Junior running back Dakota Payton scored three touchdowns last Friday evening to lead the Cougars to a 34-16 runaway victory over the visiting North Hardin Trojans in the first district game of the season.
The speedy Trojans came into Friday’s game having lost all five games it had played, but despite that, they were among 5A leaders in several offensive categories. But the Cougar defense stood up to the Trojans, halting them four times inside the 20 yard-line and giving up just three points on those possessions.
Trailing 16-14 at the half, Grayson County held the Trojans scoreless in the second half and added three scores of their own to win going away.
It didn’t take long for the visitors to get on the scoreboard after winning the toss to start the game. With a first down at the Trojan 35-yard line, Dante Johnson took a reverse and scooted around the left side of the line and took it all the way, 65 yards for a touchdown. Martin Marlin added the extra point and with just 20 seconds run off the clock, the Trojans led 7-0.
The Cougars were unable to move the ball and punted on their first possession, and the Trojans took over at their own 30. They gained a first down at the 43, but the Cougar defense stiffened. When the Trojans tried to convert a fourth-and-four at the 50-yard line, an incomplete pass gave the ball to the Cougars at mid-field.
With Payton and quarterback Talon Gary doing the running, the Cougars moved to a first down at the Trojan 33-yard line. Gary then hooked up with junior wide receiver Nick Rager for the Cougars’ first score of the night. Jonathan Reynolds added the extra point to tie things at 7-7.
On the next Trojan possession, Tavon Graves had a 48-yard run for a touchdown nullified by a holding call. The Trojans then marched down to a first-and-goal at the Cougar six. On second down they moved it to the one, but on third down a fumbled snap pushed it back to the four, where they faced fourth-and-goal as the first quarter ended.
On the first play of the second period, Johnson carried on a sweep of the right side. Gary forced him out of bounds at the six, giving the Cougars the ball at that spot.
Grayson County was unable to move the ball and had to punt from their own 10-yard line. Following a Trojan penalty on the runback, North Hardin took over at the Cougar 46. It took the Trojans just three plays to regain the lead, with Graves scoring from 34 yards out. A two-point try failed, but with 9:32 left in the second period, the Trojans led 13-7.
Payton had a big run on first down for the Cougars, taking the ball 33 yards, from the Cougar 38 to the Trojan 29. Gary then connected with junior receiver Dylan Decker for 22 yards, setting up a first-and-goal at the seven. Three plays later, Payton scored his first touchdown of the night from two-yards out. Reynolds’ kick gave the Cougars their first lead of the night, 14-13 with 7:10 left in the first half.
North Hardin had another good drive going on its next possession, moving from their own 38 to the Cougar six, where the had a first-and-goal. A loss on first down and a fumbled snap on second down moved the ball back to the 10.
The Cougars then sacked quarterback Andrew Rugerio, setting up a fourth-and-goal at the 15. The Trojans brought out Marlin to try a 31-yard field goal and their place-kicker put it through the uprights to make it 16-14 at the 2:38 mark, and that was the score at the half.
The Cougars put their stamp on the game at the start of the third quarter as they possessed the ball for nearly six minutes in a 12-play, 80-yard drive that put them in front to stay. Gary had a 24-yard run and a 14-yard pass completion to Trey Waltermire during the drive. Payton took it the final three yards at the 6:15 mark. A two-point try failed, but the Cougars were up 20-16.
The Cougar defense held the Trojans to a three-and-out on their next possession, and following a punt, took over at their own 38-yard line. On second-and-nine, an option play around the left side turned into a 63-yard touchdown. Just as Gary was being pulled to the ground, he pitched the ball to Payton, who took it down the Cougar sideline 63 yards for another score. Reynolds’ extra point gave the Cougars a 27-16 lead with 3:40 left in the third quarter.
The Cougar defense threw the Trojans back on their first two plays of the ensuing possession, when they faced a third and-21 at their own 33. A Rugerio pass attempt was tipped at the line of scrimmage, tipped up into the air one more time before junior Lane Rackley hauled it in for an interception that gave the Cougars the ball at the Trojan 26 with 2:18 left in the period.
As the third quarter ended, the Cougars had taken the ball to the one, where they had a second down. On the first play of the fourth quarter, junior Thomas Walton scored to give the Cougars a 34-16 cushion.
The Trojans threatened twice more in the final period. They moved to the Cougar 17 before a sack and an incomplete pass gave the ball to the Cougars at their own 24. On their final possession, the Trojans moved to a first-and-goal at the six, but four incomplete passes and an illegal procedure penalty turned the ball over on downs at the Cougar 11 with 4:31 left to play.
Grayson County picked up one first down but were forced to punt with 1:23 left to play. Johnson had to move forward in a hurry to try to field a short punt and had the ball carom off a kneepad, right into the arms of junior Austin Haycraft at the Cougar 46. Gary was then able to take knees on two plays to run out the clock.
The Cougars face another district test on Friday when they travel to Louisville to take on the Iroquois Raiders, also 3-3 on the season coming off a 26-0 loss at the hands of John Hardin. Game time in Louisville is set for 7:30 central time.