PRINCETON -- A lot can change in a matter of weeks, especially in high school football. Especially around here.
At the start of October temperatures reached 97 degrees across western Kentucky.
In mid-October, the Murray High Tigers held a 17-0 lead over Caldwell County in week 9.
By the beginning of November temperatures had dropped to the low 40s, and a football matchup that saw two clubs combine for 82 points three weeks ago would produce several changes in the rematch, as Murray High took a backup quarterback with little varsity experience in Rowdy Sokolowski and turned him into Rudy.
Murray High did the unfathomable, upsetting Caldwell County 34-17 in significant upset fashion in Princeton on Friday night in the first round of the KHSAA Playoffs.
As the emotions set in and the tears from a heartbreaking defeat formed for Caldwell County, there was no one in the region who had to go through more this season than this team, and no club that came together quite like this.
Rowdy finished with 280 yards in the air with a 75 percent completion rate and four touchdown passes on the night (two for over 58 yards and three of them to Murray senior Tommy Waldrop) as Murray High snapped Caldwell's three game winning streak, avenged their 42-40 defeat three weeks back, and sent the blue and gold Tigers home for 2019 after a memorable season came to a close with an 8-3 record under interim Head Coach Wayne McGowan, who took the reigns after the passing of former head coach David Barnes just before the start of the season in August.
This one was a classic, as their battle back in mid October was, just not the way Caldwell County wanted it to end.
With frigid temperatures dripping below 30 degrees, and without Murray High's senior quarterback in Hunter Utley (out for the remainder of the season with a broken wrist). a once anticipated first-round playoff rematch from last month's 42-40 instant classic between the Murray High Tigers and the Caldwell County Tigers had a hard time living up to the billing it once had.
Somehow, it still did.
Murray High might have been down two huge offensive starters, but they brought that same tenacious defense with them to Princeton that allowed just 10 points to the home team in the first three quarters.
Caldwell County senior RB De'Eric Hollowell was coming off of the third best rushing performance in Tiger history with nearly 300 rushing yards and four scores, but they didn't need any explosive individual performances on this night, just consistency.
Caldwell would need to erase another double digit deficit to Murray High, and this time, it was in the second half. All they would need was four solid quarters of Caldwell County football in some unfavorable conditions, but Murray High kept pressing on, and a touchdown by Sebastian Lawrence late in the game iced it.
It was the final game of the season in Princeton at Tiger Stadium.
The crowds across the area were smaller, but the implications were as significant as ever.
The KHSAA 2A State Playoff football opener between Murray (the No. 3 district seed) and Caldwell (the No. 2 seed) was one of the most talked about first round playoff entrees in all of western Kentucky, and a short-handed Murray High (without Utley and offensive weapon Jaiden Jackson) club saw their season continue at 8-3.
Their prize? Likely a trip to face state favorites in district, No. 1 seed Mayfield next Friday.
Caldwell's only two losses prior to this one? A lopsided loss to the 2A state favorites in Mayfield at home and to Hopkinsville early in week 3 in a road game that slipped away from them in the second half.
Caldwell County proved it could play its best football when their backs were against the wall as they produced their greatest comeback in school history at Ty Holland Stadium in week 9, and with their backs against the wall in a win-or-go-home scenario, the Tigers wouldn't do it again.
Caldwell County started out with fantastic field position in a fast paced first quarter, but Russ Beshear threw an instant interception on the first pass of the game.
Murray's second string quarterback Sokolowski (who threw three passes and one completion in the second half against Mayfield) filled in for the injured Utley and completed 13 of his first 17 passes to give Murray High a chance that no one thought they had coming into the night.
A nice keeper by Beshear (four carries for 45 yards in the first half) allowed him to get in the open field, taking the ball inside the Murray high 45, allowing a set up for Hollowell, who walked in for the seemingly easy first score of the game, but it was called back. Hollowell wouldn't catch many breaks on this night.
Caldwell County would still draw first blood at 3-0 with 5:37 remaining in the first quarter via a crisp 27-yard field goal from sophomore kicker Blake Vivrette.
It would be the only points either way of the first quarter.
Sebastian Lawrence and the Murray High defense would plug up the keeper situations as Beshear's open lanes down the middle disappeared, but he adjusted and found a tall tree in WR Tripp Branch on a huge 48-yard TD connection in the air (one of six first-half completions from Beshear) to take a 10-0 command on the first play of the second quarter. Murray High would score the next 21 points, and take over the evening for good.
Murray High had some discomfort with the play clock, wasting multiple timeouts as the second quarter slowly dripped, and though Sokolowski's feed to Jorden Duffy in the end zone on a prayer was called back, Caldwell County wouldn't dodge their next few bullets.
Sokolowski connected with Tommy Waldrop 20 yards to put Murray High on the board with 7:22 remaining in the first half, trimming the deficit to 10-7.
It was the beginning of an ambush by Waldrop, who gave Murray High their biggest boost of the night.
Beshear and Branch nearly made another scoring connection, but some contact in the red zone prevented Branch from coming down with it on the next possession.
As the conditions got colder, the offense seemed to loosen up as the third touchdown of the second quarter came from Waldrop again on a 12-yard bobble in the final seconds of the first half to send Murray High into the locker room up 14-10 on a 14-0 run.
Caldwell County was shy of a first down on their first possession of the second half, and Caldwell's iron curtain of Ben Holt, Elijah Shaheen, Devin Kilgore and company couldn't keep Waldrop from his third touchdown 58 yards in stride, putting Murray High in the drivers seat up 21-10 with 8:05 remaining in the third frame.
The play would cap off three straight TD connections from Sokolowski to Waldrop (all three plays combining for 90 yards), and Vivrette's 32-yard field goal attempt missed to keep Caldwell County's 23-minute scoreless spell going into the fourth quarter, with their backs against the wall down 21-10.
With 12 minutes to save their season and needing 12 points, Caldwell County's first possession of the fourth would fittingly be saved by Branch on hit third catch to help get Caldwell County to the red zone.
Hollowell would stop the bleeding for Caldwell on an eight-yard catch from Beshear with 8:52 to go in the game to slice the deficit to a one possession game at 21-17, but it would be their last one of the night, and Hollowell's only score of the night.
Sokolowski's fourth TD pass of the evening went to Jordan Duffy moments later 68 yards untouched to go back up 28-17 as the backbreaking play of the final eight minutes.
Waldrop came up defensively with six minutes and change remaining to shut down Caldwell County's drive on a fourth down, and Lawrence polished off the killing blow on the other end at 34-17, bulldozing his way inside for the finishing touch.
Caldwell County will graduate six seniors in Hollowell, Max Ashley, Ben Holt, Devin Kilgore, Luke Stallins and Aaron Ziobro.
"We're super proud of these guys. There's nothing we can do as coaches but stand on the sidelines and try to get this team together," coach McGowan said. "These are the guys that have to go out there between the white lines and make all the plays. We had some pretty good plays made this season, and I think we had a pretty good season, a remarkable season. Considering that we lost Coach Barnes at the beginning of the season, which was devastating to this team and this community, these kids found something within themselves and brought it together, and we were able to put together pretty good football this year."
Playoff Box Score
Murray High 34, Caldwell County 17
CC: Blake Vivrette 27-yard FG GOOD, 3-0 Caldwell, 5:37 1Q
CC: Tripp Branch from Beshear 48-yard pass (Vivrette PAT GOOD) 10-0 Caldwell, 11:51 2Q
MH: Tommy Waldrop 20 yard-pass from Sokolowski (PAT GOOD from Merriss) 10-7 Caldwell, 7:22 2Q
MH: Tommy Waldrop 12-yard pass from Sokolowski (PAT GOOD from Merriss) 14-10 Murray, :13 2Q
MH Tommy Waldrop 58-yard pass from Sokolowski (PAT GOOD from Merriss) 21-10 Murray, 8:05 3Q
CC: De'Eric Hollowell 8-yard pass from Beshear (PAT GOOD) 21-17 Murray, 8:52 4Q
MH: Jordan Duffy 68 yard pass from Sokolowski (PAT GOOD) 28-17 Murray, 7:44 4Q
MH: Sebastian Lawrence rushing score (PAT NO GOOD) 34-17 Murray, 4:33 4Q