LEXINGTON — Twenty degrees warmer. Fifty points closer.
Combine the heat and humidity causing cramps to run rampant among key players with a proud, time-honored rival that wouldn’t go away, and Scott County faced its first adversity of the football season Friday night at Ishmael Stadium.
Thanks to a gutsy circling of the wagons by that short-handed defense and the ability to churn out a few first downs when they were needed most, SC passed the litmus test with a 28-19 win at Lafayette.
“Great game. They have a lot of pride, and we had dumb luck,” SC coach Jim McKee. “Our corners and halfbacks spent the majority of the game on the sideline, either from injury or cramps or whatever. So we had to have some guys step up, and they did.”
Two Cardinals who overcame those challenges, perhaps not surprisingly due to their well-documented hunger to be on the field, are the two who suffered the most debilitating injuries a year ago.
Philip Garner had another monster game at fullback with 32 carries, 168 yards, two touchdowns and a series of clock-draining, punishing pushes to help SC run out the final four minutes.
Sam Daniel shared Garner’s role in building the Cards’ hefty early lead with a 40-yard interception return for a touchdown. Later, his bone-jarring hits broke up multiple Lafayette passes and stifled promising drives.
“It’s a good game for us to be in,” Daniel, who led SC with 10 tackles, said. “Obviously we want to come out and win by 50, but to have something like that, that’s good.”
Lafayette answered Garner’s second TD run with a 70-yard touchdown strike from Tanner Pace to Oumar Toure with 1:10 remaining in the third quarter.
The Generals (0-2) peculiarly kicked instead of going for two, making it a nine-point game.
Perhaps they sensed the direction in which the night was headed, however, because they had two prime red zone opportunities in the fourth quarter. The first came when SC went for the first down on fourth-and-4 from its own 32. Garner was stood up a yard shy.
“That was stupid to go for it right there, but we have to be able to knock people off the ball,” McKee said. “I was a little concerned we weren’t knocking them off the ball the way I wanted to. We got fatigued, for whatever reason.”
Alex Patton’s sack of Pace and a crunching shot by Daniel to punctuate an incomplete pass kept that gamble from costing the Cards.
Another sack by Tasian Stakelin and third-down pressure from Colton Combs stymied the next Lafayette drive. Jaxon Saylor pressured a field goal attempt that wasn’t close, and Garner and Montago Jones combined to run out the clock.
“No matter how (down) Lafayette is or how good we are, we know coming into this game, it’s always a battle,” Garner said.
Lafayette kept Scott County’s offense relatively quiet after two systematic touchdown drives to open the game.
Bronson Brown launched that attack with a long run into Generals’ territory on the first play. Jeremy Hamilton took the next hand-off toward the opposite sideline to the 27.
SC fed Lafayette a steady diet of the fullback Garner from there, setting up Brown’s 2-yard score. The Generals blocked the extra-point try.
Hampered by a personal foul on its ensuing kick return, Lafayette went three-and-out, and its punt left SC with a relatively short field.
Garner’s 10-run and flex for the camera in the back of the end zone punctuated a 57-yard march. Jacob Benge’s PAT made it 13-0 with 3:50 remaining in the opening period.
“Sometimes we get up like that, and we stop playing, and we can’t do that,” Garner said. “Obviously they came back, so when we get up like that, we’ve just got to keep pounding. Coach will tell us that, and we’ll get better.”
Pace’s pinpoint passes put Lafayette on the board with its next possession, most notably a 37-yard strike to Austin Anderson.
He completed another quick slant to convert a fourth down and set up first-and-goal at the 9. Pace capped his handiwork with a quarterback sneak for the score,
Lafayette’s Malik Bryant recovered a second-effort fumble by Jones deep in Generals’ territory, but the Cards’ secondary picked up the offense with a takeaway of its own.
And what a gem it was: Daniel, sidelined for the final nine games of last season with a torn ACL, jumped the Generals’ route on a screen into the flat and never broke stride.
“He went on a bubble (screen). We were in man (coverage), so I was just getting on my guy,” Daniel said. “It was right there. He threw it to me.”
Cade McKee hit Micah McClave with a rainbow at the front pylon for two points and a 21-6 lead with 10:16 left in the half.
Pace went back to the skies for a 47-yard strike to Noah Curtsinger. A facemask penalty on the next play put the Cards in an even tougher spot, and Jeawon Kendrick capped the drive with an 8-yard run.
“We knew they were going to throw out of the spread the whole game,” Daniel said. “I think they had a two-back formation maybe twice all night.”
SC’s drive at the end of the half ran out of time after two double-digit runs by Garner, but two Lafayette penalties and a short punt quickly gave the Cards a do-over in the second half.
Garner went 23 yards on that one-play series for a 28-12 advantage.
Daniel and Patton combined for a stop on fourth-and-1 at the SC 12 that looked mundane at the time but proved significant when Lafayette wouldn’t go away.
Eli Locker’s sack cooled the Cards’ next series after penalties created an unmanageable down and distance situation.
“Coach says all the time the Wing-T’s not built for second-and-nine, third-and-nine, fourth-and-nine, and he’s right,” Garner said. “Tonight we got in those situations. Luckily we got bailed out a couple of times.”
SC experienced similarly tough tests from Lafayette in a 31-21 win two years ago and a 58-28 verdict in which the Generals led midway through the third quarter last season.
“We played well defensively and got out of here 2-0,” McKee said. “Football’s not easy.”
It set up another 6A test for the newly minted 5A Cards against Manual in the official home opener next Friday. Both teams will enter undefeated.
Kal Oakes can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.