MOUNT STERLING - It’s easy for Scott County football coaches, players and fans to become spoiled by past success and ultra-high expectations. There’s also a tendency to let that history foster a championship-or-bust mentality.
Winning your first six games of any season should still mean something, especially with the clouds of COVID uncertainty that have hovered over this one.
Scott County reached that benchmark for the sixth time in coach Jim McKee’s 24-year tenure Friday night with a 69-6 shellacking of Montgomery County at Cunningham Field.
”We’re 6-0 for the first time since 2014,” McKee said. “I think a lot of people after the Bryan Station game were thinking in the back of their mind, but they’re a lot better (5-1) than anybody realized. I really like where we are.”
SC owns three hard-fought victories over solid Class 6A teams and a city and district rival in Great Crossing that’s on the rise.
The past two weeks? Well, there was no mistaking Grant County, a 62-14 victim, or MoCo as a threat. But it takes a team with growing maturity and an attention to detail to perform as advertised on the road in those situations.
“As the season progresses, we’re getting really good at playing together,” said Cade Tackett, who led the Cards with five solo tackles. “I think we work well together. Hopefully we can go all the way. My senior year, I’d like to make something big like that happen.”
He’ll have a shot if classmate Campton Martin keeps playing like a triple threat that deserves more than peripheral Mr. Football consideration.
Martin scored four more all-purpose touchdowns to give himself 16 on the season, all on big plays and in diverse manners.
Two of them were interception returns of 74 yards in the first quarter and 83 in the third. Martin now has six picks on the season. He also rushed for a 25-yard TD and caught a 47-yard scoring strike from Zane Patton.
“I’m working day in, day out to get where I need to be and in elite shape,” Martin said. “It’s only going to get better as a team. The next two weeks (Ballard and Frederick Douglass) are going to be tough, but I think we’re ready for it.”
Scott County ran only 23 offensive plays and scored on eight of them.
Haaden Jones found the end zone twice, including a 55-yard ramble to open the game. Luke Colvin, Logan Jones and Jackson Albensi also tacked on TD runs.
Patton’s 10-yard throw to tight end Kam Lay made it 41-0 and triggered the running clock with a whopping 11:12 still remaining in the second quarter.
“They’ve been starters for six games, but we knew there would be a growth period. We graduated nine guys off our offense,” McKee said. “I guess the pandemic should teach us as coaches to focus on today, but the truth is the truth. We’re very young. I think we start 14 underclassmen, and I don’t know that we’ve ever done that. We’re really in a good position, and it’s rewarding.”
Defensively, the Cardinals held the Indians (0-5) to negative yards until deep in the first half and 196 on the night.
Devin Johnson’s 1-yard plunge broke the shutout on the final play of the game.
“Everybody did their assignments. First team, second team, third team, they all got to get in, get some playing time, get a feel for varsity so they can step up,” Tackett said. “We never underestimate anybody. We never come in as ‘we’re just going to roll through this team.’”
The night started ominously for SC when Cameron Willoughby recovered an onside kick for MoCo. A roughing-the-passer penalty helped the Indians convert one fourth down, but the Cards forced an incomplete pass on the next one.
Montgomery County didn’t connect a throw until its 13th try. A.J. Young and Logan Jones joined Martin with an interception each.
Martin’s first takeaway came on fourth down with 6:55 remaining in the opening quarter after a long kick return put the Indians in Cardinal territory for the second time.
“We were kind of in a zone look,” Martin said. “As I was reading the quarterback’s eyes, I saw him rear back and saw he was overthrowing it, so I just came up, picked it, saw the sideline and took off for it.”
It was the first installment of a natural hat trick for Martin, one achieved in two minutes, 55 seconds.
Colvin covered an errant shotgun snap at the Indians’ 25, setting up Martin’s counter to the right pylon on SC’s next play.
After a three-and-out punctuated by a tackled for loss from Andrew Willhite and Isaac Krebs, Patton immediately went up top in play action and found Martin over the middle. He eluded Brody Shaw’s shoestring tackle attempt at the 20.
“He’s a playmaker,” Tackett said of Martin. “He’s-one-of-a-kind. He’s definitely going to go far.”
SC wasn’t done in the first quarter. Another bad snap necessitated a pooch punt that Willhite returned to the 25. Patton’s bootleg was stopped a yard shy of the goal line, but Haaden Jones finished the short journey with 1:38 left.
The Cards went for the two points and the running clock there, but MoCo intercepted the try. Another turnover on downs deep in Indians’ territory led to Lay’s grab.
Martin’s second end-to-end interception return was the result of Hatton running a waggle to his left, then flinging the ball across his body a la Brett Favre at the last second.
“I was running, we were in press coverage, and he just threw it right into my hands,” Martin said. “I didn’t know it was there until I looked down.”
Short fields and long runs remained the rule even after Scott County went to its second and third wave of ground gainers.
Colvin’s 33-yard rush amounted to a one-play drive. Haaden Jones picked up 21 of his career-high 102 yards to set up Logan Jones’ 4-yard keeper. Later, Logan Jones’ 53-yard interception return paid off with Albensi’s 1-yard TD plunge.
With challenges against two of the state’s top teams looming, McKee took a moment to celebrate the first month-and-a-half of success in these unprecedented conditions.
“Our parents have done a yeoman job this year. No meals, no buses, all JV games on Saturdays,” the coach said. “Our school district really cares about sports, and they really make an effort to help us have a good football team. Now they haven’t broken the rules or anything like that, but they have done everything within their power to ensure that A, we’re safe, and B, we get an opportunity to do the things we need to do, and I appreciate that.”