LANCASTER - Tackling is something that Garrard County works on daily. Chances are Madison Southern and star running back Damien Harris will vouch that those practices work.
The Golden Lions held Harris to just 47 yards on 15 carries before he re-injured his shoulder in the fourth quarter Friday and got key plays from a number of players to win 14-13 Friday night in likely what was their final home game this season.
“Honestly, this is probably the best we have put the whole package together in any game this season,” Garrard coach Mark Scenters said after his team assured itself of a winning season no matter what happens in the playoffs. “That’s a darn good 5A team with some phenomenal athletes. Give our defensive coaches a lot of credit. We really tackled well.”
Garrard (6-4) tackled well enough to limit Madison Southern (6-4) to just 167 total yards and got what turned out to be a game-winning play when freshman Slade Crutchfield blocked a third-quarter extra-point attempt that kept the Lions on top 14-13.
“He’s made some super plays this season,” Scenters said. “He works his tail off, and there might not have been a bigger play in the state of Kentucky tonight than that block. A lot of times teams pick him up when he comes off the edge. Tonight he got free, and his length really helped him get to the ball.”
Junior running back Noah Williams was Garrard’s workhorse on offense, as the Lions rushed 54 times for 212 yards and controlled the clock.
Williams ran 31 times for 141 yards, and his only mistake came on his final attempt when he fumbled deep in Madison Southern territory to give the Eagles a chance to pull out the game in the final minute. However, Garrard forced three straight incompletions and then overwhelmed Eagles quarterback Adam Simpson on fourth down to sack him and preserve the win.
“Noah is continuing to improve. He was disappointed with that fumble, but he’ll learn from that,” Scenters said.
Scenters credited running back Garrett Caudill and receiver J.T. Lyon for leading Williams through holes. Those holes often were on the left side, with 290-pound freshman Davian Logan and 310-pound senior Shae Garcia overpowering defenders. The Garrard coach also noted that Ronnie Saylor and Dylon Worley, both seniors, used quickness to create gaps on the other side along with center Layne Marsee, another senior.
“The place Madison Southern has improved the most is on the offensive and defensive lines, but our guys up front were really good tonight,” Scenters said.
Madison Southern converted two third-down plays and one fourth-down try on a 13-play, 70-yard scoring drive that Harris ended with a 6-yard run for a 7-0 lead with 1 minute, 32 seconds left in period one. Garrard answered with a methodical drive that used 8:48 and took 17 plays to move 64 yards before Jaylen McPherson fought through a would-be tackler on fourth down at the 1-yard line to tie the game with 4:54 left until halftime.
Garrard used the same type of drive to take the lead on the first series of the third quarter. The Lions moved 63 yards in 13 plays and used 5:26 to score on quarterback Billy Abney’s 5-yard jaunt up the middle. Abney kept the drive alive early with a 13-yard completion to Lyon on third-and-13, and Williams carried seven times in the drive. Caudill added his second straight extra-point kick for a 14-7 lead.
Harris, one of the nation’s top-ranked sophomore running backs with a slew of Division I scholarship offers already in hand, had his best run — a 35-yard scamper in which he reversed directions to beat defenders — nullified by an illegal shift penalty on Madison Southern’s next series. However, the Eagles got into the end zone when Simpson collided with a running back in the backfield, spun and found a hole in the Garrard defense to sprint 42 yards to paydirt. That set up Crutchfield’s key block of Garrison Watt’s conversion kick.
Garrard’s ball-control offense and sure-tackling defense never really let Madison Southern threaten in the fourth quarter.
“We were very aware of what their quarterback could do and Coty Russell is another really good back, but nobody is quite like Harris,” Scenters said. “He’s 205 pounds with moves and speed. We had to be very aware of what he was doing, and we had a lot of kids make great plays on defense.”
Now Garrard starts its bid to win a second straight Class AAA regional title when it opens the playoffs this Friday at Russell. A win likely would get the Lions a second-round game at unbeaten Bourbon County, a team they lost to during the season.
“This was huge to secure a winning season for us. It was a good test and a hard-fought, 48-minute game and lets us see how we have to keep fighting to get back where we want to be,” Scenters said.
Madison Southern 7 0 6 0 — 13
Garrard County 0 7 7 0 — 14
Madison Southern — Damien Harris 6 run (Garrison Watts kick), 1:32.
Garrard — Jaylen McPherson 1 run (Garrett Caudill kick), 4:54.
Garrard — Billy Abney 5 run (Caudill kick), 6:34.
Madison Southern — Adam Simpson 42 run (kick blocked), 3:40.
First downs 11 17
Rushes-yards 34-132 54-212
Passing 35 14
Total Net Yards 167 226
Comp-Att-Int 3-11-0 2-5-0
Fumbles-Lost 2-0 1-1
Penalties-Yards 6-46 1-10
RUSHING—Madison Southern, Adam Simpson 6-48, Damien Harris 15-47, Wes Proctor 5-19, Tayler Hagan 4-10, Coty Russell 4-8. Garrard, Noah Williams 31-141, Layne Cumby 3-24, Garrett Caudill 8-19, Mike Redmon 11-13, Jaylan McPherson 5-9, Billy Abney 6-6.
PASSING—Southern, Simpson 3-11-0-35. Garrard, Abney 2-5-0-14.
RECEIVING—Southern, DeVate Linville 2-21, John Williams 1-14. Garrard, J.T. Lyon 1-14, Cumby 1-0.