After an 0-3 start to this year’s campaign, it would’ve been easy for Henry Clay to write off this season as a lost cause.
But it didn’t.
Henry Clay opened some eyes after traveling 81 miles south and delivering a 48-16 thumping to then-unbeaten Southwestern two weeks ago. The Warriors, a top 10 team in Class 5A, were coming off wins against Paul Laurence Dunbar and Madison Central in the weeks prior.
The Blue Devils’ reward after that win? A bye week, which for all its health benefits, could have halted their first taste of positive momentum.
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But it didn’t.
After trailing 10-0 in the third quarter, Henry Clay tightened itself defensively and used some explosive plays to come away with a 21-17 victory over Lafayette – the two-time defending city champs – on Friday night.
“This is huge,” Henry Clay Coach Sam Simpson said. “Because actually we’re a better team than we think that we are, and that’s because you’ve gotta learn to believe in yourself again.”
Tyree Clarke ripped off a 63-yard touchdown run to get the Blue Devils on the board with 6:02 left in the third quarter. Three minutes later Jordan Kimball blocked a Lafayette punt and, after it took several bounces, Noah Gann recovered it in the end zone to put Henry Clay ahead, 14-10.
Lafayette’s Ean Shaw scored from two yards out on 4th and 2 with 8:19 left in the game. The Blue Devils responded quickly at DJ Van Horn found Michael McMullen for a 69-yard TD pass with 7:21 left.
The Generals (1-5) drove down to the Henry Clay 35-yard line but Clarke forced a fumble, recovered by Cameron Maynard, with 3:36 to play. The Blue Devils chewed up some clock before a nine-yard punt set up Lafayette at Henry Clay’s 46-yard line; the Generals gained two yards before turning the ball over on downs.
Henry Clay ended a three-game slide against the Generals despite running nearly half as many plays. Lafayette finished with 79 total plays on offense; the Blue Devils ran 42. The Generals lead the all-time series, which dates back to 1947, 39-33-2.
Clarke rushed for 100 yards on 10 carries. He also had 10 tackles on defense in addition to the forced fumble.
The senior also was named homecoming king at halftime.
“Not only is he a great football player, but he’s a great student and a great person in our school,” Simpson said, “as is all of our kids over there.”
Kimball, a sophomore, had never blocked a kick before his game-changing play in the third quarter. He was among the players fighting to recover it before Gann ultimately scored the TD.
“I tried to scoop it up and score but it kept bobbling so I just pushed it out so somebody else could get it,” Kimball said. “We had to get the touchdown.”
Tates Creek, Ryle and Johnson Central — against whom Henry Clay’s three losses came to start the year — are a combined 13-2. That record very well could have been 11-4: the Blue Devils fell to Ryle in overtime after losing a 28-7 lead and played Central, the defending champs and title favorite in Class 4A, tight into the fourth quarter of a 40-28 loss.
“I love the resillience of this team. ... They started putting signs up in their lockers and on theirs helmets, ‘I believe.’ And it’s starting to come back,” Simpson said. “My hat’s off to ’em.”
Earlier in the season, Lafayette answering a blocked-punt TD might have been enough to squash Henry Clay’s belief.
But, on Friday, it didn’t.