MAYFIELD —Murray High School headed into War Memorial Stadium in Mayfield Friday night as the underdog ... the long shot ... the dark horse ... against Mayfield.
Late in the fourth quarter, the favored and unbeaten Cardinals did have a two-point lead and seemed ready to finally knock out Murray High, who had been a much tougher opponent to crack than had been expected. But in this physical battle, it would be the Tigers landing the knockout punch.
Linebacker Caleb Gill scooped up a forced fumble from lineman Jayden Curtis and rumbled 61 yards to the Cardinal 7-yard line with 1:35 left. Fifteen seconds later, Tiger quarterback Rowdy Sokolowski finished the comeback with a two-yard run that put the Tigers ahead for good in a 25-21 win that marked not only Murray High’s second in a row against the storied Mayfield program, but its second straight at War Memorial.
The Cardinals’ offensive heavyweight, running back Kylan Galbreath, started the slugfest early for Mayfield by scoring on a three-yard run up the middle and giving Mayfield the lead at 7-0 with 8:11 left in the first quarter.
Then, first-year Tiger Head Coach Darren Bowling’s perfectly drawn-up battle plan began to kick in. Murray High wouldn’t let Mayfield back on the field offensively in the first quarter, using a sustained 55-yard drive consisting of ball-control body-blows straight up the gut of the Cardinal defense.
Four seconds into the second quarter, A-back Gage Sokolowski tied the game at 7-7 when he punched it in from the Cardinal five-yard line to show the favored Cardinals the Tigers were ready to stand toe-to-toe with them.
After the Murray High defense held Mayfield, the Tiger ground attack jabbed its way to a 13-7 lead at the 1:09 mark before halftime on a nine-yard run up the middle from B-back Kainoa Olive. However, Mayfield’s dynamic offense showed just how fast they could score.
A big return on the ensuing kickoff set the Cardinals up at their own 40, a 37-yard Zane Cartwright pass put them into position and Galbreath finished it when he ran eight yards to score on a drive that took only 49 seconds and gave them the lead, 14-13, at halftime.
Mayfield received the ball first in the third quarter and slugged its way to the Tiger 34. Gill would tackle Mayfield’s Tre Barnes for a six-yard loss on 4th-and-2, though, with 9:14 left in the third quarter, but Mayfield answered with a defensive flurry of its own and forced Murray High to punt after the Tigers had run another almost five minutes off the clock.
Galbreath would then bust a 55-yard run to the Tiger 14 and, two plays later, scored on a nine-yard run to give the Cardinals a 21-13 lead with 2:56 left in the third
To make matters worse for Murray High, the Cardinals then stopped it on 4th-and-1 in Tiger territory. Gill helped soften that blow. though, with a sack of Cartwright to end the quarter.
When the bell rang for the fourth quarter, the Tigers landed another big blow to the Cardinals’ offense as Gill stopped Galbreath for a two-yard loss on 4th-and-1 from the Tiger 35 to put the momentum back in the Tigers’ corner.
Bowling’s methodical rushing game then began to wear down the Cardinals, keeping the ball moving down the field. Rowdy and Gage Sokolowski then drove the Tigers 65 yards and took almost nine minutes off the clock, capped by a magical play from the quarterback.
Rowdy appeared to hand the ball off and the alleged ball-carrier disappeared into the pile of bodies on the line of scrimmage. All the while, Rowdy seemed to be pushing the pile from the back. Then, he suddenly peeled himself out from behind the wall of bodies and dashed around the left edge, untouched and unpursued, for 16 yards and the touchdown to cut the Cardinal lead to 21-19. The subsequent two-point conversion was stuffed, though, by Mayfield’s defense which seemed to have stymied the Murray comeback.
At this point in the match, Mayfield was content to just trust its offense and drive the ball down field to eat up as much clock as possible. A failed onside kick that gave Mayfield the ball in Tiger territory seemed to firmly put Murray on the ropes.
Cue the “Eye of the Tiger.”
Curtis knocked the ball loose and Gill ran the ball down the sideline to set up the aforementioned Sokolowski knockout blow. Mayfield’s last-chance desperation drive with just over a minute to play tapped out on Cartwright’s incomplete pass on 4th-and-11 with 38 seconds left, leaving Rowdy to finish off the Cardinals with a kneel-down on the final snap.
“It feels awesome,” said Sokolowski, who ended the night with 95 rushing yards and two touchdowns. “It’s crazy. It’s unbelievable. Just to do it with your team; the people you’ve grown up with since second grade. ‘Mayfield this, Mayfield that’ all the way up, just to come in here and take them out two years in a row, it just feels awesome.”
Younger brother Gage had 92 of his own yards on the ground and a scoring run and credited the Tiger defense for the victory.
“The defense stepped up,” said Gage. “They forced the turnover we needed and we drove it down the field.”
That defense held Mayfield to 284 yards of total offense, 80 less than their average and to just 21 points, 23 points below their average. The Cardinals were ranked 11th in the state in scoring at 43.2 points per game and fifth in scoring margin at 30.6 PPG.
Gill led Murray High with five tackles and tied with Mitchum in tackles-for-loss with 2.5 each. They also split a sack between them.
“We played with heart,” said an exuberant Mitchum. “All my sacks were the team’s sacks and I couldn’t have done it without 10 other guys out there. I feel like Murray is sending a message to the state and we’re going for that championship!”
“Effort, effort, effort,” said Bowling. “Determination. These guys came into this game just trying to make it a game and I knew we had to convince our guys in the first half that we could play with them. I told them at halftime, ‘Now, you know you can play with them and let’s go out there and convince them we can beat them.’
“I knew if we could get it to the fourth quarter, we had a chance because we play well in the fourth quarter.”
That the No. 9 Tigers did, outscoring the third-ranked and heavily-favored Cardinals 12-0 in the final round.
Murray’s next game is another road contest to end the regular season. This time, they travel to Fulton County (1-8), who’s only victory was over Ballard Memorial, the team the Tigers beat three weeks ago 75-6. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.