MURRAY — Caldwell County pushed out to a quick 14-0 lead with the help of a Murray fumble, but Murray bounced back, scoring three straight touchdowns en route to the 35-28 win in the first round of the KHSAA playoffs.
Murray (6-2) will visit Mayfield (7-1) in the second round of playoffs at 7 p.m. Friday. Mayfield was idle in the first round, as Ballard Memorial withdrew from the playoffs.
Caldwell County got on the scoreboard quickly, after it recovered a fumbled punt return on the MHS 36, Senior quarterback Russ Beshear capped a five-play drive with a three-yard TD run with 6:40 left in the first quarter. Junior placekicker Blake Vivrette’s extra-point kick gave CCHS a 7-0 lead.
Neether team scored until Beshear found senior wide receiver Tate VanHooser on a 45-yard touchdown pass with 9:57 left in the second quarter. The extra-point kick gave CCHS a 14-0 lead.
Murray struck back quickly, using a 53-yard kickoff return by Charvell McCallister to get set up in Caldwell County territory. Brendan Dahncke capped the scoring drive with a two-yard run into the end zone with eight minutes left in the half. Caden Cain’s extra-point kick made the score 14-7.
With under a minute left in the half and with Caldwell County driving, Beshear threw an errant pass into the arms of Murray’s Daniel Klukan, who returned it 47 yards for another MHS score. The extra-point kick tied the score at 14-14 with 40 seconds left in the half.
On Murray’s first possession of the second half, McCallister tore down the field for a 51-yard TD run with 9:34 left in the third quarter, giving MHS a 21-14 lead.
Caldwell County retied the score on its ensuing drive when Beshear found VanHooser again on a scoring pass, this one going 51 yards with 8:51 left in the quarter to make the score 21-21.
On its first play on the ensuing possession, Murray scored again when McCallister bolted through the CCHS line for a 74-yard TD run, giving MHS a 28-21 lead with 8:32 left in the third quarter.
Both teams’ defenses held up for the next 16 minutes until Caldwell County senior Tripp Branch dropped back for a fake punt. He passed the ball toward VanHooser, but Dijon Miles stepped in front of it and returned it to the end zone, a 42-yard TD return with 4:47 left in the game to give MHS a 35-21 lead.
Caldwell County was able to get another score when Beshear found VanHooser on a five-yard TD pass with 1:23 left in the game, narrowing the gap to 35-28.
Caldwell County got the ball back with 59 seconds left in the game and got the ball to the MHS 46, but could go no further as time ran out.
CCHS first-year head coach Will Barnes said that Murray was the better team in the game.
“It’s tough, especially when you’ve got a group of seniors like we do who have done every single thing that we’ve asked them the entire way,” he said. “They deserved to come out here and win tonight, but it just didn’t work out.
“Hats off to Murray. They’re a good football team, and they were better than us tonight.”
Barnes said one of the big differences was Murray’s defense in the secondary that hampered Beshear’s efforts to find an open receiver.
“They did a really good job in the secondary,” he said. “When they’ve got man coverage and they’ve got up-front like they do, it’s hard to run the ball against them because of how good their defensive line plays.
“You go back to the first game when we were able to make some plays down the field. We were a little bit off on that, but still had some good plays. We just didn’t have enough tonight.”