LANCASTER - Garrard County coach Mark Scenters was the first to admit it wasn’t the prettiest win he has ever had, but he wasn’t about to give it back.
Tied at 0-0 late in the first half, the Golden Lions gave up an 88-yard touchdown run to trail at the intermission before they rallied with a strong second half to hold off Clay County 15-14 Friday night in the season-opening Farmers National Bank Hall of Fame Bowl at Dyehouse Stadium.
Both teams struggled offensively throughout the first half. Clay managed to reach paydirt with less than a minute to go in the half when Sam Carr, who led all rushers with 170 yards on 23 attempts, broke free from a tackle at the line of scrimmage and raced 88 yards for the only touchdown of the half to give the Tigers a 6-0 advantage.
That only seemed to motivate Garrard, though. The Lions, who had only 100 yards offense the entire first half, took over at their own 47-yard line after a Clay turnover on their first possession of the second half and promptly went 53 yards in eight plays and scored when senior quarterback Billy Abney connected with Jacob Simpson for a 10-yard touchdown strike. Garrett Caudill ran for a two-point conversion, and suddenly Garrard had turned the deficit into an 8-6 advantage.
“After the (Clay) touchdown, our offense had a different attitude,” Scenters said. “I wish I could tell you I had some magic talk at the half, but the bottom line is these kids just have a lot of heart. They were disappointed with the score, but they were not about to get down on themselves. They were partly mad at themselves and a whole lot hurt, but the good thing is they came out mentally ready to play and accepted our challenge the second half. We’re young, but I was proud of the fact they didn’t quit.”
The defense didn’t quit all night, either. Despite giving up the 88-yard touchdown to close the half, they limited the Tigers to just 86 yards on 40 offensive plays the rest of the night, including a goal-line stand to stop three straight plays inside the 3-yard line in the fourth quarter.
“Our defense gave us a really, really good effort tonight,” Scenters said. “I can’t say enough about the way they came through with big plays when we needed them. The goal-line stand was as good as I have seen in a long time.”
None were bigger, though, than a 36-yard interception return for a touchdown from freshman Slade Crutchfield as the fourth period began. His return and Caudill’s extra-point kick gave Garrard a 15-6 cushion with 11 minutes, 34 seconds to play in the game.
“To be honest with you, I blew my coverage on the play,” said Crutchfield, who also had a 50-yard punt to pin Clay on its 1-yard line while subbing for Simpson, who had injured his ankle. “I guess you could say I was in the wrong place at the right time. It did give us some momentum at the time, though.”
That was because the Garrard offense had problems moving the ball against a Clay defense that included Kentucky recruit Jacob Hyde. Abney was able to complete just seven of 14 pass attempts for 65 yards, but in fairness, he also had a lot of passes dropped by his receivers.
“He had to run for his life all night,” Scenters said. He was under a lot of pressure all night, but when you have projected (Division I) players on the other side of the ball, it’s going to be a handful to say the least.”
Abney said it was the typical first-game jitters from his young teammates.
“Our team is young, and you have to accept some passes being dropped, but I thought the team as a whole improved as the game went on,” the senior quarterback said. “I threw some bad passes, too, and we will learn from it and hopefully correct our mistakes beginning next week.”
Clay had one last rally after recovering a Garrard fumble on a punt at the Garrard 20-yard line. Sophomore quarterback Ryan Holland scored on a 1-yard sneak, then connected with Joey Dezarn for a two-point conversion to pull the Tigers to within one point at 15-14, but they could never get the ball back for one last chance.
“This win wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t easy,” Scenters said. “But getting a win the hard way is a lot better than a loss any day. We will take this win and try to improve each week.”
Clay County 0 6 0 8 — 14
Garrard County 0 0 8 7 — 15
Clay — Sam Carr 88 run (kick failed), :32.
Garrard — Jacob Simpson 10 pass from Billy Abney (Garrett Caudill run), 7:09.
Garrard — Slade Crutchfield 36 interception return (Caudill kick), 11:34.
Clay — Ryan Holland 1 run (Joey Dezarn pass from Holland), 3:33.
First downs 7 9
Rushes-yards 33-218 40-117
Passing 46 65
Total Net Yards 264 182
Comp-Att-Int 7-10-1 7-14-0
Fumbles-Lost 4-2 3-2
Penalties-Yards 7-57 5-38
RUSHING—Clay, Sam Carr 23-170, Ryan Holland 9-48, Travis Smith 1-0. Garrard, Noah Williams 19-68, Garrett Caudill 9-30, Billy Abney 8-19, J.T. Lyon 2-7, team 2-minus 7.
PASSING—Clay, Holland 7-10-1-46. Garrard, Abney 7-14-0-65.
RECEIVING—Clay, Smith 4-32, Carr 1-12, Josh Birchfield 1-6, Joey Dezarn 1-minus 4. Garrard, Layne Cumby 2-21, Jacob Simpson 2-19, Caudill 1-13, Jacob Smith 1-7, Lyon 1-5.