By Denis House / The Endzone Staff
LONDON — A first in anything is something you will remember your entire life, whether it be a first love, first car, first kiss, or in Matt Rhymer's case, first win as a head coach.
He got that Friday night when his South Laurel Cardinals defeated visiting Rockcastle County, 19-8.
“It feels great,” Rhymer said. “I’m proud of our kids and our coaching staff. Everyone gave an awesome effort.”
He had every reason to be proud, especially considering South Laurel (1-1) was coming off a one-sided loss to Wayne County and only three days to prepare for the Rockets (0-3).
“After our loss to Wayne, we watched a little tape but then had a full speed practice on Tuesday,” Rhymer said. “We saw the mistakes we made against Wayne and fixed them.”
Coming into the game the Rockets knew that South Laurel would try and run the ball down their throats. Maybe it was because Rhymer caught Rockcastle County off-guard when the Cardinals first two touchdowns came via the pass. For a moment it looked like the South Laurel of old during the Neil Warren days.
The first one came with 8:27 left in the first quarter, on South Laurel's first possession of the game, when Jonathan Jenkins found Austin Rickett in the end zone, as the wide receiver made a spectacular juggling catch as he was falling to the ground for a 20-yard score.
The second, also to Rickett, came with 11:49 left in the first half, again to Rickett, this time for 25 yards and a 13-0 lead.
“We knew we had to throw it a little bit,” Rhymer said. “They would put nine, 10 players in the box and we took what they gave us. By throwing we loosened up our running game. Everybody from elementary up has the Blast Pass. We’ve got to keep it simple when you are trying to find a way to win.”
Jenkins was three-of-three for 65 yards and two touchdowns. After that, it was good old-fashioned, smash mouth football by the Cardinals, as they kept the ball on the ground to try and grind the clock away.
The Cardinals were able to force Rockcastle into several turnovers, including two interceptions and a lost fumble. The defense also recorded seven sacks on quarterback Corey McPhetridge. James Johnson (two), Brody Bowling, Brandon Brooks-Sutton, Josh Phelps, Tracy Proffitt and Caleb Rollins all had sacks, while Rollins had a fumble recovery.
“The defense played well,” Rhymer said. “They stepped up.”
Rockcastle put a drive together late in the first half that saw the Rockets move the ball from the South 49 down to the 9 yard line, but McPhetridge fumbled on third down and Rollins recovered to end the threat. The half ended with South leading, 13-0.
The Cards made it 19-0 with 10:12 left in the third quarter when Taylor Morris, on third-and-15 from the 45, took a pitch from Jenkins on the right side, then cut back to the middle and raced 55-yards for the score. The two point conversion failed.
Rockcastle finally scored on its next possession, but had a little good luck doing it in the form of a Hail Mary pass on fourth-and-22 that found John Hughes for a 26-yard score with 7:27 left. On the two point conversion, the ball was fumbled, but Austin Emery recovered it in the end zone to make it 19-8.
That would be all the scoring as the South defense came up with an interception by Morris and several sacks down the stretch to seal the win.
The Cards did lose Aaron Quinn in the first half when he suffered a possible dislocated elbow. Rhymer said his team might have been inspired to win the game for Quinn, one of their leaders on defense.
Now it's back to work for the Cardinals, as they will travel to face Clay County Friday.
South Laurel ends nine-game skid by surprising Rockcastle County, 19-8
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