In a rematch of Kentucky’s past two 6-A state football champions, Trinity nosed back in front of the rivalry, avenging a pair of defeats last season with a thrilling 37-34 home victory Friday night at a packed Marshall Stadium.
The Shamrocks trailed 34-21 with 5:30 remaining in the third quarter and scored the game’s final 16 points, capped by a 19-yard field goal by Zach Williams with 1:40 remaining. Male drove to Trinity’s 31-yard line in the final seconds before Erik Sorensson’s 48-yard field goal attempt barely hooked short and wide left as time expired.
Gallery | Male at Trinity
“We’ve been waiting for this since last year,” said Trinity receiver Noah Ellison, who caught seven passes for 152 yards and two touchdowns. “We’ve had this on the back of our shoulder for a year. To come out here today and finally get the win, it’s huge for us.”
Having downed the rival Bulldogs (3-1), these Shamrocks (4-0) appear primed for another title run in 2016, ranking No. 1 in the Courier-Journal’s Litkenhous Ratings and 19th nationally according to USA TODAY.
The result snapped a state-best 18-game win streak for the fifth-ranked Bulldogs, whose 15-0 run to the state title last season included two victories over the Shamrocks, including a one-point Male win in the playoffs. These Bulldogs were said to be rebuilding a bit, having lost 32 seniors from that title team.
But it didn’t appear that way for much of Friday night.
Quarterback Tony Thomas completed 9-of-13 throws for 281 yards and five touchdowns, four of them to receiver Ethan Bibb, who finished with five catches for 173 yards.
The Bulldogs needed only four pass plays to gain 243 of its 274 yards in the first half. Thomas attempted only six passes in the first half and all four of his completions went for long touchdowns. Bibb contributed three of them (80, 39 and 36 yards), and Brian Smith broke a similar 88-yard catch-and-run.
“We came here to try to win, and I wanted the guys to know that’s what we came here to do,” Male coach Chris Wolfe said. “Early on with the deep throws and onside kicks, no reason to play conservative. If you want to win at this place, you’ve got to let it all hang out.”
The Shamrocks’ offense managed big plays as well, scoring on plays of 19, 39 and 50 yards in the first half, but the Bulldogs’ defense forced three turnovers in Trinity’s first six possessions.
When the smoke cleared from the frenzied first half, Male led 27-21 at halftime, within reach of a surprising road victory, especially when the Bulldogs’ offense took the opening kickoff of the second half and – for the first time all night – built a long drive. Male ran more than six minutes off the clock before Thomas found Bibb for a 5-yard touchdown on third-and-goal, extending the lead to 34-21.
Trinity answered with a 14-yard touchdown run by Roderick Thomas, and when Male’s next drive stalled near midfield, the Bulldogs attempted an unsuccessful fake punt, allowing Trinity to take over at the Bulldogs’ 49-yard line with 11:08 to play.
From there, it was all Shamrocks, who took advantage of a tiring defense by sending Thomas and Jovan Smith into the line with success. Smith finished with 122 yards on 14 carries, while quarterback Spencer Blackburn threw for 207 yards on 11-of-16 passing and ran for 100 yards on 16 attempts.
Thomas scored again on a 1-yard plunge, tying the game with 8:56 to play.
“We’ve got to use this as a learning experience,” Trinity coach Bob Beatty said. “The way that we won, I was very glad. We showed our character. A lot of things can be learned from that.”