Cards stymie Maroons on the gridiron

Published 3:19 pm Tuesday, September 5, 2023

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You might hear two sayings around sports: a team can’t score if they don’t have the ball, and “bend but don’t break” defense.

The George Rogers Clark Cardinals utilized both on Friday night.

In a matchup against Pulaski County (1-2), the Cards (2-1) held the ball for all but 18 seconds of the first fifteen minutes of the second half and forced a pair of turnovers in the red zone during the first half to help propel them to a 30-7 victory.

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“I’m very proud of our team,” said George Rogers Clark Head Football Coach Joe Chirico. “We rallied our guys, and we just kept [working] on it.”

Receiving the ball first, the Maroons – who scored 47 points one week earlier in a victory over Danville – looked to take an early lead.

However, GRC senior linebacker Hayden Heath – who nearly intercepted a pass two plays earlier – would not be denied a second time as he came up with the interception and returned it into Cardinals’ territory.

With 6:07 remaining in the first quarter, senior running back Bryce Chestnut gave the crowd reason to cheer as he finished off a thirteen-yard touchdown run with a dive into the endzone to help provide the Cards with a 7-0 lead.

Following penalties, Pulaski County was forced back to their two-yard line after the ensuing kickoff.

Not one to give up on offense, they finished a long drive with a twenty-seven-yard touchdown pass from sophomore QB Zak Anderson to junior receiver Ethan Idlewine.

After the Cards failed to score, the Maroons appeared to be on the verge of taking their first lead.

Yet, with their running back making his way to the end zone, several Cards banded together to help strip the ball loose.

Freshman defensive back Trey Davis – who also doubles as a wide receiver – recovered the ball in the endzone for a touchback.

The Cards would score again in the first half on an eight-yard touchdown run from junior QB Sam Clements.

Pulaski County appeared likely to score once more as they got the ball to the Cards’ fifteen-yard line, but Heath recovered a fumble that fellow senior linebacker Ty Miller forced.

“It was very important. Anytime you can either [have the opponent] turn it over or make them punt, it’s a big thing for us,” Chirico said. “I’m very proud of the work our guys are putting in and what they’re doing.”

Opening the second half with a 14-7 lead, the Cards would go on a long scoring drive that featured a pair of fourth-down conversions on completions from Clements to junior receiver Mahni John.

With 3:37 remaining in the third quarter, Clements delivered points on a one-yard touchdown run that – along with a Clay Turley extra point – made the score 21-7 in the Cards’ favor.

After penalties backed up the Maroons on their ensuing possession, sophomore linebacker T.J. Hooten sacked Anderson in the endzone on the second play, tallying a two-point safety that gave GRC a 23-7 advantage with 3:19 left in the third quarter.

Another long scoring drive – this time featuring a fourth-down completion from Clements to Davis – ended when junior wide receiver Yeremiah Israel made his lone catch of the game and scored for an eleven-yard touchdown reception.

Having scored with 8:43 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Cards held the ball for all but eighteen seconds of the first fifteen minutes of the second half.

“It’s a good team win. I’m proud of my [teammates] for performing the way they did,” Clements said.

Though the Maroons would move the ball once more past the fifty-yard line, the Cards’ defense stiffened again and forced an incompletion on fourth down.

Statistically, Clements completed 16 of 19 passes for 183 yards with one TD and an interception while leading the team in rushing via 17 carries for 104 yards and two touchdowns.

Chestnut finished with 20 carries for 100 yards and one touchdown.

John led the team in receptions with six for 51 yards, while Davis had three catches totaling 58 yards.

Miller led the team defensively with eleven tackles.

The team’s performance earned the praise of Pulaski County head coach John L. Hines.

“You [have] to give credit to GRC. They played well [and] had a good game plan,” Hines said. “GRC’s got a good team.”

The Cards (2-1) will be in Lexington on Friday, Sept. 8, for a 7:30 p.m. matchup against Henry Clay High School (0-3).