MURRAY — On Friday night, the Murray High Tiger football team walked onto the field to compete against the Union County Braves feeling evenly matched. Both schools have similar depth levels, and both schools had a 2-1 record.
Head coach for the Tigers Keith Hodge said, “They rolled some players in and out just like we did. They had a couple of guys going both ways just like we do.”
Throughout the season, Murray has been known for bringing the heat in the first quarter of their competitions. Last night’s game was slightly different in that the defense was ready to go, but the offense hadn’t kicked it into gear quite yet. They took some time to feel out Union County.
The Tiger defense held its ground in the first quarter and prohibited the Braves from scoring.
Head coach for the Tigers Keith Hodge said, “Defense played well tonight. We were flying to the ball and did a good job of putting them through tough situations. Our goal was to put them in second and long situations, and we did a heck of a job doing that.”
Despite an abundance of effort, the Tigers were unable to score due to a lack of crispness in their offensive plays. The score was 0-0 at the end of the first quarter.
“Offensively, we did some good things, but still a lot to clean up and fix,” Hodge said. “Every time we settled in, something would happen to get us behind the chains. Really, we had to create too many big plays.”
The Tigers have also been consistently struggling with penalties in every game they’ve played this season.
“Penalties had a huge effect, always does,” Hodge said. “Being behind the sticks is hard to overcome.”
With only 8:32 left in the first half, Murray High had already racked up six penalties. What had been a first-and-10 at the Braves 14 soon turned into an unnecessary first-and-25. That’s when Hodge called a timeout.
“We discussed getting focused and playing the game, play by play,” Hodge said. “We just needed to settle down a little bit. We just kept losing momentum.”
The players took Hodge’s words to heart, and the Tiger offense started to wake up.
Tiger Jaiden Jackson scored the first touchdown of the night with 7:10 left in the first half and after a kick from Noah Merriss, the Tigers were leading 7-0. Eventually, the Tigers were able to extend that lead to 21-7, beating Union County for the first time since 2014.
Junior Sebastian Lawrence said, “Murray High has always had it in them. It was just a matter of buying in, and I think this group is very bought-in to the plan.”
Senior Tommy Waldrop, who had 11 receptions for 138 yards against Union County said, “I think we play more as a team now and fight through adversity much better than the past.”
In the third quarter, Jackson and Merriss tacked another seven points onto the scoreboard for the Tigers. Last Friday, Merriss was healing from an ankle injury, forcing the team to rely on two-point conversions against Marshall County.
Hodge and Merriss’s teammates are glad he is back and kicking well again.
“Noah played well,” Hodge said. “It’s good to see him back and kicking well. You know what you’re getting with Noah, consistent and hard-nosed. I’m always proud of his effort.”
Unfortunately, the Tiger defense lost the shutout on a pass play from the Union County Braves at the beginning of the fourth quarter, making the score 14-7. Uncomfortable with that slight lead, Dijon Miles and Utley teamed up to add some insurance and increase the score to 21-7 after a 14-yard pass.
Overcoming a team that they had lost to for so long shows the level of improvement the Tigers are experiencing this year.
“Number one, it shows what we are capable of, especially if we clean up some things,” Hodge said. “We have to do some things differently in practice. Our success is going to be determined by closing and fixing some gaps we’re seeing. No doubt this group has a ton of guts and fight, but we’ll face teams moving forward that will too.”
After ending the night with a total of 20 penalties, it is obvious what Murray High will need to fix before they play Trigg County on Friday.