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MOUNT WASHINGTON - A few weeks ago, Bullitt East coach Doug Preston told his players they were on the verge of being a very good football team.
That came after a tough road loss to Marion County, the team’s only district loss in Preston’s two years at the helm.
Last week against North Bullitt, Preston told the players they were getting even closer.
On Friday night, homecoming night was the game when he felt the team began to surge in a tough 10-0 victory over LaRue County.
While he still knows the team can improve upon its performance, Preston was wearing a pretty big smile after the victory.
“I told them we were on the verge,” said Preston, whose team is now 4-5 on the season. “Now, I think we’re ready to surge.”
The surge will come despite the largest number of injuries Preston has seen during his 18 years of coaching. While the field conditions were slick for the players, it was even more dangerous for the handful of players navigating the sidelines on crutches.
Friday’s game appeared to hinge on a school record 43-yard field goal by Caleb Noe. While Bullitt East controlled the ball for most of the first half, it could only boast three points at intermission.
With an offense geared toward the ground game and wet conditions that made passing tough for both teams, the Chargers kept the ball in the hands of Jonathan Bernard and Zach Caudill for most of the evening.
Bernard carried the ball the first 12 times from scrimmage. On the night, he carried 27 times for 127 yards.
The home team got on the scoreboard with 3:58 left in the first half.
Starting on its own 36, the Chargers went on a eight-play drive. Caudill, a sophomore fullback getting his first carries of the year, touched the ball three times, including a five-yard rush that was aided by a 15-yard facemask penalty against the Hawks.
Stalled at the 27, Noe lined up with the wind to his back.
“I tried to play the wind,” said Noe, a goalie on the soccer team.
With a cross wind, Noe nailed the kick inside the goal post to set a school record.
“I was pretty confident,” said Noe. “But it is a team effort. The line has to block and the center has to get the ball to the holder.”
LaRue made its deepest penetration of the night on the first possession of the third quarter.
The key play in the eight-play drive came when Alex Lee ran 48 yards to the Charger 18.
The defense held and Lee was stuffed for no gain at the 12 on a fourth and four play.
Staying on the ground, Bullitt East went on an 88-yard scoring drive.
Bernard started with a 10-yard scamper and Caudill had another eight yards.
Quarterback Matt Bowles picked up a key third-down conversion with a 16-yard run around the left side.
With 13 seconds left in the quarter, Caudill scored his first varsity touchdown with a one-yard run. Noe’s extra point made it 10-0.
“I wasn’t nervous,” Caudill said of his first extensive varsity action. “I just had to show that I could do the job.”
He was a bit surprised that his number was called on the touchdown run.
“It was pretty exciting,” said the sophomore, who got the call when Brandon Hanna went down with an injury.
“We’re playing together now,” said Caudill. “I think we are playing pretty well.”
Caudill had 45 yards on his 11 carries.
While coaches are never completely happy, Preston is feeling much better as it enters the final game of the regular season.
“I was really proud of these kids,” said Preston. “We’re playing together and this team has had to come through a lot of adversity.”
For the first time this season, Preston said he felt the offensive and defensive lines dominated play.
He credited the play of Mason Kelly, the Division I prospect.
“We kind of challenged Mason and he took over tonight,” said Preston. “He played hard tonight. He played extremely well. He took over the game tonight.”
Although the Chargers didn’t put a lot of points on the board and did not complete a pass all evening, Preston felt good the entire game.
“We were worried after seeing how physical LaRue County was against North Bullitt,” said Preston. “And we were worried about their quarterback (Jordan Brewer). But tonight, our line dominated on both sides.”
Feeling that the offense had a good rhythm on the night, Preston saw a lot of good things.
“I think we grew up tonight,” said Preston, whose team posted the first shutout since 2006.
There was no doubt that Noe would convert on the long field goal, said Preston.
“I was confident when he goes out there,” said Preston. “I knew he could make it.”
Maybe just as important was Noe’s 60-yard punt in the fourth quarter that pinned the visitors at its own 5-yard-line.
But Preston was a bit surprised with Caudill’s toughness since he had not seen the sophomore in action at all the junior varsity games.
Seeing that the Hawk defense was giving the fullback a few opportunities to run the ball, Preston said Caudill took advantage.
“He ran hard and be got a lot of yards after being hit,” said Preston. “I’m extremely pleased.”
For Bullitt East, there will be one more contest before hosting a home game in the first round of the playoffs against Fairdale on Nov. 6.
The Chargers guaranteed the home game with the victory over LaRue County, which would go on the road to play Valley.
“It’s huge,” Preston said of being able to play its first playoff game at home. “We talked about it all week. The players knew how important it was.”
NEXT GAME - The Chargers will host Senior Night on Friday as the Nelson County Cardinals will invade Mount Washington. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m.