LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- High school football started with a bang on Friday night at Trinity High School, and Nashville Ensworth’s D’Andre Ferby packed the biggest punch.
Ferby, Ensworth’s bruising tailback, rushed for 187 yards and three touchdowns, including the winning 6-yard carry with 1:29 to play to lift the Tigers past Trinity 27-26 in a nationally televised matchup of elite programs.
Ensworth, ranked No. 18 nationally by USA Today, which like No. 2 Trinity has won three consecutive state titles, extended its winning streak to 22.
"Coming into this game, we knew it was going to be a fight the whole way," said Ferby, who played with an injured ankle late in the fourth quarter. "I just had to become a warrior, and put this team on my back. This is by far the best environment we’ve played in. … No. 2 in the country, that’s hard to beat."
Trinity coach Bob Beatty said the game’s bright lights, big crowd and ESPNU audience didn’t affect his team and that "there were no kids that were deer in the headlights out there."
But he said his team made costly mistakes in dropping passes, missing tackles and kicking poorly at key times.
"You find out so much about your team when you play an opponent like this," Beatty said. "We’re not young anymore. We grew up tonight. The mistakes that we made were all over the place, and most of those mistakes were from our older kids."
Junior running back Donald Brooks led the Shamrocks with 86 yards and three touchdowns. Reggie Bonnafon, making his first varsity start at quarterback for Trinity after playing wide receiver last season, displayed a new dual-threat dimension for the Shamrocks.
He completed 16 of 24 passes for 216 and a fourth-quarter 59-yard touchdown to C.J. Ott — who had eight catches for 166 yards — to give Trinity a 26-14 lead early in the fourth quarter. But Bonnafon, who also ran for 44 yards, was hampered in the fourth quarter by what he called wrist and thumb cramps.
After Ferby’s final TD run put Ensworth ahead, backup Ryan Young was called into duty on Trinity’s final series because Bonnafon couldn’t throw effectively.
On fourth down-and-long in the final minute, Young made an accurate throw to a well-defended receiver deep into Ensworth territory, but it fell incomplete.
Bonnafon, who doesn’t expect to miss any time next week with the injury, said it was a painful loss, especially given the excitement of the game.
"Any player wants to win a game, regardless of ESPN or anything like that," he said. "Those things on top of it made it hurt even more, but we’re going to get past it."
Trinity estimated a Marshall Stadium-record crowd of about 9,000 – about 500 more than the previous high who attended a victory over Manual in 2005, the stadium’s inaugural season.
The Shamrocks’ fans packed the stands and aligned the fence four and five people deep while participating in a stadium white-out. They wore T-shirts that read "ESPN, 8-23-2013, I was there." There also was a crammed pocket of orange-clad Ensworth fans, including country music spouses Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, in the visiting section.
A couple of special teams mistakes hurt the Shamrocks. Trinity had the extra point after its third touchdown blocked, and Ensworth had a short field for its winning drive after a 4-yard Trinity punt.
Brooks looked the part of a star running back on the game’s first scoring play. He found some daylight on the left side, then sprinted 60 yards for a touchdown with 7:47 to play in the first quarter.
Ensworth and its own talented backs answered quickly.
Vanderbilt commitment Donovan Sheffield ran for 47 yards, and Ferby broke a series of tackles en route to a 33-yard TD.
In Trinity’s next drive, Bonnafon used three completion of 10 or more yards to get the Rocks deep in Ensworth territory, and Brooks punched in a 1-yard touchdown for a 14-7 lead with 2:21 left in the first quarter.
Both teams missed scoring chances after that.
In the final minute of the first quarter, Ensworth got a 53-yard run from Ferby – a big chunk of the 126 yards he had in the half - down to the Trinity’s 10-yard line, but the Tigers fumbled on the next play.
Ensworth also turned the ball over on downs at Trinity’s 25 when it failed to make a gain on a fourth-and-1 on a direct snap to Ferby.
Trinity, still up 14-7, drove deep into Ensworth’s territory before halftime, but a series of penalties and negative-yard plays pushed the Shamrocks back past midfield, and they came up empty.
Trinity had a 17-game home winning streak snapped. Its last home loss had been to Cincinnati St. Xavier 17-10 on Sept. 17, 2010.
Steve Jones writes for the Louisville Courier-Journal, a Gannett affiliate.