Middlesboro gets past Martin County 14-12
By Zach Ausmus
For the second year in a row, the Middlesboro versus Martin County game came down to the final possession, but this year fortune was reversed when Middlesboro came away with a 14-12 win.
Senior linebacker and running back Riley Gent commented on his team’s performance.
“We struggled offensively, but our defense really stuck it out and played a heck of game,” he said.
The game’s leading tackler added, “We made enough plays on offense and everyone on defense knows their roles—we played hard.”
In mostly a defensive struggle, Middlesboro struck first on a one-yard rush around the right edge by Caleb Bogonko. The Jackets lined up for the two-point conversion but were stopped short to bring the score to 6-0.
The ensuing kick-off was returned near midfield to set up good starting field position for Martin County, which alternated between several rushing-minded offensive sets including the wishbone, flexbone, and I-formations and was able to move the ball effectively early. The Cardinals evened the score in a few plays on an eight-yard run by Logan Proctor.
After a short kick, the Jackets regained possession on their own 45, but had to punt after a three-and-out. After the punt, Martin County took over on its own 32-yard line when it began to work the ball down the field. The drive was halted when Martin County quarterback Jayson Maynard attempted the night’s first pass, which was intercepted in the endzone by MHS defensive back Ethan Barton. On the very next play, the MHS quarterback dropped a screen pass off to Bogonko who scurried his way toward midfield. Eric Helton continued to spread the ball around with multiple completions to Jay Tyler West. However, the Cardinal defense was able to regain possession after Middlesboro attempted a long fourth-down conversion.
The Martin County offense then drove into Middlesboro territory with several good runs by Cardinal running back Kolby Sparks who capped the drive with a four-yard touchdown around the right end with 23 seconds in the first half. After the MHS defense kept the Cardinals from the endzone on the two-point conversion attempt, Martin County led 12-6.
The second half remained a matchup of two strong defenses as MHS remained stalwart against Martin County’s multiple offensive sets forcing several short drives and stopping the Cardinal offense on fourth down on several crucial possessions.
Middlesboro took the lead early in the fourth quarter with freshman Cayden Grigsby in at quarterback. On a third and long, the MHS offense lined up in a spread set with four receivers. Senior Ethan Barton capitalized on the Martin County man-to-man defense as Grigsby’s pass found Barton up the left seam for the game’s tying score. After the 56-yard touchdown reception, Martin County jumped offsides on the resulting PAT attempt giving MHS short yardage. Taking advantage of the Cardinal miscue, the MHS offense was able to convert the two-point attempt on a Cayden Grigsby run up the middle that served as the go-ahead score.
After trading scoreless possessions, Martin County had one final possession after Middlesboro running back Riley Gent was stopped short on a fourth-down run. With less than four minutes remaining in the game, the Cardinal offense took possession on their own 17-yard line. Despite two facemask penalties against Middlesboro resulting in 30 extra yards to the drive, the Jacket defense was able to keep the Cardinal offense from producing points when they batted down Maynard’s Hail Mary attempt in the endzone in the game’s final seconds.
For the first time this season, Middlesboro totaled more yards through the air than on the ground. Continuing in a two-quarterback system, Cayden Grigsby threw for 83 yards and Eric Helton added 45 yards. Middlesboro was held under their team rushing averaging totaling 63 yards on the ground with Bogonko leading with 33 yards. Strong play by the Middlesboro defense was led by Riley Gent and Tyler Kelly who had 12 and 11 tackles respectively. After holding Martin County to 12 points, Middlesboro is ranked fifth statewide in 2A in team scoring defense, allowing just 13.3 points a game.
With the win, Middlesboro improves to 6-1 on the year and is now ranked eighth statewide in 2A per KHSAA’s RPI system. Middlesboro returns home for its final regular season game against Lynn Camp Friday night.