McNairy Central Bobcats 45, Hardin County Tigers 31
A big crowd crammed into Don Whitaker Stadium on the campus of the McNairy Central Bobcats Friday evening saw cloudy and rainy weather conditions turn off clear and cooler just a few minutes before kickoff. The MCHS Bobcat Band played our national anthem and it was time for the 2019 high school football season to get under way.
Wearing white uniforms with maroon numerals, Tiger Captains Rivers Hunt, Eli Williams, Briley Gooch and C.J. Murrell met the Bobcat captains and game officials at midfield for the pregame coin toss which was won by MCHS with the Bobcats deferring their choice until the second half.
A high kickoff was returned by Trey Scruggs to his own 23. The Tiger offense started quickly as Rivers Hunt fired a quick slant to Eli Williams for 12 yards and a first down. The pair quickly moved the chains again two plays later on a quick out for 11 yards. Hunt found Kaydin Pope for a gain of 12 and another first down. John Whitley then carried for 12 yards and moved the chains to the Bobcat 30 yard line. A couple of plays later Rivers Hunt evaded three or four tacklers and took the pigskin to the MC 18 with a fresh set of downs. Whitley carried twice for a net gain of five yards before a third down pass sailed out of the end zone. On fourth and five Hunt fired a back-shoulder pass to Eli Williams near the five yard line and the senior receiver took it into the end zone for a 13-yard Tiger touchdown pass. Junior Cooper Harris sent the extra point kick through the uprights to put HC up 7-0 with 7:01 left in the opening quarter.
Senior Marc Gutierrez sent a squib kickoff to the Bobcat 49. Junior Bryce Davis had a three-yard tackle for loss. After a six-yard pass completion the McNairy quarterback was flushed form the pocket and thrown for no gain to force a fourth down punt. Eli Williams made a fair catch at the Tiger 25 as HC started their second possession with 4:53 on the clock. Trey Scruggs dashed around right end for six yards but the next two plays lost yardage and HCHS was forced to punt the football away. Seth Garner bounced his kick all the way to the Bobcat 26 at the 3:02 mark of the first period.
A sweep picked up two yards with Kaydin Pope making the stop. Two plays later the Bobcat QB ran a draw for 18 yards and a first down. A short pass gained a couple with Keiren Siner making a nice open-field tackle. A run for seven was the final play of the first quarter as the Tigers led 7-0. A short run moved the chains with the following snap resulting in a big gain to the Hardin County 32. After an incomplete pass the Tigers sent in several defensive substitutes. HC seemed to be confused and unsure prior to the snap and it resulted in a busted coverage that allowed a Bobcat receiver to get wide open behind the Tiger defense for a 32-yard touchdown pass. The point after try was perfect and it was 7-7 with 10:56 on the game clock.
A line drive kickoff was dropped and picked up by Whitley as he was stopped at the Tiger 16. Rivers Hunt rifled a play-action pass to Kaydin Pope for 11 yards. After a couple of running plays gained seven yards, Hunt fired a quick out that Eli Williams made a great catch on for a first down at the Tiger 42. Rivers then found Hudson Wolfe wide open and hit him with the pass for a huge gain and a first down at the Bobcat 30. Three plays resulted in a net gain of three yards and the ball went over on downs at the MC 27 after a fourth-down pass was incomplete with 7:33 left in the first half.
On first down the Bobcat quarterback was forced out of the pocket and gained five yards before being blasted to the ground by Briley Gooch. Two plays later a shovel pass sweep advanced the ball to the MC 46 with a first down. After a three yard loss the Bobcat quarterback found his tight end wide open over the middle for a big gain to the HC 41 yard line. Three plays later MCHS faced a third down and five situation. The pass was completed but a big hit by Dakota Milliken dislodged the ball with B.B. Bumphus making the recovery to give HCHS possession at their own 30 with 4:25 till halftime.
The Tigers went for the big play on the first snap and Hunt threw a deep pass up the Tiger sideline that was wide open and looked like a sure touchdown but the Tiger receiver was unable to haul it in and the ball fell harmlessly to the ground. A couple of plays later momentum changed as Hardin County fumbled the football back to the home team at the Tiger 44 with 3:01 on the clock.
A long pass on play one was almost intercepted but fell to the grass. The Bobcats followed with a screen pass that ended up going for a gain of 41 yards to the HCHS three yard line. A three yard touchdown pass gave McNairy the lead on the next play. The extra point kick was up and good to make the new score 14-7.
Trey Scruggs returned the ensuing kickoff to the HC 22 yard line. Four plays later Seth Garner punted the pigskin to the MC 32 yard line with 90 seconds remaining in the first half. The Big Maroon “D” came up with a stop and punted the ball to Eli Williams at the Hardin County 28.
The Tigers used their big-strike offense to perfection as Hunt found Hudson Wolfe with a seam pass that resulted in a 72-yard Tiger touchdown. The HC extra-point kick was no good to leave the Bobcats with a 14-13 lead with 47 seconds left in the half.
MCHS had a nice kickoff return to the HCHS 46 yard line. After a pass was almost intercepted the Bobcats hit a pass play to the Tiger 28. The MC quarterback was sacked for a six yard loss by Briley Gooch. Two plays later another complete pass took the ball to the HC 12 with six seconds left on the clock. The Bobcats then kicked a 30 yard field goal and soon left for the break with a 17-13 advantage.
The Pride and the McNairy Central bands performed on the field as they began work on their field performances.
Gutierrez kicked off for the Tigers to start the second half with the Bobcats taking over at their own 36. Two running plays resulted in a gain of 20 yards and first down at the Tiger 44. The drive then bogged down with a penalty. A screen pass was stopped for no gain on a big hit by Noah Stricklin. Bryce Davis followed with a sack for a loss of five. MC lined up to punt but the snap was high and the Tigers swarmed him at the Bobcat 26 to take possession with 8:25 left in the third.
Senior Keiren Siner picked up 10 yards on a sweep to the left. Rivers Hunt kept for three yards before hitting Hudson Wolfe with a swing pass that the big junior took all the way down to the goal line before diving into the end zone with a 13-yard Tiger touchdown reception. The Hardin County extra point try failed once again to leave the Tigers with a 19-17 lead at the 7:08 mark.
A hard kickoff on the ground bounced to the Bobcat 31 yard line. A run on the first play went for a gain of 13. A pass that was ruled complete that was hotly disputed by the HC sideline resulted in another first down. A long run was then called back with a holding call before a reverse gained 17 yards. The very next play saw a Bobcat ball carrier sprint 34 yards untouched into the Tiger end zone for a touchdown. The point after kick was perfect to put the Bobcats up 24-19 with 5:06 remaining in the third.
Trey Scruggs brought the kickoff back out to his own 35. The Hardin County sideline began to be filled up with Tiger players battling cramps and being stretched out by coaches, trainers and other players. It would continue to be a huge problem for the remainder of the contest. HCHS was unable to move the football and the cramps resulted in long snapper Hudson Wolfe having to leave the field momentarily. Punter Seth Garner was forced to move to long snapper and Titus Larson came on to punt. The snap was a little high and by the time the ball was kicked it was under extreme pressure. The ball was partially blocked and sailed almost straight up into the air. The players on the field were trying to figure out where the ball went and it finally came down in the arms of a Bobcat player who caught it and took advantage of the confusion to sprint into the end zone for a huge 25-yard return for a MCHS touchdown. The point after split the uprights and suddenly the Bobcats led 31-19 with 3:52 left in the third.
A long, high kickoff went through the Tiger end zone, resulting in a touchback to give the Tigers the ball at their own 20. Once again the Big Maroon struck like lightning as Rivers Hunt hit Kaydin Pope with a quick pass in the seam. The sophomore exploded all the way to the Bobcat end zone for an 80-yard Tiger touchdown to bring HC right back into the game. A two-point play was stopped short to leave McNairy up 31-25 at the 3:28 mark. Both defenses appeared to be worn out with a little over one quarter to play.
MC took over at their own 26 following the HC kickoff. A run around end picked up seven with Pope making the hit. Another Bobcat run went for 10 and a first down. MCHS kept the ball on the ground with a six yard gain as Pope made another stop. A five-yard run then moved the chains with C.J. Murrell making the stop. The Tigers struggled to stop the run for most of the evening and the Bobcats soon came up with a 26-yard scamper for a fresh set of downs. The third quarter drew to a close with the Bobcats clinging to a 31-25 lead. McNairy converted a fourth-down run and soon punched it in with a nine-yard touchdown run. MCHS attempted a two-point play that was stopped to leave them with a 37-25 lead with 11:13 to play.
The Bobcat kickoff pinned the Tigers back at their own 19. Hunt and Williams hooked up for a 20-yard completion with the next play moving the chains again on a 13-yard pass from Hunt to Siner. Two plays later Hunt made a clutch play as he scooped up an errant snap and took it for a first down. Three plays later Rivers took off for another gain to the Bobcat 13 and a first down. The Tigers kept the ball on the ground and eventually moved the ball inside the Bobcat three yard line with a first and goal. Two plays later John Whitley powered in for a Tiger touchdown. A two-point pass play looked to be open but was tipped away by a Bobcat defender at the last second to leave McNairy with a 37-31 advantage with 5:51 still to play in the game.
The Tigers attempted an onside kick but the Bobcats recovered at their own 46 yard line. A false start penalty, a run stopped for no gain, an incomplete pass and a play thrown for a loss put them in a punting situation with a fourth down and 23. A short punt sent the pigskin to the Hardin County 44 with 4:15 remaining in the game, plenty of time for the Tigers to drive down and score.
Two Hunt runs and a short pass to Kaydin Pope moved the chains at the Bobcat 41. Hunt dropped back on the next play looking for receivers down the field. While Rivers eluded the rush and was moving in the pocket the football suddenly came loose and was on the ground. Incredibly for the second time in the game a loose pigskin bounced perfectly for the Bobcats and a defender scooped up the loose ball and sprinted almost 50 yards for a back-breaking touchdown. The Bobcats were also successful on a two-point pass play to extend their lead to 45-31 with 2:39 on the game clock.
Keiren Siner had a nice return of the kickoff out to the HC 37 yard line. Hunt found Williams with a sizable gain pass play to get the ball to the Bobcat 35. The drive would stall their and a fourth down play gave the Bobcats the football back with just over one minute left. The Bobcats were able to run the clock out and celebrate the big season-opening rivalry win.
First Downs: HCHS 17 MCHS 15 Team rushing: 32 carries for 148 yards and one touchdown. Individual rushing: Rivers Hunt 17 carries for 88 yards; John Whitley 10 for 35 and 1 touchdown; Trey Scruggs 4 for 15; Keiren Siner 1 for 10. Passing: Rivers Hunt 18 of 28 for 345 yards and 4 touchdowns. Receiving: Hudson Wolfe 3 catches for 116 yards and 2 touchdowns; Eli Williams 7 catches for 104 and 1 touchdown; Kaydin Pope 4 catches for 106 yards and 1 touchdown; Keiren Siner 2 for 12; John Whitley 2 for 7. Kicking: Cooper Harris 1 of 3 on extra points. Tackles: C.J. Murrell 7.5; Kaydin Pope 7; Keiren Siner 4; Bryce Davis, Briley Gooch 3.5; Carter Scott, Marcelo Malabanan 3; Noah Stricklin, Christian White, Chase Townley 2.5; Parker Stanfill, Seth Garner 2; John Whitley, B.B. Bumphus, Eli Slaten 1.5; Carson Cummings 1; Andrew Vanhoose, Caleb Born .5. Tackles for loss: Gooch 2; Murrell, Davis, Stricklin 1. Sacks: Davis, Gooch 1. Caused fumble: Dakota Milliken 1. Fumble recovered: B.B. Bumphus. Pass break-ups: Pope, Williams 1.
“While we were not happy with the outcome there were certainly some things we did very well,” said Tiger Head Coach Matthew Smith. “Consistency in our overall play is what we are stressing this week in practice. In order to defeat good teams we simply must be more consistent. I thought we competed hard throughout the game at McNairy. We just have to eliminate the critical mistakes we made at crucial times Friday night. We are also working hard to improve some things in our kicking game and special teams play.”