Bottled up for most of the first half on Friday night at Marquette Stadium, McCracken County’s Hunter Bradley barreled for 178 yards and two touchdowns in the second half alone — and finished with 206 yards rushing — to help the Mustangs upend the Apollo Eagles, 21-13, in the opening round of the Class 6A playoffs.
It was a colossal effort, and rather timely, as the Mustangs had only Thursday to practice after coming off of a two-week hiatus because of COVID-19 concerns.
“I wasn’t doing too hot in the first half,” Bradley said. “So I just went in at halftime, me and my team got together, we started figuring stuff out, and we just came out with a different fire.”
That fire must’ve come from the belly of the dragon, because Bradley thrived in the gut of his offensive line in those third and fourth quarters.
Trailing 13-7 with 7:25 left in the third quarter after Harrison Bowman’s second field goal, Pryor Lamb converted a critical third down — 16 yards to Nick Masek — before Bradley blasted up the middle for a 44-yard touchdown to retake the lead for good.
After an Apollo three-and-out, McCracken County pasted together a 10-play, 67-yard drive — aided by a facemask penalty against the Eagles on what would’ve been a fourth-down stop — with Bradley breaking three tackles on a 26-yard touchdown for the final score.
“I definitely prefer to run the ball up the middle,” Bradley added. “I just knew going to the outside wasn’t really working. So I just stuck to what I do best, and go up the middle.”
He prefers the physicality?
“Oh yeah,” Bradley said. “For sure.”
McCracken County’s defense came away with two interceptions of Apollo quarterback Damian Lovinsky, the first returned 25 yards by Ian McCune for a touchdown with 3:09 left in the first quarter.
But from there, the Eagles would rip off 13 straight points. Bowman’s first field goal came with 9:43 left in the second quarter and cut it 7-3, though the Eagles sideline remained in an uproar based on the belief their stout running back, Harold Patterson, had crossed the right pylon on an earlier play.
Patterson would get his due, however, when Lovinsky found him on a gorgeous play-action screen pass to the left sideline — good for a 43-yard touchdown and a 9-7 lead with 3:06 left in the first half.
When McCracken County opened the third quarter with a three-and-out, the Eagles flew again, as Patterson (25 carries, 130 yards) churned for gains of 15 and 18 yards to help set up Bowman’s chipshot.
And that’s when Bradley flipped the switch.
“We just cleaned it up a little,” noted McCracken County coach Marc Clark. “We thought, early in the game plan, that our midzone and our stretch game was going to kind of be where we could make some hay with them. They ended up moving Logan Weedman (Tennessee Tech commit) to the exterior, and he did a good job on our tackles and tight ends.
“And then eventually, we just said ‘Let’s just try to run at them. Let’s not get Hunter Bradley off to the side.’ And we just started making plays. Getting into our two-tight-end sets started to help us out a little more. When you only have one day of practice, it’s kind of hard to get in the rhythm of really throwing the ball.”
But ball security was critical. The Mustangs had no turnovers, while Lovinsky’s second interception went to Jackson Gruber, and iced the game for the maroon-and-black.
“It was a tough game, and we knew tonight was one of those where it was going to be tough sleddin’,” Clark added. “And the kids just ended up staying the course, believing in the message. We earned ourselves another week.”
And a rematch against Henderson County.
Though it was a disappointing finish for Apollo, the future remains bright for the Eagles.
“I’m proud of these kids. And these seniors have helped us turn the corner,” said Apollo head coach John Edge. “The program is moving in the right direction.
“Last year in the playoffs, Apollo lost down here 57-0. Tonight, we had some opportunities but it just didn’t work out for us.”
MCCRACKEN COUNTY 21, APOLLO 13
Eagles 0 10 3 0 — 13
Mustangs 7 0 7 7 — 21
MC: Ian McCune 25-yard INT (Barrett Buchanan PAT), 7-0, 3:09 1Q
AP: Harrison Bowman 24-yard FG, 7-3, 9:43 2Q
AP: Harold Patterson 43 pass from Davian Lovinsky (Harrison Bowman PAT), 10-7, 3:06 2Q
AP: Harrison Bowman 31-yard FG, 13-7, 7:25 3Q
MC: Hunter Bradley 44 rush (Barrett Buchanan PAT), 14-13, 4:40 3Q
MC: Hunter Bradley 26 rush (Barrett Buchanan PAT), 21-13, 10:17 4Q
MC Pryor Lamb 13-19-123. APP: Damian Lovinsky 6-16-91-1T-2I.
MC: Hunter Bradley 26-206-2, Jeremiah Hughes 4-34, Pryor Lamb 4-(-15). APP: Harold Patterson 25-130, Damian Lovinsky 5-4.
MC: Nick Masek 5-54, Hunter Bradley 3-37, Zander Mayes 3-28, Jeremiah Hughes 2-4. APP: Harold Patterson 1-43-1, John Lynn 2-26, Evan Miller 2-17, Ben Armour 1-5.
McCracken County 5-2, Apollo 4-4.
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