PRINCETON — Redemption. That was what Murray High set out to get on Friday night, but with so many players lost to injury the mountain seemed too high to climb.
Last night, the Murray High Tigers took on the Caldwell County Tigers for the second time this season. The first encounter took place three weeks ago before Murray lost star players like four-year-starting quarterback Hunter Utley and senior wide receiver Jaiden Jackson. Even with those two, Murray fell 42-40 in the final moments of the game.
But Murray didn’t let that loss get to them. Instead, they used it as motivation for the game that really counted — the first round of the district playoffs. Murray High was able to turn the score around and come out on top with a 34-17 win.
But how did they do it?
Head coach Keith Hodge said, “It starts in practice, and we had a great week of practice. We came out and really did some different things on both sides of the ball that really gave us a better chance to win. I’m really proud of the guys on how they were able to execute that game plan pretty well tonight.”
The word “different” doesn’t give the creativity of Murray justice. Murray High handled the lack of depth by creating plays that were just unstoppable. Instead of dwelling on lost players, they analyzed who they had left and put them to use.
One player that Murray High took full advantage of last night was Sebastian Lawrence. Throughout the second half, they repeatedly ran a jumbo package and snapped Lawrence the ball. It didn’t even matter that Caldwell knew the play was coming.
“Lawrence is just a force,” Hodge said. “You have to know where he’s at at all times. We know we were going to go to him and let him run the ball some tonight, and we did that and executed well. I’m proud of his effort tonight. He’s in a little bit of pain, but he played well tonight.”
Lawrence completed the night with a total of 44 yards rushing and three tackles.
Murray High also ran some new plays with quarterback Rowdy Sokolowski.
“Rowdy settled in really quick tonight,” Hodge said. “He just saw things better and made some clutch throws. I’m really proud of his effort.”
Sokolowski truly stepped up and played for his team. He didn’t think of himself. He focused on the plan and stuck to it consistently last night.
“He didn’t panic at all tonight,” Hodge said. “He just stuck with the game plan, stuck with the throws. The main thing he did was he didn’t try to do too much. He just did what he does, and the guys made some good plays around him, and that’s the key.”
Sokolowski completed 20 out 29 attempted passes for a total of 288 yards and four touchdowns. Just the fact that he was able to perform so well in only his third game starting as a quarterback speaks for the amount of focus he’s had these past few weeks.
And as always, Tommy Waldrop and Charvell McCallister showed up and showed out. Waldrop totaled 167 yards and 3 TDS. McCallister had 63 yards rushing and converted several critical first downs for Murray High.
The defense also had a tremendous amount of focus and determination in this weeks’ practices and in the game last night. In the last encounter with Caldwell County, Murray High allowed them to put 42 points up on the scoreboard. Last night, Caldwell only totaled 17.
“I can’t say enough about the defense,” Hodge said. “Our scout offense in practice this week had a great week preparing our defense. I’m super proud of that and of the young guys stepping up and doing things right in practice. I was just really proud of the defens’s effort, just getting after it and sticking with it. We did a better job of not giving up too many big plays, and I thought we did a lot better on third down.”
Just like last time the Tigers faced off, Murray High took some time to get going, but once they got in the groove, things just kept clicking for the Murray Tigers.
“That’s part of playoff football,” Hodge said. “You’ve got to adjust to what people are doing to you, and we made some really good adjustments tonight in the game, just an overall good effort of staying in the game, sticking with the game plan and just overall execution.”
Of course Murray High still has some tweaking to do before they meet Mayfield in the second round next week, but what really matters is that there IS a next week for the scrappy Tigers.