Cooper, ranked third in the Enquirer’s Northern Kentucky area coaches’ poll, earned bragging rights over second-ranked Ryle and gained a leg up in 6A district 5 standings by beating the Raiders 27-21 Friday night at Jaguar Stadium in the Battle of Union.
After Ryle tied the game up at 14-14 with 7:48 to play on a 3-yard touchdown run by sophomore Jake Chisholm and a two-point conversion pass from Tanner Morgan to Jake Long, Cooper sophomore Byron Brown returned the ensuing kick 80 yards for a go-ahead score. Byron’s brother, senior quarterback Nathan Brown, and junior wide receiver Dante Hendrix then hooked up for a 17-yard touchdown with 5:34 to play to put the game away.
“I just try to make plays and do my job when I get chances,” Byron Brown said of his kick return. “I was just running straight down the middle, and I saw no one was blocking the guy running straight at me, so I just hit it on the outside and found a seam.”
His older brother was his biggest fan on the sideline during the return: “That’s the most excited I’ve been during a game. I lost my voice for a couple of minutes,” Nathan Brown said.
Ryle scored a touchdown with 8.6 seconds left when Tanner Morgan hit Bryce Ashley for an 18-yard strike, but Cooper recovered the ensuing onside kick to end any hope of a last second miracle.
Nathan Brown and Hendrix put on a show in the second half for Cooper. Hendrix finished the game with 153 receiving yards and a touchdown on eight catches, with most of his damage coming after halftime.
“I struggled in the first half, because I had to prepare for their double team,” Hendrix said. “They had a safety high on me, so I went in the locker room and talked to (Nathan) and we adjusted in the second half.”
Nathan Brown outdueled Northern Kentucky’s leading passer, Morgan, as he completed 13-of-21 passes for 220 yards with a touchdown and an interception for Cooper. Morgan was 19-of-27 for 132 yards with a score.
The game started with a bang when Chisholm opened with a 60-yard kickoff return that set the Raiders up on the Jaguars’ 30 yard line. But it quickly slowed to a halt.
Morgan hit Bryce Ashley for a 23-yard gain on the first play from scrimmage to take his team inside the 10, but Cooper’s defense held tough on three straight plays, forcing Ryle to settle for a 25-yard field goal by freshman kicker Mason Molique.
That set the tone for the defensive struggle that was the first half.
Cooper tallied only 88 yards of total offense, while punting on four of its first half possessions, while Ryle compiled just 53 total yards and punted on five straight possessions after Molique’s field goal.
The only other threat of points before halftime came late in the second quarter. Cooper had an 11-play drive that melted off over six minutes of game time, but stalled at the Ryle 14. The Jaguars’ 31-yard field goal attempt to tie the game was blocked by Ryle senior Logan Rieman.
“I’m stubborn about wanting to run the ball,” Cooper coach Randy Borchers said. “Tonight we just weren’t able to, but we know we can throw the ball. They tried to double team Dante, but he still came up with a couple of big plays. He’s just so smooth with what he does.”
Cooper took the lead with a nine-play, 80-yard drive to open the second half. Nathan Brown connected with Hendrix for gains of 20 and 32 yards on the drive, before junior Jaden Jackson scored on a 4-yard touchdown run to make it 7-6.
“Nathan’s come a long way from the beginning of the year,” Borchers said. “He’s completing a lot of passes now that he couldn’t complete in the middle of the year.”
Ryle responded on its ensuing possession with a 36-yard field goal from Molique.
Brown found Hendrix for a 34-yard pickup to move the Jaguars into Ryle territory on their next possession, and eight plays later Brown snuck it into the endzone from 1 yard out to make it 14-6 just before the end of the third quarter, which setup Chisholm’s game-tying touchdown run for Ryle in the fourth.
Cooper’s defense was exceptional throughout the night as the Jaguars outgained the Raiders 314-190 in total yards. Sophomore Justin Schlarman led Cooper with nine tackles. Stalwarts Elliott Smith and Marcus Watson were productive on the defensive line, as they combined for two sacks and nine tackles as well.
“I haven’t played much defense at all this year,” Schlarman said. “That was something we put in this week, having me right in the middle there on the running back. I was excited to get back on that side of the ball after playing defense all of last year.”
Ryle 3 0 3 15 – 21
Cooper 0 0 14 13 – 27
R – Molique 25 field goal
C – Jackson 4 run (Hollifield kick)
R – Molique 36 field goal
C – Brown 1 run (Hollifield kick)
R – Chisholm 3 run (Long pass from Morgan)
C – Brown 80 kick return (Hollifield kick)
C – Hendrix 17 pass from Brown (Kick blocked)
R – Ashley 17 pass from Morgan (Molique kick)
Records: C 6-2, R 6-1