an 18-yard gainer from Allen to Nolan Nichols that got the ball to within three yards of midfield.
The first chink in the Eagles’ armor appeared on the offensive unit’s third possession, when they stalled after five plays and punted. That drive started at the Eastern 30 after a flag for an illegal block in the back negated a punt return by Fields into Marshal territory.
But after the punt, the Eagles stole another pass, this one coming off a ball that deflected off the intended receiver, Nichols, into the hands of Jaylen Johnson, who returned it to the Marshal six. That led to Harrison’s second of three short-run TDs.
The second quarter saw Eastern’s talented, athletic quarterback, Wolfe, mix deft passes with elusive running, including an 11-yard scamper that made it 35-0 after Michael Bryar kicked the fifth of his seven extra points.
Harrison added his third tally and Nix got another touchdown, this one on a one-yard run, to make it 49-0 with 2:23 left before halftime.
The Marshals showed some spunk in the second half, holding Eastern to no yards after a five-yard penalty moved them back to their own 15 to start. That set up Marshall County’s scoring drive, a 48-yard march that was punctuated by yellow flags, including a personal foul against Eastern’s Johnson and a pair of five-yard assessments against the Marshals.
But Allen was two for three on the drive, including a 14-yard throw to Nichols and 25-yard gainer to Steele. Then Nichols, after being caught for a five-yard loss on a second-and-goal play from the two, battled for the lost yardage plus two more to make it fourth-and-goal at the three.
After an Eastern time-out, with the clock running out, Allen found Steele in the end zone on the fourth-down play. Brock Herndon kicked the extra point.
Eastern’s final possession ended in a missed 45-yard field goal by Bryar. The Marshals then drove across midfield on 11 plays, converting a fourth-and-one and a fourth-and-four and surviving a fumble, which Dalton Riley recovered, and ending the game on a six-yard run by Nichols that moved the ball to the Eastern 47.
Nichols had a solid game, carrying 18 times for 80 yards and catching two passes fro 33 yards. Allen connected on five of 13 throws for 68 yards and the TD to Steele.
Harrison was the star for Eastern, with six carries for 45 yards and the trio of touchdowns, plus four receptions for 71 yards. Wolfe completed six of 14 passes with no interceptions and 90 yards and rushed five times for 53 yards and a TD, his 10th rushing touchdown of the season.
The Marshals finish the season 5-6. Eastern, 9-2, moves on to play another District 1 team, Henderson County, which trounced Fern Creek 38-0 at home Friday night.