Rowdy into the open

It was in the second quarter Friday night that Murray High's ground attack began landing big shots to the guts of the Mayfield defense, such as on this run by quarterback Rowdy Sokolowski (7) as Mayfield defenders Ben Gloyd (1) and Tre Barnes (7) suddenly found themselves becoming busier as plays were breaking through the Cardinal front.

MURRAY – In the wake of the excitement and feeling of accomplishment of his team’s upset of Kentucky high school football powerhouse Mayfield, Murray High Head Coach Darren Bowling said his message was simple to his team on Monday.

“If you think your season is over just because you beat Mayfield, you’re wrong,” Bowling said Tuesday as his team prepared for its next practice session in advance of Friday’s trip to Hickman for the regular-season finale with Fulton County.

“Look, you don’t get a trophy for beating Mayfield or a ring. That’s just one game you have on your schedule. This week, you have another game on your schedule and, next week, you have another game.”

Forgive Bowling for trying to bring his team back to Earth. Wins over Mayfield do not happen very often for Murray High.

The 25-21 triumph this past Friday at venerable War Memorial Stadium marked only the program’s third over the Cardinals since 1997. Interestingly, all three of those wins came at War Memorial, long known as one of the most intimidating home fields in all of Kentucky. 

However, for many of the players on this year’s team, it is the second time in a row they have won in Mayfield. Last year, the Tigers came from behind to beat the Cards, 28-21, in a triple-overtime thriller in the Kentucky Class 2A State Playoffs. 

Even Bowling had to let his guard down to talk about how big Friday’s win was for not only his team but the Murray High program in general.

“And we’re just in the beginning stages here,” said Bowling, who is still familiarizing himself with his surroundings after being named head coach in late June. Most new head coaches are in place for several months longer.

“I’ve talked all year long and putting in the little things. You look at a program like Mayfield and the Morris family (including head coaches Jack and Joe) have been there since the ‘70s and they’ve had their system in place and their program in place  and have been doing the same thing for years and years and building on it. We’re just trying to get into a four-point stance and taking baby steps on stuff.

“But we definitely want to be as big (as Mayfield) as far as things go and what we want to do in the future here at Murray High School.”

Now, as Bowling said he was strongly emphasizing to his team when it returned to work this week, there is the next game to play. Fulton County has not been very successful this season, winning only once.

However, with this game perhaps mattering very much for the Tigers’ prospects of hosting a playoff game, Bowling said underestimating the Pilots is not an option.

“What’s next is we have a lot of work to do and the biggest thing for us is to work on getting better,” he said. “We made a lot of mistakes the other night but I think it was the guys’ intensity that they played with that overcame a lot of those mistakes.”

The proverbial elephant in the room is the looming RPI ratings of the three teams now tied for first place in the Class 2A 1st District. With Murray High’s win over Mayfield, the Tigers finished district play at 3-1, the same marks as the Cards and Caldwell County. 

Here is where it gets tricky, though. Murray High beat Mayfield who beat Caldwell who beat Murray High. As of this past Friday night, Murray High had a razor-thin edge in the RPI over Caldwell for second place, meaning  that had the regular season ended that night, those RPI ratings would have been final and Murray High would be preparing for the second visit of this season from Caldwell’s Tigers.

However, there is one more week remaining and a lot can change. Murray High has the seemingly easiest game of the three contenders, but that may be a bad thing, as weaker competition can lower one’s RPI. 

Mayfield, who is locked in at the No. 1 spot, plays a Madisonville-North Hopkins team that has been up and down this year in Class 4A. Caldwell travels to Cadiz to play old rival Trigg County, a team that has played very well at times this year but has a sub.500 record to show for it.

“I was talking to (Mayfield Head Coach Joe) Morris about it before the game last week and he said the same thing everyone else is saying now ... you don’t know how this is going to go,” Bowling said. “Some people try to schedule wins because wins matter more to them, while some smaller schools, like Mayfield, have to assume big schools don’t want to play them. Then, you have smaller schools that don’t want to play the bigger schools and, when you put it all together, it’s hard to find a schedule that fits your team.

“So now, only a computer knows. Humans don’t know what’s going to happen until you plug in all of the information and the computer spits it out and that’s what coaches around the state are waiting to see too … what the computer tells them.”

Still another issue has developed for the Tigers and that is how many wins they actually have this season. All year long, Murray High has gone with the idea that it won its first scheduled game of the year, a road trip to Crittenden County, by forfeit due to Crittenden not having enough players available due to COVID-19. However, in the last few weeks, the Kentucky High School Athletics Association records have been showing that has a no-contest.

The KHSAA is showing Murray High at 6-2 on the season. Murray High believes it is 7-2. 

“That needs to be fixed because it affects our RPI,” Bowling said. 

Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Sanger Field in Hickman.