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In a match up touted as the "Game of the Week" on WHAS 11 in Louisville, the Knights and Bulldogs didn't disappoint.
Bryson Bell's last of three touchdowns, on a 12-yard scamper, secured a win for the Marion County Knights with under two minutes to play Friday night at Greschel Stadium in Louisville.
David Litsey's interception off a deep ball from Fairdale's Bradley Vincent to standout receiver Quintrel Morris ruined any chance the Bulldogs had for a miraculous comeback.
With the ball on their own seven-yard line and a minute to play, quarterback Eric Miles was able to take a knee and run out the clock.
Litsey's interception wasn't his biggest play of the night, as he converted a first down on a fake punt run in the fourth quarter with the score knotted at 21. The conversion would later set up an 18-yard pass from Miles to Bell to break the tie and put the Knights up 28-21.
"The defensive backs really stepped up," Knight Head Coach Jeff Robbins said. "When we prepare for it, we're pretty good at covering the pass."
The Knights prepared heavily for Fairdale's passing attack that included the 6'4" receiver Morris, who was the ninth ranked receiver in the state heading into Friday night's game, according to the Kentucky High School Athletic Association's statistics. Morris was averaging 88 yards per game.
Corner backs Valis Mudd and Litsey spent most of the night covering Fairdale's highly touted receiving corps with single man coverage. The plan worked for the Knights, as the Bulldogs were 40 yards short of their average passing yards per game. They passed for 155 yards against the Knights and went into the game averaging more than 190 yards per game. Marion County was able to pick off Vincent three times in the game, with interceptions by Litsey, Mudd and defensive end Derrick Mattingly.
Mattingly's interception came late in the second quarter with Fairdale near midfield. The junior, who has been clad in a cast all season, tipped the ball and pulled it down for his first interception of the season.
The Knights gave the ball back to the Bulldogs only seven seconds later on a fumble with 15 seconds remaining in the half. With the score knotted at 7-7 and the Knights looking timid on offense, momentum swung in Fairdale's favor.
However, Mattingly wasn't finished yet as Wes Stayton forced a fumble that Mattingly picked up and carried for 49 yards to the end zone. With five seconds remaining in the half, the Knights gained a much-needed spark heading into the half.
The Knights kept rolling in the third quarter when Miles hit Bell from 25 yards out in the end zone to put them up 21-7.
At that point, the Knights found themselves in a familiar situation: up by at least two touchdowns in the third quarter.
As Green County did two weeks ago and Anderson County did a week before that, Fairdale fought back to tie the game in the fourth quarter.
After Bell's touchdown, a special teams breakdown sent the kickoff to Morris, Fairdale's best returner. Morris found room to run and scampered 88 yards to score and give the Bulldog's new life.
In the fourth quarter, Vincent hit Morris for a 20-yard touchdown pass to knot the score at 21. However, as they have done in the last three weeks, the Knights remained calm and stopped the bleeding. Litsey's big fourth down conversion on a fake punt with 7:20 remaining in the fourth was the beginning of the end for the Bulldogs.
The Knights scored seemingly at will, while also eating the clock. Miles hit Bell from 18 yards out to go ahead for good, 28-21. Bell later scored again from the ground from 12 yards out to polish off the Bulldogs.
Jacob Tabor, dubbed "The Bull" by sports commentators Eric Daugherty, Jim Reed and Jerry Fowler, had another break out game, this time showing his skills as a receiver. Robbins said Fairdale was not prepared for "The Bull" to catch the ball as their coverage left the big man alone. Tabor's big catch on the second drive loosened up a Knights' offense that came out timid. His reception set up the first score of the game, a four-yard burst by Buster Hazelwood.
Their win and a win by Bullitt East grants a wish Head Coach Jeff Robbins and his players have been hoping for since week five, which is to avenge their first loss of the season against the Chargers.
Marion County entered that game with a 4-0 record and lost 13-10 in Mount Washington. Robbins has said in the past that he would love a chance to avenge both regular season losses, to Bullitt East and North Bullitt, in the playoffs. If Marion County advances past Bullitt East Friday, they may get their shot as North Bullitt (7-4) survived a solid Western High School (3-9) team in the first round. They play Valley (7-2) next week.
In the post game huddle, players erupted upon hearing they would face Bullitt East next.
A video highlight clip from the game can be seen on WHAS 11's website, http://www.hsgametime.com/louisville/.