Elijah Bell chimed in on Henry Clay's defense after the host Blue Devils beat Tates Creek 21-13 in a city football showdown Friday night.
Bell is an offensive star, a jitterbugging senior who teamed with junior D.A. Jones to give Henry Clay a powerful running attack against the Commodores.
But as the closing seconds ticked off the clock on the Devils' 11th victory over Tates Creek in their last 13 meetings, Bell credited the defense first and foremost.
"We did a lot more contact practice, a lot more hitting, in practice this week, and the defense was way more excited the whole time," Bell said. "I knew they'd come out and do good Friday night.
"That's what's important, anyway. Defense wins games. Offense sells tickets."
Henry Clay Coach Sam Simpson bought that notion.
"Our defense played outstanding tonight," he said. "Tates Creek has a potent offense. They've been pitching it around, catching it and putting up a lot of points. But our defense did a great job containing them."
Tates Creek barely cracked 200 yards for the game. Graham Gordon hit on 17 of 30 passes for 144 yards and a touchdown. That score — an 8-yard pass to TaVon Dunn — came in the closing seconds.
The Commodores' other TD — Austin Rogers' 14-yard run on a reverse — came after their drive was kept alive first by a roughing-the-kicker penalty, and then by a 31-yard run by Casey Grimes on a fake punt.
Gordon was pressured all night by the relentless Devils, including Elijah Barnett, Nathan Moore and Maurice Gibson. Rhoman James, Lakwon Givens and Davonte Robinson also starred on defense.
Tates Creek Coach Mike Harmon was impressed.
"Henry Clay is very fast defensively," he said. "And their D-line did a great job with the pass-rush moves, and getting off blocks. They really caused us problems."
James, a junior safety, said it was a team effort: "We call ourselves the Blue Machine because if we all work together we can be a lock-up defense."
Henry Clay's offense had trouble hanging on to the ball in the first half. It lost three fumbles. Tates Creek had trouble moving the ball, and it was scoreless at halftime.
The Devils went ahead 6-0 early in the third quarter on a 20-yard pass from Sammy Carter to Gunner Kelly.
Henry Clay's running game got rolling after that.
Bell, who topped 200 yards in each of Henry Clay's first two wins, finished with 159 yards, including a 19-yard TD. Jones added 144 yards, including a 26-yard run.
Carter completed 12 of 13 passes for 132 yards to complement the rushing attack.
Simpson loved it. "The more balanced we are, the better we'll be," he said.
Simpson was also proud of the way his team handled its first-half troubles. He told his players at halftime, "Let's don't implode on each other.And we didn't. We learned not to turn on each other. We looked at the positives and moved forward."
Henry Clay 21, Tates Creek 13
Tates Creek 0 0 0 13— 13
Henry Clay 0 0 6 15—21
HC—Gunner Kelly 20 pass from Sammy Carter (pass failed). TC—Austin Rogers 14 run (Jake Ryan kick). HC—Elijah Bell 19 run (Lakwon Givens run). HC—D.A .Jones 26 run (Taylor Dunbar kick) TC—TaVon Dunn 8 pass from Graham Gordon (Ryan kick).
Records: Tates Creek 3-1; Henry Clay 3-0.
Mike Fields: (859) 231-3337. Twitter: @MikeFieldsNotes. Blog: fieldsnotes.bloginky.com.