The Paducah Tilghman Blue Tornado came to Christian Academy of Louisville Friday night with a 6-6 record and an upset dream. The visitors left with a 41-34 victory, the region championship and a berth in the KHSAA Class 3A semifinals.
Blue Tornado first-year head coach Sean Thompson’s team found itself in a back-and-forth battle throughout, but it came out on top due to clutch plays in big moments.
“This is the first time I’ve ever been able to get past this week,” Thompson said. “The first time I’ll get to practice on Thanksgiving and keep them together for a family holiday. That’s what you’re tying to build is a family, and we’re coming together.”
One key player for Tilghman was senior Brian Thomas. In addition to three receptions for 48 yards, Thomas added a 61-yard touchdown run with less than a minute remaining in the third quarter — a score that would prove decisive.
Thomas said his team entered the game against a CAL team many pegged as a Class 3A state championship favorite with a chip on its shoulder, expecting to pull off the upset.
“Why not us?” Thomas said. “Why not? Why can’t we make the third round of the playoffs? Why can’t we make a big play every time we get the ball? We got to execute.”
CAL took an early lead, and kept punching at the Blue Tornado, but mistakes at inopportune times ultimately doomed the season. Head coach Hunter Cantwell said
The Centurions turned the ball over three times in defeat, plus had a roughing the punter penalty late in the game after apparently stopping the Blue Tornado.
“When you play a really good team in the region championship, you can’t have some of the mistakes that we had,” Cantwell said. “That ultimately led to our demise.”
The game was a tit-for-tat affair throughout, featuring three touchdowns from CAL’s Easton Messer with two of them coming on kickoff returns. However, the Blue Tornado defense was the star of the show, especially coming to the rescue with 6:46 remaining in regulation.
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The Centurions had driven the ball down to their opponents 5-yard line. Quarterback Cole Hodge dropped back from under center and looked to the back left corner of the end zone.
Tilghman senior Camdon Marshall tracked the play the whole way, timed his jump perfectly and came back down to the blue-painted artificial turf with the ball firmly in his grasp. The interception denied the Centurions points in a crucial moment.
“It was just locking in,” Thompson said. “We knew (Messer) was a great player and he was going to get his, but we had to be able to go ahead and get some stops.”
The Blue Tornado also benefited from solid play from its trenchmen. Their offensive line only surrendered one sack while paving the way to Tilghman finishing with 254 rushing yards.
On defense, the line continuously made things difficult for the CAL offense. Tilghman limited the Centurions to just 121 yards on the ground. Thomas praised his larger teammates after the game.
“It’s really their game,” Thomas said. “That’s what really what won us the game is the O-line, the D-line. Phenomenal, I love them.”
Following the upset, the Blue Tornado will head to Glasgow next Friday for the state semifinals. Thomas said Tilghman will once again come looking to shock the state.
“All the momentum is on our side now,” the senior said. “I think everybody’s bought in and believes and now we’re fixing to go make a state run.”
This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Kentucky high school football: Paducah Tilghman upsets CAL in playoffs