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HEBRON ESTATES - Down 10-0 at halftime, Bullitt Central veteran coach Dan Leasor was not discouraged.
He knew what his Cougar football team could do. In fact, as the clock ticked off in the second quarter, Leasor was overheard telling one of his players that if they were only down by 10, Bullitt Central was in great shape.
Whether Leasor is a prophet or whether he has a good read on his football team, Bullitt Central was indeed in good shape as the Cougars captured the Bullitt Cup after defeating North Bullitt 26-17.
The Cougars, now 6-2 on the season, defeated both Bullitt East and North Bullitt to win the county championship. More than that, it validates what Leasor has been saying most of the season - Bullitt Central football is back.
“I’m so happy for this community,” Leasor said in the midst of a loud victory celebration. “I’m so happy for the kids.”
For the first time in 15 years, Bullitt Central is assured of a winning season. But Leasor’s post-game speech was clear - win number seven was the next goal, as well as a district victory.
“It’s a humbling experience,” Leasor said of taking a program that was at the bottom and seeing it work its way back to the top. “This is something the entire community deserves.”
The visiting Cougars got off to a slow start against the Eagles, 4-3 on the season after starting the season with four straight wins.
On its second possession, North Bullitt went to the air to drive 72 yards in just eight plays. Jordan Mayberry connected with Brandon Sharver for 21 yards and with Travis Ridley for another 13. With the ball at the 26, Dalton Cissell made his patented moves and scored with 4:44 left in the first quarter. C.J. Parker booted the extra point for the 7-0 lead.
With Jeremy Bennett carrying the load, Bullitt Central made its own march on the next series. However, on the eighth play, Akeem Bennett fumbled and D.J. Elmore recovered.
North Bullitt then went on an 18-play drive culminating in Parker’s 42-yard field goal that hit the crossbar and went through. The drive, which was kept alive when Cissell ran 26 yards for a first down as Bullitt Central was in position to block the punt, took over eight minutes off the clock.
After Jesse Vittitoe returned the kickoff 26 yards, Bullitt Central looked poised to hit the scoreboard just before intermission.
The 14-play drive stalled at the Eagle 20.
With Bullitt Central getting the ball first in the third quarter, Leasor’s prediction began to take shape.
Vittitoe returned the kickoff 60 yards after breaking several tackles. After Damion Wibbels hit Chase Cline for a 22-yard gain, Jeremy Bennett did the rest by scoring from the 2. Wibbels’ extra point made it 10-7.
The Eagles came right back and Cissell got loose on the third play to score from 48 yards out with 10:16 left. Parker converted on the extra point.
With both teams using short kickoffs to stay away from the speed of Cissell and Bennett, Jackie Hornback returned the ball to mid-field.
The Cougars were on the march when another fumble gave the ball back. However, North Bullitt returned the favor with Jeremy VanMeter recovering. This time, Bullitt Central would not be denied.
On the 54-yard drive, Jeremy Bennett covered all but seven yards. From the seven, Bennett bulled his way through the line to reach the end zone to get the score to within 17-13.
A little too much celebrating cost the Cougars 15 yards on the kickoff and North Bullitt took over at midfield.
However, Andrew Dodd stepped in front of a Mayberry pass and returned the interception to the Eagle 40. On the fourth play, Jeremy Bennett got his third score of the game from 31 yards out. The extra point by Wibbels gave Bullitt Central its first lead at 20-17 with 25 seconds left in the third quarter.
Bullitt Central nailed down the victory with a 78-yard drive aided by two personal foul penalties on the Eagles.
Wibbels connected with Vittitoe on a short pass that the senior broke free and scored from 11 yards out with 8:21 left.
North Bullitt’s last ditch effort was denied when Jeremy Bennett intercepted a pass by Cissell in the end zone.
Jeremy Bennett, a junior who rushed for 198 yards on 27 attempts and had three touchdowns, said the score just after halftime was a key.
“It was very important,” said Bennett. “The game wasn’t over.”
Bennett said that he was so excited to play with a great group of seniors and he just wanted to be a part of restoring the program back to its winning ways.
Vittitoe, who had not beaten Bullitt East or North Bullitt, until his senior year, was excited.
“Bullitt Central football is back,” said Vittitoe, who said he never thought about quitting the game even through the team was struggling over the years. “Number 5 (Cissell) is a great player but tonight they got to see how great Jeremy Bennett is.”
With so many weapons, Vittitoe said it was difficult for any team to shut down the Cougar offense, which is averaging 32 points a game.
Maybe the biggest play came from Dodd.
“It was huge,” the junior linebacker said of the interception. “It changed the game.”
He said the entire momentum changed.
Leasor wouldn’t disagree.
“It turned everything around,” Leasor said of the interception.
At halftime, Leasor said it wasn’t a time to yell at the players. In fact, he knew the Cougars were in good shape.
“Nobody is going to keep us from scoring,” said Leasor. “It’s who wins the second half that counts.”
No matter the outcome this season, Leasor said the team has played hard.
“We beat a pretty good football team here tonight,” said Leasor. “And we won the county championship.”
In Bennett, Leasor said he has the player of the year and someone who will be a big-time college recruit next year. He has over 1,050 rushing yards and scored 12 touchdowns.
“He’s awesome,” said Leasor. “He’s as good a player as I’ve ever coached, period. That kid is simply unbelievable.”
Leasor had written a number six on his hand after the Anderson County game. On Friday, that was changed to a seven.
Another goal is to win a district game. That opportunity comes on Friday night against Southern.
“We’re not satisfied,” promised Leasor.
On the other side of the score, veteran Eagle coach Brett Newton would wake up watching film of his team’s third straight loss.
“We’re getting beat on both sides of the ball,” said Newton. “I never would have thought that at the beginning of the season.”
Another factor has been turnovers.
“You can’t keep giving good teams like Bullitt Central the ball,” said Newton. “Turnovers will hurt you.”
Wanting to get out of the gate quickly, Newton said he was pleased with the first-half result. The defense had played well and had been able to contain Bennett. The offense was able to control the ball.
However, he said the turnovers in the second half ruined the evening. The Eagles lost two fumbles and had two interceptions on the night.
Both teams came out passing the ball a little more and Newton wasn’t totally surprised. Both defense play a lot of players close to the line of scrimmage.
However, with Mayberry still a little injured, North Bullitt had to change some of its personnel.
Ridley played well at quarterback but he was also hurt late in the game. Cissell also took some snaps.
“We gave them so many opportunities and they took advantage,” Newton said of the turnovers. “Bullitt Central is a good football team.”
Besides the turnovers, Newton was most concerned about the play of the offensive and defensive line.
“This is two straight games that we’ve lost the battle up front,” said Newton. “We have to improve that area.”
After two intracounty games in a row, North Bullitt faces a huge district battle at home on Friday. The winner of the North Bullitt-Marion County game will play a home game on the first weekend of the playoffs.
For the night, the two big running backs led the way. Bennett had 198 yards and three scores, while Cissell had 189 on 20 carries and two scores.
NEXT GAME - Bullitt Central will be back at home for Senior Night on Friday with a big district game against Southern. Kickoff at George Valentine Field will be at 7:30 p.m.
North Bullitt will host Marion County on Friday. Kickoff of that key district battle is at 7:30 p.m.