PADUCAH — To win its football home opener on Friday night against Graves County, Paducah Tilghman only had to do two things: slow Clint McKee down and keep Mason Grant from breaking loose for a catch-and-run.
For this young Tornado team, both tasks proved far easier to say than to do.
Whenever the Eagles needed yardage on the ground, they almost always turned to McKee. The junior running back responded with 190 yards on 32 carries plus a touchdown. Grant started getting open in the third as he caught four passes for 80 yards and another score. These moments on offense proved enough as Graves overcame some miscues and emerged with the 17-7 victory, avenging last season’s 34-13 home loss to the Tornado.
“At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how many weapons you have if you put up more points than the other team,” Tilghman coach Jonathan Smith said afterwards. “A lot of it was youth and inexperience. There’s a lot of guys out here who haven’t played a lot of football. They grew up a whole lot tonight.”
Early in the first, Tornado quarterback Cam Marshall got his team deep into Eagle territory. However, Wesley Felts picked Marshall off and returned it to his own 34. With McKee taking the ball some more with the occasional incomplete pass, Graves entered Tilghman territory before McKee lost yardage on a third-and-short. The Eagles turned to Conner Thomas and he booted the ball through the uprights for the early 3-0 edge.
Both teams had trouble holding onto the ball soon after. Tilghman fumbled the following kickoff to Graves, but got the ball back when Chris Allen intercepted John Ben Brown. The Tornado turned it over on downs and McKee got Graves back in the Tilghman red zone. Early in the second quarter, McKee punched it in from six yards out for the 10-0 lead.
Late in the half, the Eagles got close again but Turner Humphrey picked Brown and got the ball to the Tornado 40. Despite handing it off to variety of backs, Tilghman could not get on the board before halftime.
As the third quarter got underway, Brown started to find one particular receiver. Grant caught the ball and cut loose for a 33-yard gain into Tilghman territory. After some more McKee runs to get closer, Brown hooked up with Grant again for 24 yards and the final score for Graves.
The Tornado had their own trusted back in Seth Slayton. On the next possession, his rushes of 21 and 16 yards got the Tornado within striking distance. Midway through the third, Jarmorie Sabbs took the ball for the second time in the game and rumbled 41 yards for the lone Tornado touchdown. The extra-point kick from Shelby Nickal made it 17-7 and gave the McRight Field crowd hope for a comeback.
However, Tilghman would fumble a punt late in the third and Graves got it on the Tornado 15. An offsides penalty against Tilghman made it first-and-goal but Slayton would recover a fumble to squash that opportunity. Penalties hurt the Tornado plenty as a 50-plus run from Marshall was reduced by a block-in-the-back call, ending the hosts’ last best hope for victory.
Slayton was the top Tornado rusher with 71 yards on eight carries. Brian Thomas caught four passes from Marshall for 45 yards.
Graves 17, Tilghman 7
Graves County 3 7 7 0 — 17
Paducah Tilghman 0 0 7 0 — 7
GC: Conner Thomas 29 field goal, GC 3-0, 2:55 1Q
GC: Clint McKee 6 run (Thomas kick), GC 10-0, 1:56, 2Q
GC: Mason Grant 24 pass from John Ben Brown (Thomas kick), GC 17-0, 8:40 3Q
PT: Jarmorie Sabbs 1 run (Shelby Nickal kick), GC 17-7, 6:45 3Q
Graves: McKee (32-190-1); Tilghman: Slayton (8-71-0)
Graves: Brown (5-13-87-2); Tilghman: Marshall (9-13-65-2).
Graves: Grant (4-80-1); Tilghman: B. Thomas (4-45-0)
Graves: 1-0; Tilghman: 0-1