By John Herndon, 110forChrist.com
TAYLORSVILLE – Mike Marksbury has been a good friend for quite some time. He’s just one of those guys that people who write about sports really need.
As football coach and athletic director at Spencer County High School, his path would often cross mine and over time, I found I could contact him for information and he was always willing to help. Eventually, he’d start joking around with me and I would reciprocate, whether the topic was sports, world events or the area’s best places to eat – his quote about “Frog Leg Fridays” made it to one of my stories that appeared in a statewide publication.
And, of course, he started the banter one time when I was wearing some Dallas Cowboys’ swag. He is a fan of the Washington Redskins, now Commanders, and if you follow the NFL at all, you know that means some relentless smack talk.
But there was no banter Friday night. Just some thoughtful reflection and, at times, a breaking voice from a coach who has done a remarkable job building a once-moribund program into one that for the last two years, at least, has been a major force to be reckoned with in Kentucky’s Class 4A.
A few minutes earlier, he’d addressed his team after it had been eliminated from the playoffs by a talented and explosive Franklin County team, 40-14. It broke an 11-game home field winning streak and meant that Spencer’s dream of the school’s first regional championship would die too early.
But that’s what happens in the playoffs. One team advances. One packs its gear until next season.
According to the state’s RPI, Spencer was favored, but the RPI doesn’t consider that a team might be banged up at the wrong time. Spencer running back Camden Cardwell, who had run for 862 yards and 14 touchdowns, was injured in the regular season finale and out for the year.
But the RPI apparently did not put much stock in the quality of competition Franklin had faced. The Flyers’ five losses were very deceptive for a team loaded with athletes, including some projected to play collegiately at the highest level. That explosiveness buried Spencer in the second quarter as Franklin combined big plays and a Bear turnover into three quick touchdowns and a 26-0 halftime lead.
“We knew what we were up against,” Marksbury said. “They have some dudes over there.”
Indeed. Kaden Moorman showed why some major colleges are interested in his services after decommitting from the University of Kentucky a few weeks ago. He was credited with 150 yards on just six carries. His 95-yard jaunt in the fourth quarter put an exclamation point on Franklin’s win. A second quarter score from a yard out was set up by a spectacular run zigging and zagging through the Spencer defense.
In addition, Franklin picked off two passes, returning them for a combined 105 yards to set up scores.
Let’s just say that Franklin is dangerous, regardless of its record or its opponent. And Friday was one of those nights where a lot went right for Franklin and not much went Spencer’s way. It happens and it’s what makes high school football so unpredictable, especially in the playoffs.
And it’s part of what makes that final game so difficult for everyone concerned.
According to the roster posted on the Kentucky High School Athletic Association website, Spencer dressed 15 seniors. Their four-year record was a solid, but not spectacular, 29-16. But from that first varsity game – a 42-13 loss to Anderson County – to their last, the growth was phenomenal. Over the last two seasons, Spencer went 19-6 and, this year, was ranked among Class 4A’s best teams all season long.
It’s a tribute to Marksbury’s leadership. And it’s a tribute to a special group of smalltown teenagers who gave their community something to be proud of.
Marksbury broke into a bit of a smile while wiping a tear from his eye. “These guys, they never flinched,” he said. “We go back to the Bullitt East game (on Aug. 26, Spencer’s second game of the year). Bullitt East beat Manual tonight. We go down there and they never backed down and pulled the upset (19-16) over there.
“They practice hard. They play hard. And every Friday morning we have breakfast together and go to the elementary schools. They are great kids.”
Many coaches would say the same thing about their teams after being eliminated. But not many could say that after going 10-2 with some undersized linemen and no one bringing the big-time recruiters to Taylorsville.
There were no superstars. Instead, Spencer County saw a group of young men who gave everything they had every night out and did that together as a unit.
That’s not to say the Bears aren’t talented. Several of the Class of 2023 will have opportunities to play small college football, if they choose. But in high school, they were all better together. “We are the sum of our parts,” Marksbury said. “We do have some kids that can play. They play together and they really, really care about each other. That’s what makes it special.”
In fact, after Marksbury stepped away from his post-game meeting, Cardwell, who had been wearing street clothes but standing near his coach through the game, stepped forward to say a few words before the Bears raised their helmets and gave one final cheer in unison.
“You look at No. 53 (Chase Semones) there,” Marksbury said. “He’s only 165 pounds and plays offensive guard for us. There’s not a better offensive guard around and he fits our system like a glove.”
It’s what makes the playoffs so difficult. Every week, half of the teams will deliver the football goodbyes to seniors. “It’s really emotional,” Marksbury said with his voice breaking. “You have to get yourself so geared up to play, then all of a sudden, it’s over. Some of them will go in there and take the shoulder pads off and realize what they did and this is it.
“It’s just really a tough, tough night.”