One week after sputtering through second-half cramps and muscle pulls at Lafayette, Scott County wouldn't settle for anything less than being the fresher team in Friday night's home showdown with DuPont Manual.
Trailing by a missed two-point conversion after a lightning-quick first half, the Cardinals scored on every full series after intermission and raced away with a 48-35 win.
Two long touchdown throws by Cade McKee – 35 yards to Micah McClave and 74 yards to Jeremy Hamilton – gave the Cardinals (3-0) an upper hand on a night when both teams ran, ran and ran some more to open up such opportunities.
Hamilton had a heady score on an offensive fumble recovery earlier in the evening. SC also chalked up an interception return touchdown for the second straight week, this one by Bronson Brown, and the seventh, eighth and ninth touchdowns of the season by relentless fullback Philip Garner (22 carries, 198 yards).
“We played a lot more last week, and then couple that with what we did in practice Tuesday and Wednesday,” SC coach Jim McKee said. “But you can run all the sprints you want. You play your way into shape a little bit. They had five or six guys that played on both sides of the ball some, so it's a big advantage for us.”
Scott County stifled the game's back-and-forth rhythm with three consecutive scores to snap a 28-28 tie.
Brown keyed the go-ahead drive with a 36-yard run into Manual (2-1) territory.
After an offside penalty cut into a third-and-9, Garner gained that first down and then another to set up a scoring run of 13 yards with a matching number of seconds remaining in the third quarter. Brown (12 carries, 105 yards) rushed for the two-point conversion.
Big hits by Sam Daniel on third down and John Hulette on fourth gave SC's defense a much-needed stop on the Crimson's next series.
Garner promptly shredded the secondary for 51 yards, then made it a two-score game with a 1-yard plunge at the 8:08 mark of the fourth.
Manual quarterback Zack Recktenwald and big target Eli Blakey made hay in the flat all evening. The Crimsons went to that well one too many times, however, with Brown's nose for the ball weaving a 50-yard sequel to Daniel's pick-six of a week ago.
“They threw it a couple of times earlier in the game, and I was just studying it,” Brown said. “The next play, I jumped in on it and ran it back. Everybody was getting hyped on our team. It hyped everybody up.”
Recktenwald's 52-yard scoring strike to Blakey cut into the lead with 3:52 left, but Daniel smothered the ensuing onside kick, and SC ran out the clock.
“We ran so hard in practice all week,” senior lineman Peyton Saunders said.
It showed, although Manual was Scott County's physical match for much of the night in the showdown of top-five teams. SC entered the night ranked No. 3 in the state's Associated Press Class 5A media poll, while Manual was No. 5 in 6A.
Manual led 14-12 at the end of an entertaining first half that could have left Scott County wondering what-if on both ends of the spectrum.
“We only stopped ourselves once, and that was on a terrible call by me trying to run play-action on third-and-11,” McKee said. “I've got to do a better job calling that when they don't expect it, like we did later in the game.”
The other bad break: A roughing-the-passer penalty that wiped out an end zone interception by Brown, ultimately leading to a Crimsons' score.
The good moment, or at least a tug of victory from the jaws of defeat: An unintentional “fumblerooski” when Hamilton picked a botched SC exchange off the turf and took it the distance for a 14-yard touchdown.
“Jeremy's doing a great job for us,” Jim McKee said. “It's just a matter of developing that maturity when you're a sophomore.”
SC stopped Manual's opening drive before the game of punch-counterpunch ensued, with Tasian Stakelin and Daniel's combined tackle for loss and Rylan Reed's pass knockdown forcing the punt.
That set up the Cards' own, customary, grind-it-out march to christen the game. Scott County fed Manual a steady and balanced diet of Brown, Hamilton and Garner and set the table for McKee's 35-yard launch to McClave. The extra-point attempt caromed, no good, off the left upright.
Manual's power rushing attack mimicked SC's third-and-short success with its first scoring drive. When Brown's tip-drill grab was nullified, it set up the Crimsons at the Cards' 17.
Two plays later, on the first snap after a first quarter that was over in just 20 minutes of real time, JuWaun Northington rambled 13 yards for the first of his two scores in the second stanza. Patrick Holdener's kick made it 7-6.
Scott County's next possession went three-and-out, and the Cards lost middle linebacker and leading tackler Reed for most of the ensuing series with a left wrist injury.
“It could very well be (broken),” said Reed, who played the rest of the game with a cast to protect his hand. “I saw them driving down the field, and I told Dan (Volpe, trainer) he wasn't taping fast enough.”
The Crimsons took advantage, starting with Recktenwald's scramble to move the chains on third-and-10. Later, he hit Samuel Bissmeyer in the right flat for a hefty gain to the SC 17.
Hamilton's scoop-and-score answered Northington's second score to create the halftime margin.
It turned out to be a double possession, since SC had the second-half option, and Cade McKee's deep dime to Hamilton – the closest defender might have been in Stamping Ground – put SC in front.
“We knew on first and second down, their safeties came screaming up the field, so we knew that play had a really good chance to work,” Cade McKee said.
Manual's Ramont Townsend and Garner had matching runs of 50-plus yards to set up their own short TD plunges after that.
Recktenwald's 42-yard TD throw to Blakey tied it for the final time at 28 with 4:11 left in the third.