Needing a string of results to click into place to earn a Class 4A 1st District championship on Friday night, the Hopkinsville Tigers weren’t holding up their part of the plan, trailing visiting Paducah Tilghman in the fourth quarter on Senior Night at the Stadium of Champions.
However, in a game where the offense sputtered, the Tiger defense held a Blue Tornado attack that came in averaging over 42 points per game to only a couple of scores, and senior kicker Mason Marschand provided the late heroics in a 17-15 victory.
Tiger quarterback Jay Bland was misfiring early, and the Tigers trailed 8-0 after the first quarter on a 4th-down 28-yard touchdown run by Tilghman’s Damien Ford.
The Tigers got on the board with 4:53 to play in the half, when Tyrell Gray-Lewis found the endzone from 6-yards out to trim the deficit to 1 at 8-7.
On the Blue Tornado’s next possession, Hoptown freshman Daisjaun Mercer intercepted a pass by Darionte Ragsdale to set up the Tiger offense at midfield. It was Mercer’s 8th pick of the year, leaving him one short of the Hopkinsville record of 9, set by Brandon Hayes in 1999.
The Tigers took their first lead of the night with 50 seconds to play in the half, with Jayden Dillard collecting a pass from Bland for a 13-yard score and a 14-8 advantage.
Paducah Tilghman pushed back in front after the break on a 31-yard TD pass from Ragsdale to Jayden Freeman, with the Hoptown sideline feeling the pass hit the ground before Freeman secured the catch. The Blue Tornado added the extra point and led 15-14 with 5:16 left in the third.
Hopkinsville took possession just inside Tilghman territory after Denarius “Red” Barnes recovered a fumble a minute into the 4th quarter. The Tigers drove to the 9-yard line, but on 3rd and goal Bland’s pass was intercepted at the goal line by Tilghman’s Freeman with just 6:03 left to play.
The Tiger defense forced a punt, with Ryan Myers returning it to the Paducah Tilghman 27 to set up the winning drive. Inside the final two minutes and facing a 4th down, Bland hit Reece Jesse down to the 10-yard line, but the Tigers went backward from there and called a timeout at 4th and goal from the 15 with 17 seconds remaining.
Hoptown coach Craig Clayton opted to give Marschand a chance to write the ending and he didn’t disappoint, connecting on a 32-yard field goal to put the Tigers in front for good.
Hopkinsville’s Jaxon Davis snuffed out the Blue Tornado’s last chance, intercepting a pass and running out of bounds at the Tilghman 20-yard line as time expired.
Hoptown got the results it needed elsewhere as well, with Madisonville-North Hopkins falling 53-50 to Mayfield and Logan County being blown out 53-6 at South Warren, giving the Tigers the district title and setting up a meeting with Calloway County at the Stadium of Champions to open the playoffs.