By Robert Carter
North Jefferson News
“It wasn’t a work of art, okay?”
Mortimer Jordan coach Greg Watts was more than happy to take Friday night’s 42-32 win over neighboring Hayden, especially since it locked up a berth in the Class 5A playoffs with two tough region games left to play.
But it was not the most elegant of victories, or to put it Watt’s way, “It was ugly.”
It looked a lot prettier for the Blue Devils when Dee Merriweather had the ball, though. The junior running back scored three touchdowns and gained 126 yards to lead the Jordan ground game.
Merriweather teamed up with sophomore Landon Smith, who scored twice.
The Devils scored often and never trailed, but the Wildcats — struggling through a winless season that looked much more promising back in August — never really went away.
After Merriweather opened the scoring with a 4-yard run that capped off Jordan’s first drive, Hayden went on a long slog that took 15 plays and nearly six minutes off the clock. Quarterback Corey Ward mixed it up, letting fullback John Smith pound the interior one second, then tossing to receiver Luke Wall on a sideline pattern the next. A blocked extra point left the hosts up 7-6.
Devils quarterback Devlin Hodges answered quickly, as his only touchdown pass of the night was a 32-yard throw to Tate Day with 54 seconds left in the first period.
Jordan took advantage of a interception of a Ward pass by Sean Morro, which squelched a Wildcat drive on the Devils 20. After two long passes from Hodges to Day, Merriweather charged in from the 2-yard line midway through the second quarter.
Hayden marched right back, taking advantage of a pass interference penalty to put them in business at midfield. Dylan Putnam’s 2-yard touchdown run, followed by an unsuccessful two-point conversion, set the Jordan lead at 21-12 at halftime.
With the ball in hand to start the second half, the Cats went on the march again, relentlessly pounding the middle of the Devil defense. Byrd himself did the honors at the end, faking a handoff to Smith and looping around the left side for 15 yards and a score. The conversion failed again, but Hayden had cut the deficit to three points, and the Senior Night crowd was getting antsy.
But the Devils stretched the lead back out on the next drive, helped by a 28-yard run by Merriweather on the first play that gave Hodges room to work. Landon Smith put Jordan back up by 10 with his 8-yard TD run.
Starting off the final period, Jordan found itself deep in its own territory, but a 55-yard strike from Hodges to Logan Motte got the ball all the way down to the 18. Three plays later, Landon Smith struck again as he ran around the right end for a 5-yard touchdown with 9:28 left.
Though they were down by 17, Hayden did not quit. Getting good field position after a short Devils punt, Ward found Wall with coverage at about the 12-yard line. Wall made a spectacular leaping catch, shook off the defender and ran in for the score with 4:40 left.
On the next possession, though, Jordan was not content to run out the clock. After a Hodges pass to Motte put the ball in Wildcat territory, Hodges kept handing off to Merriweather, who ended it with a 13-yard run with 59 seconds left.
Hayden still had life, and moved quickly downfield to on Ward passes to Wall and Putnam; a 7-yard strike to Wall cut the lead to 10 points with nine seconds left.
Despite the loss, the game was perhaps the best that Hayden has played all year, according to coach Steve Kerby.
“We felt like we had a good plan, we believed it, and the plan worked — it just wasn’t enough,” Kerby said. “I think it was our best effort all the way around, but we made some key mistakes. But you know — ‘ifs’ and ‘buts.’”
Watts concurred that the Wildcats played anything like a winless squad.
“I knew Hayden was going to come out after us,” Watts said. “Their front seven is good on both side of the ball, and we struggle with that. We stopped ourselves a lot, too.”
Part of the way the Devils stopped themselves was with penalties. Pass interference calls got them three times, and an unsportsmanlike conduct call after a Hayden two-point conversion attempt resulted in Morro being ejected.
The teams were nearly even on the stat sheet, with Hayden gaining 440 yards total versus Jordan’s 335.
Hodges was 14-for-22 in passing for 247 yards, while Ward was 24-for-34 with two interceptions for 262 yards.
Wall caught 13 of Ward’s throws for 149 yards, while Motte had five receptions for 96 yards for the Devils and Landon Smith had four catches for 92 yards.
John Smith ran 16 times for 70 yards for Hayden.
Jordan travels to Walker next week, while Hayden hosts Center Point.