Tanner McPherson’s interception near the goal line helped Grayson County stave off a furious Carroll County rally Friday in a 21-17 win over the Cavaliers in Independence.
Grayson County (1-1) led 21-10 heading into the fourth quarter, but Zach Taylor’s 13-yard touchdown catch from Brennan “Pokey” Vaught brought the Cavs to within 21-17 with 9:22 to play. Carroll (0-2) got the ball back at its own 8 with 5:42 left and methodically drove down the field, getting to the Blue Devils’ 11 yard line in the final minute. On 3rd and 10, Vaught scrambled and heaved a potential game-winning pass near the end zone, but McPherson, who contributed to a potent Grayson passing attack, stepped in front of the ball and picked it off with 25.7 seconds left to help the Blue Devils escape with the win.
While it was obviously a tough loss to swallow, Carroll County head coach Eddie Sloss was extremely happy with the way his Cavaliers fought back. Things looked dire with Carroll down 21-10 and Grayson having its way through the air. While the Blue Devils were not able to run the ball against the Cavalier defense, quarterback Jake Hollingsworth simply threw the ball up and let the tall receiving tandem of McPherson and Seth Phillips pluck it out of the air. For the game Phillips caught five passes for 228 yards, including three touchdowns, while McPherson hauled in four receptions for 98 yards.
“At halftime we wanted to get somebody in their face and try to mess up the timing. Of course the quarterback is just one, two, three, get rid of the ball and throw it high to a guy and let them get a rebound. It happened all game,” Sloss said. “I told the guys they didn’t get beat. I said the timing beat us. I’m proud of our effort. We defended those guys about as well as you could.”
While the Carroll defense struggled mightily against Grayson’s aerial attack, the Cavaliers made their own hay on the offensive end running the ball. Four different Carroll players rushed for at least 80 yards as the team ran for 341 yards on 57 carries. Still, the Cavs managed just 10 points on six trips inside the Grayson 25, with separate drives ending in a fumble, missed field goal, on downs, and the final interception.
“I don’t believe we could work any harder in practice to prepare for this. It is what it is. I am proud of their effort,” Sloss said. “Offensively I think we moved the ball well. There were times we would just fumble the ball or a penalty or something (would) make us have a third and long situation. We would have a good first down and then second down we’d fumble or something to mess up the (drive).”
Carroll ran the ball down Grayson’s throat on the opening drive of the game but had to settle for a 35-yard Logan Cole field goal for a 3-0 lead. After stopping Grayson on three plays, the Blue Devils caught a Flea Market-sized break when the ensuing punt hit the foot of a Cavalier lineman, allowing Grayson to keep possession. Then on 3rd and 11, Hollingsworth lofted a high pass to Phillips, who pulled it in over a leaping Cavalier defender en route to a 52-yard touchdown and 7-3 lead.
Carroll drove to the Grayson 7 midway through the second quarter after Logan Trudell busted a 47-yard run to the Blue Devils’ 8. The Cavs fumbled two plays later, however, and Grayson took over at its own 1. Then on 3rd and 9 at the Blue Devils 2, Hollingsworth again threw up a prayer that Phillips caught over the head of a Cavalier en route to a 98-yard touchdown. Instead of going up 10-7, Carroll now trailed 14-3 with 6:28 left in the first half.
The score stayed that way until Vaught kept an option play and sprinted 76 yards past the Grayson defense, cutting the deficit to 14-10 with 1:53 left in the third. But after Hollingsworth connected on passes of 52 and 22 yards to Phillips and McPherson, respectively, the Grayson QB found Phillips again, this time on a 19-yard touchdown pass for a 21-10 lead.
“Defensively I thought my guys played lights out. They shut down the running game. There was no jet sweep, there was no power, no counter.” Sloss said. “But like I told my guys, I felt like three guys beat us tonight. And really that doesn’t happen in football unless you’ve got an Allen Iverson or a Michael Vick on your team. “
Still, Carroll showed it had plenty of life left. On 4th and 9 from the Grayson 13, Vaught scrambled before hooking up with Zach Taylor on a 13-yard pass in the corner of the end zone to cut it to 21-17 with 9:22 left. After forcing a Blue Devils punt, Carroll drove 81 yards to the Grayson 11 with a minute left. Behind a loud crowd on the visitors’ side, the Cavs appeared to have all the momentum until McPherson preserved the win with the interception at the goal line.
“Even though we didn’t win I am tickled we played so well and I just hope the guys can build on that,” Sloss said. “It was the first time I heard noise behind me in the stands. That was nice. It has been like a cemetery, but that was nice back there.”
Logan Trudell and Collin Wells both rushed for 88 yards to lead the Carroll offense, while Vaught finished with 82 yards on the ground and Tristen Ousley gained 80 yards on 16 rushes. The Cavaliers hope to rebound Friday night at home against Patrick County.
Carroll 3 0 7 7 – 17
Grayson 7 7 7 0 – 21
CC – Cole 35 field goal
GC – S. Phillips 52 pass from Hollingsworth (Wyatt kick)
GC – S. Phillips 98 pass from Hollingsworth (Wyatt kick)
CC – B. Vaught 76 run (Cole kick)
GC – S. Phillips 19 pass from Hollingsworth (Wyatt kick)
CC – Taylor 13 pass from B. Vaught (Cole kick)
First Downs 19 8
Rushes-Yards 57-341 26-14
Passing 4-10-1 9-17-0
Passing Yards 37 326
Fumbles-Lost 5-2 1-0
Penalties-Yards 5-60 7-60
Possession 30:18 17:42
RUSHING – Wells 13-88, Trudell 12-88, Vaught 10-82, Ousley 16-80, Cole 1-9, C. Vaught 2-3, Busick 1-minus 1, Team 2-minus 4.
PASSING – B. Vaught 4-10-1 37 yds.
RECEIVING – Taylor 3-35, Wells 1-2.
RUSHING –Bane 6-21, S. Phillips 1-3, Cassell 1-2, Osborne 1-1, Brown 3-0, Peoples 1-minus 3, Hollingsworth 2-minus 9.
PASSING – Hollingsworth 9-16-0 326 yds., McPherson 0-1-0 0 yds.
RECEIVING – S. Phillips 5-228, McPherson 4-98.
Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on Twitter@AWorrellTCN