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GRC ends 10-year playoff drought, downs Madison Central 35-20

The George Rogers Clark Cardinals hosted the first round of the football playoffs Friday night as the Madison Central Indians came to town.

Temperatures were below freezing by the time Azariah Israel fielded the opening kickoff, but the cold, nor the Indians, couldn’t stop the Cards out of the gate.

Quarterback Jordan Manley led his offense down the field on the first three possessions for the Cardinals, all three resulting in touchdowns.

The first was a 52-yard strike to Dylan Gibson, then a 42-yard touchdown to Dawson Gay and finally back to Gibson for a 12-yard touchdown.

The Cards were up 21-0 within eight minutes of the opening kickoff and had the ball, looking to go up another score early. But the Indians weren’t ready to quit.

“We were focused at the start,” head coach Oliver Lucas said. “But then we got lackadaisical, thinking it was going to be easy because it looked easy at first. Then we lost focused.”

A Cardinal fumble deep in their own territory set Madison Central up perfectly to score their first points of the night as the first quarter came to a close.

The next Cardinal drive saw the first Cardinal punt, and it gave the Indians the ball at midfield. They were able to capitalize once again to cut it to a one-possession game heading into the locker room with GRC leading 21-14.

The Indians struck again coming out of the break and elected to try to take the lead with a two-point attempt, but the Cardinals defense held them from converting to hold onto a 21-20 lead.

Israel, the Cardinals’ offensive engine, finally got going on the ensuing drive. He took the kickoff past midfield then broke off a nearly 20-yard run to set him up for a 29-yard touchdown to push the Cardinals’ lead to 28-20.

The fourth quarter saw both teams turn the ball over on downs on their first possessions, but the Indians picked up some momentum on their second drive of the final quarter. But a snap went over their quarterback’s head and forced them into a third-and-35 at their own 5-yard line with three minutes to play.

GRC got the ball back and began the drive that could ice the game. Gibson continued his superb night and picked up a huge first down for the Cardinals on a third-and-4. Israel capped off the drive with a 24-yard touchdown, his second of the night.

Down 35-20, the Indians got the ball back with 1:30 remaining. Fighting for their season, Madison Central began forcing throws. GRC’s Aquevion Lewis was able to seal the win for the Cardinals with an interception.

The win gave the program their first postseason victory since 2009 and the first for Lucas in his time in Winchester.

“It means a lot to me because it means a lot to the kids,” Lucas said. “I have more rings than I have fingers and toes, so I’m okay, but I want to see the kids do well and I want to see the community benefit.”

The team will host Oldham County in a rematch of the most exciting game of the season next Friday at 7:30 at Cardinal Stadium.