Ricky Rhodes really didn’t know exactly how to describe the sequence of events that led to the play his coach would later characterize as one of the best he’d ever seen.

“The coaches tell us never to give up,” Madison Central’s junior running said following his team’s 35-14 district victory Friday against Clark County. “I just caught him and then I stripped the ball. I guess.”

Rhodes’ spectacular individual effort saved a would-be third-quarter touchdown and shifted momentum one last time in favor of Madison Central (5-3, 3-1) in an important district showdown.

The junior sprinted almost the length of the field, chasing down Brandon Mitchell — who had caught a 79-yard reception on a halfback pass — on the Clark County goalline. Rhodes was able to strip the ball away, then returned the fumble more than 20 yards, setting up the drive that would seal a big-time road win for Central.

“That was a signature play,” Central coach Kenny Turner said. “That was the play of the year. He could have given up. I’d have to say that’s one of the best plays I’ve ever seen.”

Central never trailed, taking the lead on the first possession of the game, but was unable to pull away from the Cardinals (4-4, 2-2) until early in the fourth quarter. The Indians led 14-7 at halftime, then extended that advantage to 14 points when they converted a fumble on the opening kickoff of the second half into a Chaz Hope touchdown run.

“We just had so many mental mistakes,” Clark County coach Paul Columbia said. “We have the chance to be a really good team, but we’re making mental mistakes and not playing as a team.”

Clint Greene got the Cardinals back in the game in the third quarter with his second TD run of the game, an 11-yard run that cut the deficit to 21-14, but Central answered back when Hope connected on a 35-yard TD pass to Isaiah Kavanaugh.

Clark County appeared to have slashed the Indian lead back to just seven points when backup quarterback Steve Charles, who was lined up at running back, hit Mitchell up the left sideline. The wide receiver was all alone, but was eventually caught by Rhodes.

“That helped us a lot,” Hope said of Rhodes play. “That changed the game.”

Hope definitely had an impact on the outcome. The junior quarterback turned in one of the best performances of his career, scoring four touchdowns. Hope threw for two scores, one to Kavanaugh and the other to Nathan Harrison, and also had two rushing TDs.

“Chaz is a ball player,” Turner said. “He has understanding of the game. He grew up around football.”

Hope hit Shane Foley on a 58-yard pass on the first drive of the game, then later scored on a 1-yard run. Greene pulled the Cardinals even less than four minutes later on a 3-yard TD run.

Kavanaugh scored on an 11-yard run just before halftime, then Hope turned a broken play into a 5-yard touchdown run just seconds into the second half to give Central a 21-7 lead.

The game had big-time significance for two teams still clinging to chances of winning a district title. The Cardinals and Indians entered the showdown with one district loss and knew another setback would all but end any shot at a championship and a top seed in the upcoming Class AAAA playoffs.

“We had a chance to solidify being No. 2 in the district and still had a chance to be No. 1,” Columbia said. “We just didn’t do a very good job tonight.”

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