BOWLING GREEN — Randy Wyatt played on much better Paducah Tilghman teams in the late 1980s than the one he coached this season.
But this year's Blue Tornado gave Wyatt something he never enjoyed as a player — a state championship.
Tilghman completed a remarkable late-season turnaround by beating turnover-plagued Somerset 21-0 in the Class 3A finals before 6,106 fans in L.T. Smith Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
"It's exciting and absolutely amazing to come back from a losing record and end up state champs," Wyatt said.
Less than two months ago the Tornado were 2-6, and Wyatt's job was in jeopardy. (He had gone 2-8 in his first season last year.)
But he inserted Kris Jackson at quarterback, the offense started to click, the defense stepped up, and the Tornado didn't lose again.
"When we were 2-6, we got hungry," said defensive end D'shon Jackson, who returned an interception for a touchdown and recovered two fumbles against Somerset.
"We knew we could be in this position with the athletes we had and if we had the right attitude."
Somerset, which brought a 14-0 record into the finals, aided Tilghman by committing seven turnovers, including six in the first half.
Quarterback Eric Manning twice was picked off inside the Tornado's 20-yard line in the opening quarter.
"It was a debacle on our side on offense in the first half," Coach Robbie Lucas said. "But it could've been a lot worse because we were only down 7-0."
But Tilghman cranked up its offense just enough in the second half to pull away. Jackson threw a 48-yard TD pass to Jadarion Harmon and ran 31 yards for another score.
"I was disappointed in how we played in the second half defensively," Lucas said.
Even though Manning completed only 10 of 28 passes for 74 yards and had four picked off, Lucas praised his quarterback.
"He had a rough day, but I'll take that kid any day of the week," Lucas said. "He's a warrior who battles every week. I want him to know how proud I am of how hard he plays."
Jackson, who took over as Tilghman's QB in the last game of the regular season, ran for 109 yards and a TD and threw for 103 yards and a TD against Somerset.
But it was the Tornado defense that was the difference.
"I told the team right before the game that defense wins championships, and ours did today," Wyatt said.
Javarious Hodge and Bobby Caldwell led the winners in tackles. Josh Forrest had two interceptions.
Wyatt played on three state runner-up teams at Tilghman in 1987, '88 and '89, an experience that Jackson said the coach shared with the team before kickoff. "He told us that second is 'first loser,'" Jackson said, "so we had to win."
Somerset is well acquainted with finishing second. This was its fifth trip to the finals, and it was also runner-up in 1978, '81, '83 and '88.
Lucas hoped the Jumpers would end this year as unbeaten champs, partly in tribute to Jay Cobb, who stepped down as coach two weeks before the season started.
But it wasn't to be.
"It's been a weird year, an odd year," Lucas said. "I really wished we could've delivered a state championship for our school, our community and Coach Cobb."
Paducah Tilghman 21, Somerset 0
Paducah Tilghman 7 0 7 7—21
Somerset 0 0 0 0— 0
First quarter: T—D’shon Jackson 28 interception return (Will Nicholas kick), 8:24. Third quarter: T—Jadarion Harmon 48 pass from Kristen Jackson (Nicholas kick), :15. Fourth quarter: T—K. Jackson 31 run (Nicholas kick), 6:33.
Records: Tilghman 9-6, Somerset 14-1.
First downs 11 12
Rushes-yards 39-147 36-82
Passing 103 74
Comp-att-int 4-14-2 10-28-5
Punt returns 3-39 0-0
Kickoff returns 1-31 3-89
Interceptions ret. 5-81 2-12
Sacked-yards lost 1-3 4-25
Punts-avg. 5-21.6 4-41.8
Field goals 0-1 0-0
Fumbles lost 0-0 0-0
Penalties-yards 8-66 4-50
Third-down conv. 4-12 4-15
Fourth-down conv. 0-0 1-3
RUSHING—Tilghman, K. Jackson 24-109, Edmonds 14-38, Team 1-0. Somerset, Boyle 8-72, O. Manning 13-30, Troxtle 3-8, Team 1-(minus 5), E. Manning 11-(minus 23).
PASSING—Tilghman, K. Jackson 4-13-2-103, Cox 0-1-0-0. Somerset, E. Manning 10-28-5-74.
RECEIVING—Tilghman, Forrest 2-37, Harmon 1-48, Burbage 1-18. Somerset, Wilson 4-33, Jones 2-15, Henderlight 2-12, Stringer 1-8, O. Manning 1-6.