In a bruising game of hard-hitting defense and pivotal scoring moments, Cooper emerged over Ryle, 27-21, handing the Raiders their first loss of the season and setting up a fascinating run at the district championship in the remainder of the regular season.
“You have, in my opinion, two really good football teams and that’s what it’s supposed to be about,” said Cooper head coach Randy Borchers after the game.
The turning point of the game came in the fourth quarter with the score tied at 14, when kick returner Byron Brown gathered the kick on a bounce, found room along the right sideline, and outran every Raider to the end zone for the go-ahead score. The Jaguars would score another touchdown on their next possession when wide receiver Dante Hendrix caught a 17-yard out route near the pylon where, on a bad ankle, was able to get the ball across the plane to put his team up two touchdowns, 27-14. Ryle would score a meaningless touchdown in the last 10 seconds when Bryce Ashley caught a slant pass and went in from 17 yards.
The night was marred by a number of injuries to both sides, perhaps most notably talented Cooper running back Torey Cordell-Armstrong who left the game after only three plays with what appeared to be a lower leg injury. Cordell-Armstrong sat on the trainer’s table the entire first half and walked the sidelines on crutches in the second.
As a result, the Jaguars offense sputtered in the early going. Quarterback Nathan Brown did not have much time, and the rushing game was stymied early and often by the quicker Ryle defensive line. Cooper attempted multiple shotgun handoffs to backup running back Jaden Jackson, but he was able to gain very little if at all on these plays, thanks to players like outside linebacker Tyler Selby exploding around the weak side edge and dragging the ball carrier down before the play could properly develop.
The Ryle offense in the first half, wasn’t much better. The Raiders took the opening kickoff deep into Cooper territory, but only came away with three points. Quarterback Tanner Morgan was hit, hurried and sacked too often in the first and second quarters and could not effectively move the ball
At halftime, the game was 3-0 Ryle and looked like a classic slugging match that could be won by field goals.
“We were a little frustrated,” said Borchers. “They did some things in the first half that bothered us a little bit.”
Cooper struck first with a long drive that started at their own 20 yard line. Out of the locker room, it was clear that the Jaguars had made offensive adjustments, as the run plays now came with the quarterback under center and wide receiver Dante Hendrix became more involved in the offense. On the drive, Hendrix caught two crucial first down catches to set up Jackson for a four-yard touchdown run, giving Cooper its first lead, 7-3. Hendrix was great in the second half with numerous big catches for long yardage.
“I think we came out in the second half and made some adjustments and were able to run the ball a little bit. They had a couple of injuries defensively so were able to exploit that a little bit. It was one of those things that whoever got the ball last seemed like would win.”
The Raiders responded with their own scoring drive, but only managed another field goal by freshman kicker Mason Molique.
Then the teams swapped touchdowns. First it was Cooper scoring on a Nathan Brown quarterback sneak from a yard out, then Ryle scored on a drive set up by a number of short passes, mostly toward the sideline, that drove the ball downfield easily and was capped off by Jacob Chisolm scoring up the middle from three yards out. After the successful two-point conversion, Ryle was back in it, all tied at 14.
Prior to the Ryle scoring drive that tied it, though, the Raiders had the ball, down 14-6, when Tanner Morgan hit wide out Bryce Ashley on a slant pattern that went for over 40 yards on the play and deep into Jaguar territory. When Ashley was tackled, however, he landed on the ground, causing the ball to slip from his grasp and come loose. Cooper recovered and became the recipients of a very questionable fumble call.
Either way, the drama came to a head with the big kick return from Brown that swung the momentum toward the Jaguars for good and opened up Class 6A District 5 for any of the three teams involved: Cooper (6-2), Ryle (6-1), and Conner (6-1).
“The kick return was huge,” Borcher said. “They scored to tie it and really had the momentum. We did enough offensively, but weren’t great offensively, and he kind of sparked to give us the lead. Our defense is playing well. We feel if we can get the lead, we’re pretty confident. That’s a great offensive team in Ryle and for us to hold them to 21 points says a lot about our defense.”
Nathan Brown 2015 All Tri State Football Honorable Mention
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