Tuesday, October 25, 2016 - Updated: 10:23 AM
By David Green
OWENSBORO – It was no-holds-barred, run-and-gun football.
Marshall County won an offensive shootout with Apollo 42-35, earning the final berth in the Class 5A, District 1 playoffs, on a crisp Friday night at Apollo’s Eagle Stadium.
“It was tooth and nail, back and forth, and I felt that when we got that stop and got the score and got the lead, it was our ball game to win,” Marshals Coach Evan Merrick said. “It was just a matter of finishing. It took until the very end to do that, but that’s sometimes our style.”
The Marshals could not contain Eagles quarterback Brandon Alexander, who ran for 155 yards and four touchdowns and threw for another TD.
But neither could Apollo do much to hinder Marshall County junior Skyler Smith, who threw four touchdown passes to three different receivers, gaining a total of 242 yards on a 13-for-21 performance. Tristan Prange caught four passes for 125 yards and two TDs.
Nor could the Eagles slow Marshal runner Mason Green, a lynchpin of the offense, and short-yardage specialist Brandon Raye. Both running backs scored a TD, and Green ran for the 2-point conversion after his score.
Green carried 28 times for 204 yards, almost identical to his 28 carries for 205 yards a week earlier against Trigg County. The junior went past the 1,000-yard mark against Trigg and has 1,272 going into Friday night’s regular-season finale against Hopkinsville.
The Marshals broke a 35-35 tie with Raye’s 2-yard rumble with 5:28 to go in the game. Apollo added to its own miseries on the conversion kick by running over Marshall placekicker Daniel Gardner. The PAT kick was good, and a 15-yard penalty was assessed against Apollo on the ensuing kickoff.
But the kickoff went out of bounds, and after a personal foul was called against the Marshals, Apollo elected to have the Marshals re-kick. Gardner put the kick in the end zone, and Apollo started on its own 20.
The Eagles mounted a lengthy drive consisting of 11 plays but gaining only 49 yards before it ended on a fourth-down incompletion. Alexander’s Hail Mary throw downfield was just out of reach of receiver Peyton Peters, who had the ball skip off his fingertips as he dived for the catch inside the 20 yard line.
Marshall County took over with 2:02 to go and was able to run out the clock without even making a third-down snap.
Offensively, the Marshals started off with a stumble. The defense stuffed Apollo on its first possession, dumping Alexander for back-to-back 6-yard losses and leaving the Eagles with a fourth-and-27 at their own 15.
Marshall County then marched to the 7, but ended up with a fourth-and-4 at the 9 and opted for a 27-yard field goal. But the usually reliable Gardner misfired, and the Marshals came up empty.
Alexander promptly drove the Eagles 80 yards to the first score of the game, which came on a 2-yard run by the Apollo quarterback. Wesley Knott kicked the first of five extra points for a 7-0 lead.
The first quarter ended that way, but on the first snap of the second period, Smith hit Lucas Forsythe for a 33-yard TD. A bad snap cost the Marshals the extra point and Apollo still led, 7-6.
Two possessions later, Green ran 25 yards for a TD that put the Marshals ahead, and then ran for the conversion to make up for the lost PAT, and the Marshals led 14-7.
But Apollo got a big return from Peters, and on the first snap, on a double-reverse, flea-flicker pitch, Alexander – unable to find an open receiver – scrambled 32 yards to the end zone, and the half ended in a 14-14 deadlock.
The third quarter proved to be explosive, with 28 points scored by the two teams in ping-pong fashion.
After the Marshals coughed up the ball on the second play of the first drive after intermission, Apollo quickly took a 21-14 lead on Alexander’s second rushing TD, from 7 yards out.
Marshall County responded with a 16-yard strike over the middle from Smith to Grant Utley.
Right away, the Eagles retook the lead, on a 40-yard TD pass from Alexander to Gatlin Humphrey.
After an exchange of punts, the Marshals tied the score at 28-all on the first of two TD passes from Smith to Prange, this one from 49 yards out.
The quarter ended with Apollo driving toward a go-ahead score, which came with 10:14 left in the game on a 40-yard scamper down the right sideline by Alexander.
Just over a minute later, at the 9:09 mark, Smith threw to Prange for a score that tied the game at 35-35. The play covered 55 yards.
Apollo could not get a first down on its next possession, and Marshall County ended up with great field position at the Apollo 48 with 7:25 to play.
Green had runs of 32 yards and 1 yard, then was stopped just short of the line of scrimmage on a second-down snap. Smith hit Utley over the middle, and the receiver rambled 14 yards to the 2 before he was stopped, but there was no stopping the powerful Raye on the first-and-goal run.
“We knew how big of a game this would, coming on the road in this fashion, late in the season and putting together a game like this,” Merrick said. “Fighting back and forth for four quarters and coming out on the front side of this, our kids are well deserving. They endured a lot to get to this point.”
THIS WEEK: The Marshals close out regular-season play at home against Hopkinsville. The Class 4A Tigers are 8-1 after a 62-6 romp over Hopkins County Central Friday.
Hopkinsville has wins this year over Marshal opponents Graves County (44-22) and Calloway County (56-0), and its only loss was to Christian County (19-16).