By Ron Barry
Medina – With a guaranteed playoff berth on the line for the winner, South Gibson proved itself as a better football team than Crockett County, at least on this night.
But the Hornets’ 42-14 triumph over the Cavaliers couldn’t wipe out one thing about the 2022 squad: how much Coach Kevin Ward’s team had improved since an injury-plagued 2021 in which Crockett posted a 1-9 record.
The 2022 version finished with a winning mark of 6-4, and although a 2-3 region record ended its season, Ward said there is much to look forward to next year “if the returning players will work as hard in the off-season as these seniors did this past year.”
“South Gibson is a very good football team,” Ward said after the contest in Medina, “and we didn’t play very well at all. We didn’t tackle well again, and that’s been a weakness in too many games. It’s something we’ll definitely be working on in the months to come. But there was also a lot of improvement this year, and a lot of young guys got a year of experience under their belts. If they’ll work hard, we can get to the next level in order to get back into the playoffs.”
South Gibson, a senior-laden squad in the skill positions, used its depth and a lot of misdirection to rack up 263 rushing yards and eventually pull away from Crockett, which started strongly but then was derailed by penalties and a couple of turnovers.
The Cavs also had to deal with the first-half loss of running back Leanthony Cathey, who reinjured his right leg and couldn’t return.
“We lost a lot of momentum when he went out,” Ward said, “but it also hurt us depth-wise. As much as we run the ball, when your top guy goes out, it’s hard to make up for it.”
Sophomore Deuce Greenhill, who ran for 129 yards on 13 carries and broke one for a 51-yard touchdown scamper, did his best to augment senior quarterback Haydn Moten’s option keepers, but a first-quarter bad snap on a punt attempt – following two holding penalties – took Crockett out of one scoring opportunity, and a lost fumble and a pass interception in the third quarter thwarted any chance at a comeback.
Moten threw a beautiful 44-yard touchdown pass to Ethan Cole on what would be their final play as offensive Cavaliers, but everything in between that toss and Greenhill’s early scoring run favored the home-standing Hornets.
Ward’s club took the opening kickoff and quickly drove 54 yards to the South Gibson 21, earning a first down on a gutsy fourth-down run by Greenhill. On the next two snaps, Crockett was called for consecutive holding penalties – something that had not occurred all season – and that stalled the march and also took them out of field goal position for strong-legged Alex Nolen.
Instead, Nolen was sent in to punt, hoping to pin the Hornets deep in their own territory for their opening possession, but the center snap sailed over his head for the second time in three games and the senior had no choice but to fall on it for a 19-yard-loss that gave South Gibson the ball on the Cavs’ half of the field. On the sixth play, running back Austin Friend scored from 20 yards out, Logan Miller kicked the first of his six successful extra points, and the hosts were off to the races.
Greenhill’s long score on Crockett’s next possession actually tied things at 7-7, but then the Hornets racked up five more touchdowns before Moten’s long throw to Cole late in the fourth quarter.
Even though the final score was lopsided, the game was fairly even statistically, except that the Cavs were penalized seven times for 65 yards while South Gibson wasn’t whistled for a single infraction until just six minutes remained in the game. The only other time the Hornets were flagged was when a kickoff went out of bounds, which is an automatic infraction.
In fact, on another one of Miller’s kickoffs, the ball hit the goal line pylon, which is considered a part of the end zone. None of the Cav backs went to retrieve it, because it’s an automatic dead ball if that happens. But when a South Gibson player picked up the ball, which had stayed within the end zone, the officials were preparing to award him a touchdown until Ward and his staff took issue with the decision and pointed out the correct ruling.
But it was more South Gibson’s offensive efficiency which determined the outcome. Seven different runners carried the ball, and four of them scored touchdowns. Friend and quarterback Sam Brantley each tallied twice, and Ty Duncan and Tyler Lambert did the honors once apiece. All six scores were on rushing plays, from 9, 40, 5, 39, 20, and 13 yards out.
Moten ran for 61 yards on 15 keepers and completed half of his 14 passes for 94 yards to close out an honorable senior campaign. He, Cole and Cathey will all be graduating, along with Crockett starters Brylei Newcomb, Nolen, Landyn Gibson, Brody Saylors, and Braden McCanless. The vast majority of players return, however, which fuels the optimism for the 2023 season.