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While there are obvious improvements being made each game, the end result for the Grant County Braves remained the same.
Grant County missed the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season, and sixth time in seven seasons since Kentucky went to a five-class system and the Braves moved up from Class 3A to 5A, with a 49-6 loss Oct. 25 to the visiting Cooper Jaguars.
While both teams entered the game winless in district play, it was Cooper’s experience that won out against the Braves. The Jaguars returned several players from last year’s team that made its way to the Class 5A state championship game.
Just like Conner High School did the previous week, Cooper came out of the gates strong and built an insurmountable lead in the first 24 minutes of play. The Jaguars scored three touchdowns in the first quarter and two in the second period to take a 36-0 lead into the locker room at halftime.
The Jaguars added two more second-half touchdowns to extend their lead to 49-0 before Grant County got on the board during the first minute of the fourth quarter when Marcus Rayburn returned a kickoff 86 yards for the Braves’ touchdown.
Cooper, clearly the bigger and deeper team, dominated offensively with 384 yards of total offense compared to only 145 for the Braves. Cooper running backs carried the ball 30 times for 252 yards, while the Jaguars passing attack was accurate with 132 yards on 12-of-16 pass attempts.
Grant County’s offense was spread equally between the run game and the passing attack, with the backfield accounting for 70 yards on 26 touches and 75 yards through the air on 12-of-20 pass attempts.
The Braves had one of their better passing games of the season with Michael McLean completing 78 percent of his passes, going 7-for-9 through the air for 45 yards. Joseph Knipp hit on 45 percent of his passes, completing five of 11 throws for 30 yards. Both quarterbacks threw one interception each.
Hunter Lawson, Grant County’s leading rusher on the season, carried the ball 13 times and gained 41 yards, an average of 3.2 yards per touch.
Knipp averaged 3.5 yards per carry, gaining 21 yards on six carries. McLean gained seven yards on six carries, while Derek Sutherland had one yard on one carry for the Braves.
Blake Johnson was Grant County’s leading receiver with 31 yards on six receptions with a team-best long catch of 13 yards. Lawson was targeted only two times and accounted for 17 yards, while Rayburn hauled down one pass for 11 yards. Sutherland caught two passes for 11 yards, while Brady Vaughn pulled in one reception for five yards to round out the Braves’ offense.
Andy Engle led Grant County’s defensive push with five tackles. Dakota Willoughby led the team with four solo tackles and one assist for a total of 4.5 stops in the game. Zach Spohn was next with four tackles, followed by Ryan Turley with 3.5.
Quentin Haubner and Tristen Wallace added three tackles each for the Braves, while Dylan Fultz, Zane Burch, Colton Smith and Marcus Rayburn chipped in two apiece. Robert Spohn had 1.5 tackles, while Michael McLean, Quinton Rayburn, Conner Biddle, Derek Sutherland and B.J. Adams contributed one tackle each for Grant County.
The Braves will finish out their regular season on Nov. 1 when non-district foe North Laurel visits Dry Ridge. Game time is set for 7:30 p.m.