Jacob Watters runs by a defender

Senior running back Jacob Watters escapes the defender from Todd County Central in the season opener for the Calloway County Lakers. He finished the game with 16 carries, 84 yards, a touchdown, and one catch for 9 yards.

MURRAY — Calloway County suffered a pair of losses on opening night against the Todd County Central Rebels. The game ended 21-20 and with starting quarterback John Foster on the sidelines with his arm in a sling. 

The injury to Foster occurred during the second half with the Lakers leading 14-7 and brought in sophomore, second-string quarterback, Kanyon Franklin. 

“Kanyon did a good job coming in. He’s been getting lots of reps and he’s a very good football player, but obviously, it puts an insurmountable amount of pressure on a young kid to come in and take over a game,” head coach Chris Champion said. “Especially when it’s that close.” 

Kenyon looked sharp at the helm going 7-12 for 80 yards, including a couple of nice throws to his older brother, senior Ki Franklin. His athleticism helped too, with five rushes for 25 yards. 

The game featured a battle of opposing styles, with the Rebels trying to grind it out on the ground with I-formation and some other heavy run packages, and on the other side, the Lakers in their spread shotgun formation for every snap of the game.

The defenses, however, looked eerily similar. Calloway County kept nine men in the box all game long and the Rebels stuck with a cover one man to man style defense, taking their chances with the one-on-one matches with the dangerous receivers for the Lakers.

It paid off, as the Lakers took four or five deep shots to speedster Luke Schwepker but couldn’t connect on anything down the field. The passing attack led to 132 yards between Foster and Franklin, but it was the run game of the Lakers that shined the brightest on a night that the opponent was also establishing the run. Calloway’s Jacob Watters carried the ball 16 times for 84 yards and backup running back Zach Orange had seven carries for 53 yards. Both backs scored a touchdown on the night.

The opposition had a workhorse day for their senior running back JaTwan Graham. He started at outside linebacker and had 43 carries at running back for 243 yards and all of them were hard-earned.

On the opening possession for each team, the early season jitters were present and they both had three-and-outs. For the majority of the first quarter, neither team got much going, but the Lakers did strike first when Foster found Montrell Rogers on a back-shoulder fade from 16 yards out with just under a minute left in the opening quarter. After an Ian Clark extra point, the Lakers led 7-0.

Things seemed to be in favor of the Lakers, because not very long after the score, the Lakers gave one right back, however it was called back due to a penalty flag. A 55-yard touchdown pass was wiped off the board, but it showed a brief flash of what the Rebels could do through the air. Coming into the game, the scouting report said if you stop the run game, you win the game, but the Rebels had a few tricks up their sleeve and a quarterback-wide receiver duo just good enough to make some plays downfield.

A few minutes after the score was wiped away, the Rebels got on the board with a pass to DJ Johnson. It was the receiver that gave Calloway fits all night long. This time it was a strike from 27-yards out and it tied the game following an extra point kick.

“Their guy out there was just better than our guy. That’s just what it boils down to,” Champion said. “We put a lot of focus on stopping their run game and I felt defensively our guys played extremely well and at the end, it just didn’t go our way.”

The Rebels had 47 rushing attempts on the night for 252 yards, but the difference in the game was the play-action off of the effective run game into a pass to Johnson who scored three touchdowns on the night.

After the score by the Rebels tied the game at the two-minute mark before halftime, the Lakers got a big special teams kick return from Aaron Fennel across midfield and a short four plays later the Lakers had the lead back. The drive took just over a minute, which showed how fast this offset can strike and gave a glimpse into what they are capable of when they are firing on all cylinders.

Headed into the locker room at halftime, the Lakers held a 14-7 advantage and they were feeling good about the game.

Momentum was in their favor and things looked like they were headed in the right direction, then the second half got underway and Foster suffered an injury.

When Foster came out, the Lakers subbed into their ninja package with Schwepker in at quarterback, but it was obvious that the change was by necessity and not by a play call because the Lakers were confused and had to burn a timeout to regroup.

That’s when Franklin stepped in. The lead was still 14-7, but the offense sputtered on the possession and the Rebels seized the momentum. 

A drive that included a third-and-long conversion on the legs of Rebels quarterback Bryce Nolan eventually ended in a touchdown pass to Johnson. His second of the game. The Rebels went for two and converted on a play straight out of the Chicago Bears playbook, a la William ‘Refrigerator’ Perry, with a full back dive run by Justin Waldrop, a 340-pound nose guard.

With the score 15-14 the Rebels elected to kickoff short, because they remembered what happened the last time they gave Fennel a chance. 

Franklin then led the Lakers on a long scoring drive that was capped off by Orange on a four-yard run. Champion decided to go for the two-point conversion but the Lakers failed to convert and held a 20-15 lead and the momentum was back on their side.

The ensuing kickoff was an interesting play as Ian Clark kicked it short to the right hoping that his guys could run on to it and recover the onside attempt. It was a valiant effort and it almost worked, but the Rebels recovered and were in great field position.

“That was a called play there,” Champion said. “We got a little greedy. I got a little greedy. We had a little momentum going there and they had about a 20-yard open hole and we tried to drop a ball in there and get it back. Thankfully they fumbled the ball back to us but we still couldn’t get anything going after that.” 

The fumble gave the Lakers the ball but as Champion said, the offense didn’t get much going, mostly due to penalties.

Calloway’s offense was successful in spurts, but penalties hurt them several times. Before the first snap of the season for the offense, they picked up a flag for a false start. it was one of 16 penalties they would receive on the night, for a total of 125 yards. The timing of the penalties was what really hurt the Lakers too. It seemed every time a big play would happen in the second half there would be a flag on the play.

The Rebels had their fair share of penalties too, with 12 flags that tallied up to 95 yards. 

Next up for the Lakers is the Crosstown Classic against Murray High at Stewart Stadium and Champion said they will get to work on scouting those guys today.

“That starts tomorrow,” Champion said. “We don’t look ahead to any team. Obviously, we didn’t need to overlook Todd County Central and we didn’t. We gave them the best shot we had and we will start the same with Murray tomorrow morning.”

One thing that the Lakers did win on the night was the turnover battle, with Keaton Elliot grabbing an interception and the Lakers recovering a fumble, but winning the turnover battle doesn’t win games every time and Champion know this.

“I’d rather win the points battle,” Champion said.

Stats used were via Calloway County’s stat tracking report.

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