Chirico celebrates 100th victory as GRC tops Montgomery County

Published 12:02 pm Monday, September 25, 2023

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Any time George Rogers Clark High School plays Montgomery County High School, it’s sure to draw a crowd.

After Friday night’s matchup in Mt. Sterling, there were plenty of reasons to celebrate.

Not only did the Cardinals bounce back from a loss one week earlier to defeat the Indians 45-14, but head coach Joe Chirico – who previously coached at Paintsville and led the Tigers to a KHSAA Class 1A State Championship in 2020 – won his 100th career game as a head coach.

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“I’m emotional about this because [I] never in my wildest dreams thought that this would be a reality. It means a lot to me [and] my family,” said Chirico, addressing his team after the contest. “[100] wins [don’t] happen without you guys.”

Entering Friday’s contest, the Cards looked to score a touchdown early after being held to three points in their previous contest against Ballard.

They wasted little time finding the scoreboard.

Following an opening kickoff return past the 50-yard line, quarterback Sam Clements connected with wide receiver Haddon Cecil on a 47-yard touchdown pass for a 7-0 lead just twelve seconds into the contest.

The Indians’ offense, on their opening drive, was able to move the ball deep into the Cards’ territory.

However, with his first of two big fourth-down plays on defense, defensive back Mahni John tackled a Montgomery County receiver at the two-yard line on 4th and goal to return possession to the Cards.

With the score still 7-0 early in the 2nd quarter, the Indians again went for a conversion on 4th down.

This time, John stepped in front of a receiver and intercepted the pass, returning it 37 yards to the Montgomery County 38-yard line.

“I was just trusting my skill, what I’ve been doing in practice, [and] the repetition,” John said. “I just went with my instincts. It was really just us playing our coverage. I was just in the perfect spot at the right time.”

With the Cards’ Bryce Chestnut out for the game due to injury, they were able to find running success from an unlikely candidate.

Senior Ashton Tackett, typically the team’s starting center, lined up as a running back near the goal line and scored on a 6-yard touchdown run with 6:47 remaining for a 14-0 Cards’ lead.

“Coach Ray put in a new formation, and he had me [as] the halfback. It was pretty neat [and] pretty cool to get a touchdown,” Tackett said. “In practice, the first two times we [practiced] it, I actually dropped the ball, but it worked to success!”

The Cards scored another touchdown with just under four minutes remaining when Clements connected with another freshman receiver, Trey Davis, on a 16-yard pass.

Finally, after a long run by Hayden Heath helped set up the Cardinals, kicker Clay Turley – who went six-for-six on extra points and delivered several touchbacks on kickoffs – came through with a 43-yard field goal as time expired for a 24-0 halftime lead.

The Indians looked to come out of halftime with a score and some momentum to begin the second half.

However, Davis – also playing defense – had other plans.

The freshman scored his second touchdown, intercepting a pass and returning it 40 yards for a 31-0 Cards’ lead.

“It feels great,” Davis said, noting it was a rivalry game. “It could [not] have been a better time for me to score my first touchdown.”

While the Indians would get scores on a 50-yard touchdown pass from QB Jacob Gumm to receiver Braylon Nester and a 44-yard touchdown run by Elijah Ebanks, the Cards would build a 45-7 lead with two scores in between via an 11-yard touchdown run and a 23-yard touchdown reception by Heath.

“We came out and gave them a few…points right from the beginning, and that put us behind the eight-ball,” said Montgomery County head coach Michael Caba.

The Cards (4-2) will not play this Friday and are on a bye week.