Malachi Rider got Paducah Tilghman up and running early on. Jaquellus Martin hauled in some big catches late for Trigg County. When the dust finally cleared Friday night at McRight Field, it was the Tornado moving on to the next round on the Class 3A football playoffs with a 53-21 win over the Wildcats.

Next up for Tilghman is another game at Union County, as the Braves advanced Friday with a 54-26 win over Webster County. Union handed the Tornado a crushing 49-7 defeat on Oct. 16, and thanks to pandemic delays, it was the last game the Tornado played until the playoffs, where coach Jonathan Smith’s squad was itching to go.

“Those first two weeks, we really had a sore pit down in our stomachs,” Smith said of his squad before the game. “It allowed us as coaches to do a lot of reflecting on what we needed to do a better job of. It put a finite spin on what we’ve been telling our players since June 15 that at any point and time our season could end. I felt a renewed sense of energy from our guys, especially the seniors. Even if you win, you could be done, so you got to leave it all out on the field.”

Rider, a freshman, was the first player to do just that. After a short kickoff gave the Tornado the ball on their 42-yard line, Rider took the ball on the first play from scrimmage. He hooked left and sprinted down the field for the game’s first score just 15 seconds in. The Wildcats’ first possession ended in three-and-out, so the ball got punted to the Tilghman 43. Once again, Rider found room on the left and took off for his second score.

He nearly had a third long scoring run in the opening frame, but was forced out of bounds at the Trigg 5 following a 57-yard sprint. He scored on the next play and finished the first quarter with 192 rushing yards on seven carries. For the game, Rider ran 11 times for 269 yards and added a fourth-quarter touchdown of 40 yards.

In the third, a Tornado senior stepped up in a big way. Brian Thomas made the longest run of the night for 86 yards and paydirt. Less than 14 seconds later, he picked off Wildcats quarterback Beau Hendricks and returned it 27 yards for a 39-0 lead that forced the running clock with 9:37 left in the third quarter. Still, Trigg did not give up.

The Wlldcats lost starting quarterback Jacob Wease early in the third quarter with what appeared to be a leg injury. At first, Hendricks fared little better, but coach Mark Peach wanted to keep going.

“When you look at all the guys we had go down, we just hung in there and recovered those onside kicks,” Peach said after the game.

Trigg first got on the board when Martin snagged an 18-yard touchdown pass from Hendricks early in the fourth quarter. Back-to-back successful onside kicks let the Wildcats keep the ball for two more Martin touchdown catches for 31 and 35 yards. It was only a failed onside kick that gave Tilghman the ball for Rider’s last score. In his final football game as a Wildcat, Martin caught six passes for 180 yards and those three scores.

“Jaquellus has had a fantastic season for us,” Peach said of Martin. “When you look at what he’s done for us defensively and on special teams and running and catching the ball, he usually draws the toughest cover. I’m just proud of him and he’s worked really hard. 2020’s been a difficult year for all of us and for him to play his senior year and have a nice season, he’s got a bright future.”

The win gave Tilghman a 12-0 all-time record vs. Trigg County.

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