GRAYSON It took nearly the entire first half for points to find the scoreboard in the 51st meeting of the Battle for the Barrel.
Limited to just under seven minutes of possession in the first half and collecting only three first downs, West Carter showed good things could happen in the blink of an eye. The Comets’ first three possessions ended in a pair of punts and a turnover on downs at the East Carter 26-yard line. But their fourth needed only three plays and 55 seconds to make a difference in the final outcome behind a Cole Crampton 7-yard touchdown with 3:47 remaining in the half.
The scoreboard still showed a 7-0 Comets lead until each team scored a touchdown in the final six minutes of the game. With 53 seconds to play, East Carter pulled to within six, but the ensuing onside kick landed in the hands of the visitors from Olive Hill as West Carter notched its seventh win in eight meetings against East Carter, 22-16.
After starting the season with a tough loss to Rowan County, West Carter has produced back-to-back victories by margins of six points.
“These kids have a won a ton of games, but we haven’t played a lot of close games the last couple of years,” West Carter coach Daniel Barker said. “To play three in a row and to come back from the loss to open the season and to learn some things and come back two weeks in a row and make the plays to win a ball game, that’s growth.”
Crampton’s second score capped off a six-play, 52-yard drive that consumed 2:10 of the final 3:32 that remained when the Comets took possession after the Raiders dented the scoreboard. Crampton’s score and 113 yards on 26 carries appeared to have the game on ice, but the Raiders had other thoughts in deciding the final outcome.
East Carter quarterback Kanyon Kozee connected with Connor Goodman for a 44-yard bomb to move the Raiders to the Comets 3. Two plays later, Nikk Barnett dove in from 2 yards out to pull the host Raiders to within six.
But the Comets applied pressure from the defensive line and along the edges from the first series of the game, forcing the Raiders into a passing attack that is outside their typical run-first philosophy.
“It’s a Wing-T offense, so you have to stop the run,” Barker said. “The tough thing about East is they have a really good quarterback. That was kind of how we chose to make them beat us and I thought they made the plays to have a chance to win the ball game. That wasn’t a disrespect thing, it’s the Wing-T and if you don’t stop the run, they aren’t going to throw it.”
Kozee finished 10 of 25 for 121 yards through the air, with Goodman hauling in seven balls for 101 yards.
But the biggest plays of the game perhaps occurred just before the half when the Raiders emphatically marched down the field to the West Carter 5 with 15 seconds to go, only to come up empty after a pair of Kozee passes fell incomplete.
“We had to make stands all game long,” Barker said. “There at the end of the half, our guys were gassed and their guys were gassed. I remember we looked up there and there was a minute left on the clock and we told our guys, you get a break in a minute, tough it out, and our guys have done that in all three games.”
East Carter coach Tim Champlin said his team left points on the field in the first half of play.
“We had a couple opportunities in the first half where we had the ball inside the red zone or close to the red zone and came away with nothing,” Champlin said. “We have to come away with points in two of the three or at least one of the three chances to go into the half tied 7-7 and things would have looked a little different.”
West Carter spent much of the game on defense with seven or eight guys in the box to disrupt a East Carter rushing attack that managed 151 yards in the game and only 58 in the second half.
“They did a great job of taking our edges away and taking the middle away,” Champlin said. “Their two inside defensive linemen are really good and the two linebackers did a good job of taking stuff away from us. Their edge guys played really well and made us just keep stringing stuff out until we ran out of running room.”
Eli Estepp pushed the Comets in front by 14 with 5:50 to play in the game after finding Blake McGlone for a 6-yard touchdown on a ball that had to be placed with pin-point precision.
“I thought Eli, as the game went on, my goodness,” Barker said. “The guts he showed tonight were just tremendous and really helped us out. We run those RPOs and you never know with our quarterback. Our philosophy is if he makes the wrong read, you have to live with it. Just the guts to do that down there and we trusted him. It was a perfect throw because it was great defense and coverage. He was huge.”
Estepp finished with 125 yards and the lone touchdown toss. McGlone tallied five balls for 73 yards and now holds West Carter’s record for most catches all-time. However, the player who sits in second is only three balls behind him and made his return to the field for the first time since suffering a season-ending ACL injury during basketball season earlier in the year.
“We’ve really struggled to get our offense rolling with different guys out,” Barker said. “We got Jackson Bond back tonight and when he’s out there, he just makes everyone around him better. It’s good to get our guys back and start getting some confidence.”
Bond had two grabs for 35 yards and nearly sprang free on a punt return that looked destined to end up a score before a Raiders defender snagged his foot from behind.
W. CARTER 0 7 0 15 — 22
E. CARTER 0 0 0 16 — 16
W—Cole Crampton 7 run (Eli Estepp kick), 3:47
W—Blake McGlone 6 pass from Estepp (Estepp kick), 5:50
E—Nikk Barnett 9 run (Charlie Terry pass from Kanyon Kozee), 3:32
W—Crampton 5 run (Sam Jones pass from Estepp), 1:22
E—Barnett 2 run (Kozee run), :53
First Downs 9 18
Rushes-Yards 30-100 40-151
Comp-Att-Int 9-14-0 10-25-0
Passing Yards 125 121
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 1-0
Punts-Avg. 5-40.6 5-28.6
Penalties-Yards 4-35 2-20
West Carter rushing: Crampton 26-113, Bond 1-0, Team 1-0, Estepp 2-(minus 13)
East Carter rushing: Terry 16-39, Barnett 13-48, Boggs 4-26, Kozee 7-38
West Carter passing: Estepp 9 of 14 for 125 yards
East Carter passing: Kozee 10 of 25 for 121 yards
West Carter receiving: Bond 2-35, McGlone 5-73, Wilson 1-11, Jones 1-6
East Carter receiving: Goodman 7-101, Boggs 2-14, Terry 1-6.