Cards fend off furious Henry Clay comeback

Published 10:05 am Monday, September 11, 2023

The George Rogers Clark Cardinals football team outscored their opponent 22-0 in the second quarter of Friday night’s game, but their final two scores in the fourth quarter were perhaps the most valuable.

The Cards (3-1) took control midway through the first half of their contest against the Henry Clay Blue Devils (0-4) and weathered the storm of an aggressive comeback attempt to prevail 48-27.

“You’ve got to keep fighting,” said GRC head coach Joe Chirico. “Fall back on your training. Fall back on the hard work you put in, and trust the system.”

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After receiving the opening kickoff, the Cards wasted little time finding the scoreboard as senior running back Bryce Chestnut finished the initial drive with a four-yard touchdown run, giving GRC a 6-0 lead with 9:22 remaining in the first quarter after the two-point conversion attempt was unsuccessful.

However, the Blue Devils would respond with a drive culminating with a thirty-yard touchdown pass from junior Rohan Taylor to senior Walden Cole to give Henry Clay a 7-6 lead.

Over the next several minutes, each team traded turnovers to keep the other from scoring – including an interception by Cards’ junior Mahni John as the Blue Devils neared the end zone that was subsequently returned to midfield.

Getting the second of his three touchdowns of the day, Chestnut gave the Cards a 14-7 lead with 10:22 remaining in the second quarter following an eleven-yard touchdown run and subsequent two-point conversion carry.

In a big momentum swing, the Cards scored once more just two minutes later.

Senior linebacker Hayden Heath intercepted a pass and – spinning away from a would-be tackler and following blockers to the endzone – returned it fifty-six yards for a score and a 21-7 lead with 8:22 remaining before halftime.

The Cards’ defense, which has scored two touchdowns in four games, forced four turnovers in the opening half and came up with three interceptions.

“We were all focused. We all were talking, communicating, [and] doing team things”, said John. “When one person gets an [interception], it’s like, ‘Okay, I need one. Let me do my job more [and] let me get in my spot for it.’”

John, who also plays wide receiver, scored his first touchdown on a seven-yard run with 4:50 remaining, and the Cards led 28-7 going into halftime.

Yet, while the Blue Devils’ offense may have been quiet in the second quarter, it woke up to begin the second half.

Henry Clay culminated their second drive of the third quarter with a two-yard touchdown run from Henry Mackie for a 28-13 with 3:40 left.

Although the Cards’ Bryce Chestnut would give GRC back a three-touchdown lead late in the third quarter for a 34-13 advantage, Henry Clay still had life.

The Blue Devils benefited from a short field as GRC kicked off from its 15-yard line following a pair of penalties, scoring on an eight-yard touchdown pass from Taylor to senior Landon Merriman.

Then, after a Cards’ turnover, they narrowed their deficit to 34-27 with still 9:11 remaining in the fourth quarter when Taylor and Merriman connected once more for a thirty-six-yard touchdown pass.

“It says a lot. It shows that we got some grit”, said Henry Clay head coach Demetrius Gay.

Undaunted, the Cards’ offense went down the field on the next possession, ending with QB Sam Clements rushing for a four-yard touchdown to give them a 41-27 advantage with 6:25 remaining.

After the Cards’ defense created a turnover on downs, the offense put the game away when Clements connected with John on a twenty-two-yard touchdown pass aided by a block from junior Yeremiah Israel.

“Our coach [said], ‘Go in there and put it away’,” said Chestnut. “We took that into realization.”

The Cards (3-1) continue play with their homecoming matchup at Cardinal Stadium on Friday, Sept. 15, against Ballard (2-2) at 7:30 p.m.