All season long, Scott County’s defense has heard incessantly about its counterparts at Great Crossing, and rightfully so. The Warhawks’ eye-popping numbers and parade of wins against five teams without the Cardinals’ championship tradition didn’t lie.
When you’ve been serving up shutouts and containing Division I-caliber athletes in your own right, however, a chance to stand up and be counted in your rivalry game is doubly or triply motivating.
Three turnovers and two stoppages on downs, all but one deep in Scott County territory, saved Friday night and preserved a perfect record in the rivalry with upstart Great Crossing, 14-6, before an estimated crowd of 5,000 in the third-annual Battle of the Birds.
“I think our defense the whole year has been great,” said SC defensive back Paul Garner, who intercepted a pass intended for GC star Kalib Perry just shy of the end zone in the third quarter. “We always fly to the ball. We’re always working in practice, hitting each other. Coach Monty (McIntyre) does a great job.”
Scott County (3-3), which shut out Lafayette and Paul Laurence Dunbar, also received first-quarter fumble recoveries from Cam Keller and Jasante Harmon in the red zone.
Those stops led to a 43-yard touchdown strike from Andrew Hickey to Taylor Luttrull early in the second quarter, and the Cardinals controlled the tempo and dominated time of possession for the duration.
“It set a big tone,” said senior Jaxon Saylor, who piled up a team-high eight tackles. “We’ve been holding down offenses all season long.”
“Those plays changed the whole momentum of the game,” Garner added. “Their fans went quiet after that.”
Garner’s fourth-down interception atoned for a first-half big gainer by Perry and led to a vintage Scott County drive – 16 plays for 78 yards, taking up more than seven minutes of the third period.
Jeremy Hamilton punched in from three yards out, and Jacob Bange’s kick made it a two-touchdown lead.
“It was very intense for us. They kind of surprised my team and me,” Hamilton said. “We thought we were going to roll over them and blow them out, but they surprised us and hit back when we hit them. Our defense I think is the main key for our team since we don’t have as much size as we used to.”
SC also turned it over twice. Will Frazier fell on the fumble after a strip sack of Hickey in between his team’s first two giveaways.
Later, Peyton Harris’ interception at midfield with 8:26 remaining gave Great Crossing (5-1) a chance to drive for the tying touchdown.
After Perry broke numerous tackles on a catch-and-run to the SC 20, Harmon and Saylor combined to stuff him on a third-down reverse, and the Cardinals’ knocked down Gabe Nichols’ subsequent throw to the end zone.
“Our defense has played really well. We didn’t play any phases well in the opening game. I think since then our defense has gotten better every game,” SC coach Jim McKee said. “They’ve got some weapons on offense over there. We only gave up one score, and that was after we turned the thing over. I think our special teams and our offense stink if you want to know the truth.”
Clock management also cost SC a potential score when the Cardinals ran out of time inside the 10-yard line at the halftime horn. It wasted a drive that occupied more than nine minutes.
It was insurance the Cards could have used when the Warhawks finally scored on their fourth foray into SC territory after the change of ends to start the fourth quarter.
Coulter came back at the end of a wheel route to snag a 31-yarder from Nichols for first-and-goal at the 2.
After a false start penalty, the Warhawks cashed in on another highlight-film TD catch from Zackarrey Kelley despite blanket coverage from Hamilton. Campton Martin blocked the extra point.
“Very physical game. We knew that coming in,” GC coach Ricky Bowling said. “We knew that was going to be a test that we hadn’t had yet. I still feel like our guys battled. We battled until the last play. Our kids did everything we asked them to do all week prepping and in the game tonight.”
GC’s final drive ended on downs deep in its own territory. The Cardinals then had one potential game-clinching first down wiped out by a penalty, but Hamilton rushed for another to touch off the celebration on the “visiting” sideline.
It was a donnybrook dramatically different from Scott County’s prior 72-7 and 49-18 wins and indicative of what we can all probably expect from now on.
“We lost to Franklin County who’s got a high-level SEC tailback. We lost to Bryan Station who will go 9-1. We lost to Frederick Douglass who has eight Division I offer kids. And we have half the number of kids we had three years ago,” McKee said. “Our barometer is not (Great Crossing). It’s not Frederick Douglass, Our barometer is us. This is year 25, and it looks to me like by November we’re going to have our 23rd good football team out of 25 years.”
Montago Jones fueled SC’s clock-chewing approach with 19 carries for 95 yards. Hamilton added 64 yards on seven attempts, and sophomore Ellis Huguely (10 rushes, 53 yards) also made an impact.
Great Crossing struggled to keep pace with its ground game. Aside from Perry’s 27-yard keeper on a fake punt – one that led to his team’s lone score – the Warhawks averaged 2½ yards a pop.
The fumbles didn’t help. One resulted from Luke Valencia’s blindside sack. The other was punched from GC’s grasp on a second-effort play.
“I think we had more than enough opportunities. We shot ourselves in the foot early in the game. You can’t win big-time football games when that happens. It’s about when you face adversity how you respond, and we’ve got to work on that,” Bowling said. “But our defense played well. You hold a team to 14 points, you hope you’re going to win that one.
“We’re fine. We’ll bounce back. We’ll take care of business throughout the rest of the season and hopefully get another shot at them.”
Barring any major upsets going forward, the rivals will meet again in the opening round of the playoffs. And both sides know Friday’s attention to detail won’t be sufficient.
“We had 311 yards. That’s not enough. We turned it over once on the ground, and we turned it over in the air. You can’t turn it over twice and overcome it unless your defense is playing as well as ours is,” McKee said. “We got pressure when we needed to. We played coverage when we needed to. We were able to stop the run, and we kept on stopping ‘em.”