UNION, Ky. – Last year, the Cooper football team lost five games by 10 points or less, so pulling out a 12-3 win over Ryle in the 2014 season opener on Friday was a major accomplishment for the Jaguars.
With the score tied, 3-3 early in the fourth quarter, Cooper junior tailback Torey Cordell-Armstrong scored the game’s only touchdown on a 7-yard run, and Mitchell Hollifield kicked the extra point to put the home team on top in the Skyline Chili Crosstown Showdown game.
Marcus Watson, a junior defensive lineman, capped off the Jaguars’ scoring by sacking Ryle quarterback Ryan Rytlewski in the end zone for a safety with 57 seconds left on the clock.
“The biggest thing between this (game) and last year is last year we lost a lot of these close games,” said Cooper coach Randy Borchers. “When we got into a tough ball game and fought adversity, we just couldn’t find a way to get through it, but this time our kids did that.”
The fact that the majority of players in the Cooper lineup are first-year starters makes the season-opening victory even sweeter. The new defensive unit turned in an impressive performance, holding Ryle to 122 total yards and forcing three turnovers.
Watson, one of only two returning starters on defense, said he was a little surprised at how the Jaguars stymied the Ryle offense, which netted just 27 yards rushing because of several quarterback sacks and tackles for a loss.
“We just played hard and didn’t give then anything,” Watson said. “We didn’t let their quarterback get out of the pocket and we were collapsing on everything.”
Rytlewski did not practice most of the week because he was recovering from an injury. But head coach Mike Engler didn’t want to use that or his team’s inexperienced linemen as an excuse for the ineffective offense.
“We never really got into a rhythm, but I have to take my hat off to Cooper,” Engler said. “I thought Cooper did a great job defensively. There’s not much else I can say, they just took it to us up front.”
Cooper opened the game with an 11-play drive that got the ball to the 3 yard line. On fourth down, the Jaguars lined up to go for the touchdown, but a false start penalty pushed them back a little too far. Hollified salvaged the drive by converting a 26-yard field goal to give the Jaguars a 3-0 lead.
Neither team was able to move the ball very well until late in the second quarter when Ryle used a flea-flicker pass play that picked up 41 yards to set up its only score.
On a fourth-down play, Rytlewski handed off to a running back going to the right and he handed it off to a wide receiver going in the other direction. The receiver then flipped the ball back to Rytlewski, who fired a pass that Grant Arnwine pulled down at the 7 yard line.
But the Raiders weren’t able to advance on the next three plays, so the coaching staff sent in senior Max Bouldin, who kicked a 22-yard field goal that tied the score.
Coach Engler said settling for a field goal instead of scoring a touchdown had an impact on the eventual outcome of the game.
“I think that was huge,” he said. “We get in the end zone there we’re up at halftime and I think that changes the complete complexion of the game.”
It looked like Cooper would break the tie late in the third quarter when Armstrong started picking up good yardage. On his fourth consecutive running play, however, he fumbled and Ryle recovered at the 8 yard line.
When Cooper got the ball back at the start of the fourth quarter, Armstrong made up for his mistake. He carried the ball on five of the seven plays it took the Jaguars to score the game’s first touchdown.
On the final play of the drive, Armstrong took a pitch-out on the right side and weaved his way into the end zone behind good downfield blocking from his teammates.
“I first got the pitch and I wasn’t sure where to go,” he said. “So I trusted my lead blockers and cut it up inside.”
Armstrong picked up 106 of his team’s 174 rushing yards, and Cooper senior quarterback Billy Pickett completed 9 of 14 passes for 68 yards.
In a ceremony after the game, Armstrong received his team’s most valuable player award, but he wanted to pass it along to his teammates.
“I’m not perfect, obviously, I had a fumble,” he said. “But our defense really held them. I’d have to say our defense really won this game, not me.”
at RYLE 0-3-0-0–3
C–Hollifield FG 26
R–Bouldin FG 22
C–Armstrong 7 run (Hollifield kick)
C–Safety: Watson tackled Ryle quarterback in end zone
RECORDS: Cooper 1-0, Ryle 0-1.