MURRAY — The scoreless first quarter of the Murray High football season-opener was a poor indicator of the 38-35 loss that was to happen against the Graves County Eagles by the end of the night.
The first touchdown came thirty seconds into the second quarter.
The early score gave the Tigers an early confidence boost. However, it was one that head coach Keith Hodge was expecting.
“I wasn’t surprised,” he said.
With 10:12 left in the second quarter, the Eagles managed to tie the game 7-7. Soon after, Murray High’s Dijon Miles intercepted a pass intended for the Eagles and took it to the house for a touchdown. That score, combined with an extra point from kicker Noah Merriss, gave the Tigers a 14-7 lead.
“I thought that the battle was there,” Hodge said. “That’s one thing that we can’t teach as coaches, how to battle. Our players were able to do that every single play: keep battling, keep battling, keep battling. I was really impressed with that.”
With 2:31 left in the second quarter, the Murray Tigers lined up for a punt and a bad snap resulted in a safety on the play, making the score 14-9. Just before the half expired, a touchdown and two-point conversion by the Eagles gave Graves the lead 17-14.
Wide receiver Tommy Waldrop was impressed with his team’s ability to stay focused after half time.
“We went down late in the first half. We could have easily hung our heads, but we kept fighting,” he said.
Graves was able to score a touchdown with the first minute of the third quarter, but the Tigers pushed back. A completion from quarterback Hunter Utley to Waldrop led to a touchdown, putting Tigers within three points.
Unfortunately, Graves scored a touchdown less than a minute later with 5:51 left in the third quarter and the back and forth game continued.
“We were up and down too much,” Hodge said. “I felt like they (Graves) executed their game plan a little bit better than we did. That happens in big games. It does boil down to execution. We executed a lot of good things and a lot of things we just flat out didn’t.”
In the fourth quarter, Jackson scored another touchdown for the Tigers and they were once again trailing by three, 31-28.
“We got behind and started playing catch-up,” Hodge said. “It can be hard to play catch-up against good football teams. That’ll drain you.”
With six minutes left in the fourth, Graves added another touchdown, distancing the gap between the two teams.
“I felt like we had plenty of opportunities to keep the lead and do some good things, and we weren’t able to,” Hodge said.“The good thing is, there was a lot of heart out of both schools. I feel like both teams played their hearts out pretty well.”
A little over a minute later, Utley passed to Waldrop for 26 yards for a score, and the Tigers were once again three points away from victory.
“I thought Tommy Waldrop had a heck of a night. He did a lot of good things. He never came off the field. That’s always hard on a kid,” Hodge said. “I thought Hunter Utley had a good game. I thought defensively we made some big plays here and there, but we missed some big-play opportunities also.”
The Tigers were unable to close the gap, and the final score read 38-35 on the scoreboard at the Tigers home field.
“I felt like this game we had a lot more fight, but, obviously, it wasn’t enough in the end. We didn’t get a win,” Waldrop said.
Although there were many mistakes and some costly penalties, Waldrop took pride in the fight his team put out there and the trust that they had in each other throughout the night.
Waldrop said the team needs to work on assignments on their blocks, not stopping their feet, and fixing some defensive holes.
Hodge said, “It goes back to just executing, executing better in practice, understanding what we’re lacking in execution, being able to push that and just understanding the game a little bit better. I felt like there were times tonight where we didn’t understand the down and distance, we didn’t understand the scenario like we needed to. In big games, that can’t happen. We have got to be able to understand the game a little bit better, and that’s something we’ll definitely point out on film on Sunday.”
Waldrop said practice will be more intense and focused next week.
“We’re going to play our hardest. I guarantee that. I guarantee that we’re going to work, and we’re going to come back, and we’re going to get a win,” Waldrop said.
Next up, the Tigers will play a home game against the Calloway County Lakers in the Crosstown Classic at 7 p.m. next Friday at Roy Stewart Stadium.
Hodge’s number one priority is to get his team looking healthy.
“I felt like we were cramping too much tonight. I felt like we looked tired. That’s one thing we have to work on, is not being tired, maybe going a little bit harder in practice to solve that problem,” Hodge said. “I think next Friday if we execute really well, some great things are going to happen for us.”