Let the games begin

Scott County football players ran through a banner that spoke for many people on Friday's delayed opening night of the 2020 season. The Cardinals churned out a hard-fought 7-6 win over the Bryan Station Defenders.

Campton Martin redeemed the Scott County defense and revived a stunned crowd with one unabated rush and headfirst lunge to swat an extra point attempt.

Montago Jones atoned for an earlier fumble at the goal line with a tireless series of runs through the heart of a gassed Bryan Station defense.

No big surprise that resilience, a quality that’s been asked of us all and repeatedly demanded of high school students, fueled the Cards’ second-half rally to a 7-6 win Friday night over the Defenders at Birds’ Nest Stadium.

It was miles closer than last year’s 49-7 SC victory and so many others in this one-sided series. After this strangest of prolonged preseasons that left coaches and players wondering if this night would ever come, the taste was still oh-so-sweet.

“We thought we’d come out there on the first drive, run a dive up the middle, run a toss around the end, run a sweep, kick an extra point, and you did too,” SC coach Jim McKee said. “When that didn’t happen, I thought they knocked us back a little bit, took a little bit of the wind out of our sails. I’m very, very pleased with how we continued to fight.”

Martin was the first to stick his fingers into the jaws of defeat, swatting Terik Mulder’s try immediately after Bryan Station broke a stalemate with an eight-play, 98-yard drive.

Amodeus Taylor spun into the end zone from a yard out with 2:14 remaining in the third quarter. Martin, who picked off two passes and was at the doorstep nearly blocking multiple punts earlier, charged in from the kicker’s right and stifled the try.

“That changes the whole outcome of the game. If you block a PAT or block a punt, that completely turns the tables around,” said Martin, a senior who was named Chick-fil-A Defensive Player of the Game on the Birds’ Nest Broadcasting Network. “So that’s just what we were trying to go for, and it’s what we got. In practice we’ve been working on it, working on it, working it, and it finally paid off.”

McKee interpreted it as an important sign of life from his Cardinals, the vast majority of whom were making their initial varsity start.

“You watch the team that is attempting to block an extra point. When they quit going hard to block an extra point, that team’s done. The other team’s got the game,” the coach said. “So when they scored right there and Campton blocked that extra point, that was huge. He’s going in the right direction right now.”

The benefits weren’t immediate. Scott County’s next drive went backward due to a holding penalty and ended with Martin’s fourth punt of the evening.

Issac Krebs sacked Mulder to force Bryan Station into the same fate, setting up SC with the ball at its own 41 early in the fourth quarter.

Jones’ productive night to that point was overshadowed by a lost fumble as he surged toward the goal line immediately after Martin’s second interception to start the second half.

Giovanni Watson covered up for the Defenders.

“I just left it all out there. I wanted to make up for it for my team,” Jones said. “It was really tough, but we just had to keep fighting. We stopped being scared, ready to come to play.”

McKee, who’s known for saddling up his fullbacks in such razor-close games, only went back to Jones on one of the next 10 plays.

“I hated that. I’ve told him a thousand times not to reach for the end zone. It’s first-and-goal,” McKee said. “Now of course he says, ‘I’m in,’ but whatever. There ain’t no replays. He’s got to understand you don’t have to be in right there.”

Zane Patton’s second and final pass completion of the night was a big one. Jaxon Saylor’s spinning second-effort turned it into a first down in Bryan Station territory.

Then it was Jones’ time to shine. Modest carries of three and six yards set up a 20-yard scamper on third-and-1. Patton kept the next snap for six yards before Jones finished the series with gains of seven and six for the score.

Jacob Bange split the uprights and put SC ahead to stay with 7:35 to go.

“We just had to run north-to-south,” Jones said of the Cards’ return to their bread and butter. “Everybody was getting locked up east-to-west.”

Jones finished with 22 carries for 134 yards and was named Domino’s Pizza Offensive Player of the Game.

The Cards’ defense still needed one more stop. It came when Jeremy Hamilton leveled Dadrien Taylor to break up a third-down throw over the middle from Mulder.

After the ensuing punt rolled to a stop at the SC 22, Jones slashed for gains of 10, seven, 12 and 17 yards through a beleaguered Bryan Station defense that had no timeouts.

Patton kneeled twice to seal the victory.

“They played a heck of a game. Hats off to them. I love the way they played. They played hard. They played tough. They had a great game plan,” Martin said. “I think we’re going to work better as a team and figure out how we work together, and it’s just going to be on from here.”

Andrew Willhite (seven tackles) and Elijah Adams (five stops) joined Martin and Krebs as defensive standouts.

Joseph Bond picked up 67 of Bryan Station’s 138 total yards on one carry. Martin and Hamilton chased him down to stave off the touchdown, although Taylor cashed in moments later.

Martin's two interceptions were gems -- the first a left-handed grab, then an over-the-shoulder takeaway in stride.

"Pretty much the whole week going through our whole game plan, we were trying to figure out what coverage to pick," Martin said. "We stuck with the cover three, and that was the one. I could tell, because I could read everything. As soon as I saw that ball go up, I knew I had it both times."

Bryan Station's defense had its share of highlight-film moments.

Scott County twice drove inside the Defenders’ 30-yard line in the first half. Ahtraivon Jenkins’ interception stymied the initial march. Antonio Davis and Marwan Sligh stuffed the other one on downs.

“Monty (McIntyre, defensive coordinator) and I have coached together a long time,” McKee said. “We won a regional championship together in 2004, and the score was something like 48-46. We won a regional championship together in 2009, and the score was 13-10. You just never know how a ballgame’s gonna play out.

“When you’re used to winning a lot and winning easily, when you barely win, which obviously we could’ve lost, you’re quick to look at all the reasons why you didn’t do better. Sometimes you’re a little remiss in not giving the other team some credit.”

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