BOWLING GREEN — Pulaski County started celebrating in the pouring rain on the soggy turf at L.T. Smith Stadium after it held off Graves County 14-7 in the Russell Athletic/KHSAA Classs 5A finals Friday night in front of 7,338 fans.
And that was just the start of the festivities marking the Maroons' first state football championship.
"It's going to be a long-time party in Pulaski County," a jubilant Coach Johnny Hines said. "A long-time party.
"This is such a huge thing for Pulaski County, our football program, our school and our fans.
"It doesn't get any better than this. It's just incredible."
Last year the Maroons were undefeated when they arrived here to face powerhouse Bowling Green in the finals. They jumped to an early 14-0 lead, but wound up getting steamrolled 49-14.
Hines said his team was devastated by the loss, and it stoked the team's determination to get back for a second shot at the title this year.
Pulaski County got off to a quick start against Graves County. It scored on its first two possessions, thanks to Riley Hall's passing, Jake Johnson's receiving, and Jaylon Conwell's touchdown runs of 12 and 8 yards.
Graves County trimmed the 14-0 deficit in half late in the first quarter thanks to senior star Cody Crider, whose 47-yard run set up his own 24-yard TD run.
It looked like it might be a high-scoring game at that point. Instead, neither team scored again. The rain and wind picked up, abetting both defenses.
Pulaski County's defense, led by Mason Helton, Hunter Merrick and Jackson Mobley, stifled Crider and the Eagles the rest of the way.
Crider finished with 133 yards on 20 carries, but he got only 24 yards on nine attempts in the second half.
Graves County finished with 153 yards.
"The defense stepped up, just like we have all year," Mobley said. "We're called Seal Team 'D' for a reason."
"The defense was the star of the show tonight," he said. "To hold a team that explosive to seven points is amazing. I think maybe our defensive quickness was a little bit of an issue for them. They weren't quite ready for that."
Graves County had its chances in the second half, but never could cash in.
"We caused turnovers and had great field position but we didn't take advantage of our opportunities," Eagles Coach Lance Gregory said.
"You've gotta take advantage of those in a championship game."
Graves County had no luck throwing the ball. Dylan Reed was 3-for-14 for nine yards. He was picked off once and also lost a fumble.
Crider also led the Eagles' defense with 10 tackles.
After its two early scores, Pulaski County's offense did just enough to control some clock. Hall, a junior quarterback, was 19 of 33 passing for 159 yards. He was intercepted once.
Johnson, showing sticky fingers in the wet conditions, had nine catches for 103 yards. Conwell rushed 12 times for 55 yards and two TDs, and Caleb Cox had 10 carries for 41 crucial yards.
Hall, who broke his collarbone at mid-season but came back to shine in the playoffs, said the Maroons perseverance paid off.
"We worked hard every day and just kept grinding and grinding," he said. "We overcame all kinds of adversity to get here again, and to win it is an amazing feeling."
And as for that party in Pulaski County?
"We won't be able to sleep tonight," Hall said with a smile.