Wednesday, November 09, 2016 - Updated: 2:42 PM
By David Green
BOWLING GREEN – Marshall County’s reward for a 5-5 regular season was a playoff meeting with top-ranked and undefeated Bowling Green.
The Purples took care of business as expected, racing to a four-touchdown lead in the first half and cruising to a 43-14 victory in the first round of the Class 5A state playoffs Friday at E.L. Donaldson Stadium.
“They are a first-class team across the board and we knew that going in,” Marshals Coach Evan Merrick said. “Our goal was, you play this game as hard as you can, as long as you can, and you play together. And these guys did that. They know they laid it out there.”
Rather than submitting to the superior team, the Marshals adjusted, relying more on the passing game and less on the running of junior running back Mason Green, who found the going tough against the Bowling Green defense.
“We competed,” Merrick said. “We put them in a situation that they had to make some adjustments, too. We got their best effort early and our kids played through.”
Marshall County ground out a 17-play, 80-yard drive to score a second-quarter touchdown that made it 28-7 with 5:26 left in the first half.
The Marshals added another TD in the fourth period, winning the second-half battle with Bowling Green’s reserves 7-0.
“It’s great to think the last play of our season was a touchdown,” Merrick said of the score with just over a minute left in the game.
“That’s something the seniors can hang on to and our younger players can build on going forward.”
Both touchdowns came on passes by junior quarterback Skyler Smith. The first one was a 9-yard toss on a third-and-goal play, with Lucas Forsythe on the receiving end of his fifth TD this season.
Forsythe had three catches during the drive. One was a 32-yard reception, the biggest play of the long drive, and the other was a second 9-yard catch.
The second TD was a 38-yarder. Smith lofted a pass as Tristan Prange ran down the left sideline, and Prange hauled it in at the goal line. It was Prange’s eighth TD of the season.
Bowling Green scored twice in the first three minutes, their defense aided by a Marshall County fumble and a shanked punt that set the Purples up inside the Marshals 35-yard line on their first two possessions. Both times, it took only two plays to score.
Marshall County then put together its first sustained drive. The Marshals marched to the Purples 25 for a 42-yard field goal try by Daniel Gardner, but Gardner, who had kicked a 42-yarder earlier this season, could not get this one through the uprights.
Bowling Green expanded its lead to 21-0, and then stopped the Marshal offense on three downs. Cameron Thurman boomed a 65-yard punt that pinned Bowling Green at its own 12.
However, on the first snap, a screen pass from quarterback Clark Payne to running back Jamale Carothers resulted in an 88-yard touchdown ramble by Carothers, who will play for the Naval Academy next season.
At that point, Marshall County gutted out the long drive to the end zone. During the drive, Smith completed 8 of 10 passes, including a 15-yarder to Trevor Fisk on a fourth-and-11 play and a 12-yarder to Prange.
Bowling Green quickly made it 35-7, with Nash Hightower taking the ensuing kickoff to the Marshals 38 and Carothers running in from there. It was the second rushing TD of the game for Carothers, who scored on a 36-yard run in the first quarter.
The Marshals stalled just inside midfield and again, Thurman pinned the Purples deep. But Bowling Green drove 93 yards to their sixth TD, which came on a 32-yard pass from Payne to Deangelo Wilson.
Thurman recovered a fumble by Purples reserve quarterback Beau Buchanan early in the second half, but the Marshals could not get past the 49. Then, after a series of short possessions, Marshall County got the ball at their own 43. Green broke loose for a 19-yard gainer, and after an incomplete pass, Smith hit Prange for the final score.
Bowling Green managed only a kickoff return and one snap before time expired.
The Purples rolled up 296 yards passing and 127 yards on only 14 rushing attempts. For Marshall County, Smith completed 17 of 32 passes for 186 yards, with two TDs and no interceptions.
Green, who came into the game with 1,295 yards rushing, ground out 73 tough net yards on 23 carries. Negative figures lowered the team total to 60 yards.
Prange caught six passes for 83 yards and the one TD and Forsythe caught four for 75.
The Marshals end the season with a 5-6 overall mark. Bowling Green moves on to play Christian County, a 57-8 winner over Barren County, on Friday at Bowling Green.