By: Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times
Anyone who underestimated the West Carter Comets team was in for a surprise on Friday when they faced off against the undefeated East Carter Raiders for the annual Battle for the Barrel showdown.
But the Comets, who started their season with a 21-23 loss to Rowan County (East Carter beat Rowan handily, 28-8, in their match-up the following week), showed that their 6-0 win against Fleming County the following week was no fluke. They kept that momentum going through a down week and right on into their match-up with East Carter, going home with the barrel on a 22-16 win over the Raiders.
The Carter County rivals held each other scoreless through the entire first quarter of the game, and most of the second. There were less than five minutes left in the half when Cole Crampton broke out for a long run down the West Carter sideline, and a first down at the 12 yard line, setting himself up for a touchdown and a 7-0 West Carter lead.
East fought back, attempting to make up the difference and advancing to scoring position. But they couldn’t overcome the Comet defense, with West Carter’s Isaac Bond slapping down a scoring pass from the five yard line with four seconds left in the half.
West Carter started the second half with a first down on the 46 on reception, with Sam Jones and Black McGlone receiving for yardage, and quarterback Eli Estepp advancing the ball to the 20 yard line before turning over possession to East. The ball traded sides twice more, with Nikk Barnett and Kanyon Kozee adding yards for the Raiders, but both sides staying scoreless through the third quarter.
Going into the final quarter the score was still at 7-0, with the Comets in possession of the ball, but East would gain possession again before West Carter got the ball back and McGlone scored, halfway through the quarter, taking the score to 13-0 before Estepp made good on the extra point kick to take the Comets to 14-0.
But East Carter wasn’t giving up just yet. They continued to gain yardage on a series of short but complete passes and rushing attempts to advance the ball to the nine yard line on a third down before Kanyon Kozee scored a touchdown for the Raiders and Charlie Terry made good on a two point conversion, putting the score at 14-8 with 3:32 left in the game.
West wasted no time in broadening that gap again though. After taking possession on East’s 48 yard line, McGlone rushed for 35 yards, taking the ball to the 13 yard line and setting up West for another touchdown, by Crampton, and two point conversion from Sam Jones, to put the score at 22-8 with 1:22 left on the clock.
Even though there wasn’t much time, East wasn’t ready to give up. They fought back hard, with quarterback Kozee connecting on a pass to Connor Goodman for first and 10 on the three yard line and setting East up for a Barnett touchdown and two point conversion with just 53 seconds on the clock, taking the score to 16-22.
Another touchdown could have tied the game, and an extra point could have won it for the Raiders. But there just wasn’t enough time left on the clock to take the ball back from West and fight through their defense to score before the clock ran out.
West Carter coach Daniel Barker, who acknowledged his team struggled in their first outing, said he, “could not be more proud,” of the hard work and practice his team have put in to turn things around in their second and third outings.
“We never wavered on these kids,” Barker said. “We had no doubts they’d continue to improve each week.”
That includes quarterback Eli Estepp, who Barker said has really stepped into his new role and continues to show growth and leadership.
“He’s a first year starting quarterback, and stepping up and doing a great job,” Barker said. “I thought he was so gutsy. You know, we’re running those run-pass options, and so he’s reading and, down
the stretch, it’d be easy to just hand it off, and, you know, he made throws. He made great throws.”
He said Estepp knows he has some big shoes to fill, but that hasn’t stopped him from stepping up.
“You know, you think about this. You’re a first time starting quarterback, and the guy you’re replacing has every school record. (But) he’s more than living up to the challenge, and we’re excited to see what he does the next few years.”
Estepp finished the night with nine pass completions on 13 attempts, for 103 passing yards, and kicked both of West’s extra points.
Crampton scored two rushing touchdowns for the Comets, and McGlone scored on a reception, with Jones giving the team their only two-point conversion on the night.
Crampton had his legs on Friday night, rushing for 118 yards over 24 attempts, though rushing losses put the team total at 107 yards.
In addition to his touchdown pass, McGlone connected on three other passes, for four receptions and 78 receiving yards. Jackson Bond caught two passes for 40 yards, and Kaden Wilson and Jones caught one pass each to add eight and six yards, respectively, to the Comets total.
On defense Isaac Bond had two solo tackles and 12 assists to lead the team with 14 total tackles. Conner Greene had one solo tackle and 11 assists, Neil Lusher had three and eight, Bradyn Flener four and four, McGlone one and six, Jones had seven assists, Samuel Rayburn had six assists, and Gavin Adams had four assists. Jackson Kidwell has two solo tackles and one assist, Preston Nauman had one solo and two assists, Ethan Bledsoe had one assist, Cade Oppenheimer, Crampton, and Jackson Bond had one solo tackle each, and Noah Orcutt had one tackle assist, giving the Comets 17 solo tackles, 63 assisted tackles, and 80 total for the evening, with one defensive sack shared between Jones and Rayburn.
The Comets play again on Friday, at home, versus Raceland. East Carter faces off against Fleming County, in an away game. Both games start at 7:30 p.m.
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