MARION, Ky. - There is no denying that the balance of power is back in order in the Class A First District.
One year after Crittenden County upset the hierarchy of small-school western Kentucky football by beating Mayfield twice in one season, the mighty Cardinals are back on top, thrashing the Rockets 42-7 in a clash of two previously unbeaten top 5 teams.
"They're for real. They're No. 1," said Rocket coach Al Starnes. "We threw everything we had at them and they stopped us. They are better on defense than I thought."
Right out of the chute, Mayfield declared its return to the throne, scoring twice in about four minutes and running out to a 22-0 halftime lead. For the methodical Rocket offense, that alone was insurmountable.
"Our defense played great," Mayfield coach Joe Morris said. "We took it to them and dominated the game."
Crittenden managed just 88 yards rushing and 73 in the air.
"Our kids worked really hard for this. They remembered what happened last year on this field and they were rewarded for their hard work."
Crittenden beat the Cardinals 27-14 at Mayfield in the 2008 regular season, and 26-13 at Marion in the regional championship game. It was the first time a team had knocked off the Class A First Region superpower twice in one season.
The Rockets were hoping that history would repeat itself and give them homefield advantage through the playoffs, but the Cardinals were irrepressible this time. Barring any upsets, they will be at home for every post-season game, except the championship at Bowling Green.
Mayfield scored on its first four offensive series of the game and put touchdowns on the board on three of its first four possessions in the second half. Running back Tyreese Murrell was the workhorse, gathering 158 yards on the ground and scoring twice.
Mayfield's heralded receiver Xavier Shelton was held in check most of the game on offense. He was the focus of Crittenden's defensive scheme and didn't catch a pass against a double team in the secondary until midway through the third period. Yet the talented senior found ways to hurt his hosts. He returned the Rockets' first punt for a 73-yard touchdown and caught a TD pass in the third period from quarterback Luke Guhy, who was 8-for-14 with three touchdowns.
With Shelton bottled up downfield – and out of the backfield where he rushed for just five yards on two attempts – Mayfield turned to others in its vast arsenal. Junior Javarius Richardson caught two touchdown passes of 37 and 15 yards. And backup running back Decole Noonan scooted free for a 76-yard run on his only carry to set up Mayfield's field goal in the second period.
The third-ranked Rockets were unable to gain any momentum, falling behind early and leaving last season's double-dip over Mayfield in the distant past.
"Our kids played hard. Other than a few missed tackles, we did all we could do. We gave it all we had," Starnes said.
The Rockets came out throwing the ball, trying to catch top-ranked Mayfield off guard. The hype leading up to the matchup – billed as the Game of the Year in Western Kentucky – centered largely on the Rockets' ball-control offense as its lone weapon vs. the big-play Cardinals. Crittenden threw on first down its first three possessions, but Mayfield was ready for it. Cardinal defensive back William Higgingson, a sophomore, picked off two passes, including Gray's second of the contest to set up his team's second touchdown on a short field.
Mayfield had excellent field position early and made the Rockets pay.
"We were prepared for this game," said Morris, whose team was off last week, giving it time to mend and polish its plan. "Our coaching staff did a great job and our kids were ready to play Monday or Tuesday."
Crittenden managed to get a little pressure on the Mayfield quarterback in the second and third periods, and slowed the firestorm. Still, the defense that was among the best in the state – allowing only a little more than a touchdown a game – had few answers for Mayfield's versatile attack. On offense, it was no easier for Crittenden. Despite scoring 34 points a game this season, the Rockets managed a meager touchdown in the fourth period when Brian Berry scored after senior receiver Allen Kirk caught a 43-yard pass, taking the ball deep into Mayfield territory.
Crittenden (8-1) will close out its regular season next week at undefeated Murray High.
The Rockets wrapped up second place in the First District and will host Kentucky Country Day (5-4) in the opening round of the playoffs on Nov. 6. Crittenden beat KCD in the first round last year 47-0. Click here for Class A Final Standings.
ROCKET DEFENSIVE BACK Robert Cudnik (20) defends against Mayfield's Javarius Richardson's fourth-quarter touchdown catch in top photo. Directly above, Rocket QB J.D. Gray finds little running room against the Mayfield defense.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Mayfield 19 3 13 7
Crittenden Co. 0 0 0 7
M-Xavier Shelton 73 punt return (Marc Wynstra kick) 9:27, 1st
M-Javarius Richardson 37 pass from Luke Guhy (kick failed) 7:53, 1st
M-Tyreese Murrell 9 run (pass failed) :35, 1st
M-Wynstra 33 field goal, 9:04, 2nd
M-Murrell 27 run (pass failed) 9:56, 3rd
M-Shelton 25 pass from Guhy (Wynstra kick) 1:23, 3rd
CC-Brian Berry 8 run (J.R. Adams kick) 9:54, 4th
M-Richardson 15 pass from Guhy (Wynstra kick) 4:48, 4th
First Downs: Crittenden 6, Mayfield 11
Penalties: Crittenden 2-30, Mayfield 5-31
Rushing: Crittenden 27-88, Mayfield 35-258
Passing: Crittenden 5-15-2, 73 yds., Mayfield 8-14-0, 120 yds.
Total Yards: Crittenden 161, Mayfield 378
Fumbles/Lost: Crittenden 2-0, Mayfield 1-0
Rushing: Crittenden-J.D. Gray 14-67, Berry 9-16, Andrew Freeman 4-5. Mayfield-Murrell 22-158, Clay Sweatman 1-(-2), Matthew Shultz 3-12, Shelton 2-5, Decole Noonan 1-76, Jonathon Jackson 1-2, Guhy 2-12.
Passing: Crittenden-Gray 5-13-1, 73 yds., Berry 0-2-1. Mayfield-Guhy 8-14-0, 120 yds.
Receiving: Crittenden-Allen Kirk 1-43, Freeman 1-14, Berry 2-13, Dylan Clark 1-3.
Defense: A.Berry 6 solos, 3 assists, TFL; B.Berry solo, 3 assists; Clark solo, assist; Cudnik 4 solos, 2 assists; Fletcher 6 solos, 2 assists; Freeman solo, 3 assists; Gray 2 solos, 3 assists; Hernandez solo, 2 assists; Lee 3 solos; Long 2 solos; Price solo, assist, TFL; Thornton 5 solos, 2 assists; B.Wallace solo; Werne solo, 5 assists.
Pizza Hut Players of the Game: Offense Allen Kirk. Defense Aaron Berry. Lineman Aaron Berry.
Records: Crittenden 8-1, Mayfield 9-0.