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LEBANON - To have a road game go down to the final play against a team ranked in the top 10 in the state may have been the best Bullitt East coach Doug Preston could have hoped for on Saturday afternoon.
But as a last-minute Matthew Bowles pass into the end zone fell to the ground, Preston could not help but be disappointed.
However, the tone was much different just minutes later. His upbeat post-game talk centered on how close the team had come to pulling off a major victory.
The Chargers fell 18-14 in a contest delayed until Saturday due to the torrential rains the day before.
“Marion County is a very, very good football team with a lot of good athletes,” said Preston, whose team fell to 2-5 on the season and 0-1 in the district. “But we fought to the end. Bullitt East will always fight hard.”
Prior to the final play jump ball in the end zone, the defenses bent in the first half and only once did they break.
After Bullitt East moved the ball 41 yards to the Knight 35, the drive stalled. On its first drive, the home team kept it on the ground for the majority of the time. However, a key third-down pass from Ryan Peterson to Jordan Bell went for 17 yards.
Another big play came from Bryson Bell. On fourth and 2, Bryson Bell ripped off a 24-yard pickup to the 3. He carried the ball into the end zone on the next carry. The Chargers blocked the conversion.
The Chargers would not get another first down the rest of the first half.
With 2:13 left in the second quarter, Bowles hit Jordan Smith for 43 yards to take it inside the 10. However, a holding call nullified the play.
The Knights opened the second half by going 60 yards in nine plays. Every play was a rushing attempt with the drive stalling at the Charger 12. Mark Corbett kicked a 28-yard field goal with just over 6 minutes left in the third quarter.
Bowles went to the air on the very first play of the next drive and hit Smith for a 75-yard scoring toss. Smith grabbed the tipped ball and outran the Knights. Caleb Noe booted the extra point to bring the visitors to within 9-7.
The momentum swung to the Chargers. On third down, Ryan Peterson’s pass was picked off by Jonathan Bernard at the Marion County 29.
On second down, Bernard got free for a 22-yard pickup and a facemask penalty took it to the 2, where Bowles took it in from there.
Noe’s extra point put Bullitt East up 14-7 with 3:46 left in the third stanza.
Bryson Bell took the Charger kickoff and returned it 31 yards to the Bullitt East 44.
Staying on the ground, Marion County covered the 44 yards in six plays. Jordan Bell scored the touchdown from 20 yards out. The two-point run was stopped.
The home team would score the final points of the game with 7:05 remaining.
Starting on its own 26, Marion County marched to the Charger 17 before the drive stalled.
The big pickup was a 39-yard run by Dylan Peterson.
Corbett kicked a 34-yard field goal to make it 18-14.
Bullitt East had a final drive and Bowles went to the air. He connected with Taylor McMillen for 10 yards and with Smith for another 34 yards on third and 15.
After Bernard covered six yards to the 35, a penalty backed up the Chargers.
On three consecutive plays, Marion County brought a lot of heat and Bowles was sacked. With 1:30 left in the game, Preston opted to punt and the plan worked perfectly.
Using its timeouts, Bullitt East forced a final punt by the Knights.
With no timeouts, Bullitt East started on its own 32 with 50 seconds left.
Bowles hit Smith for 19 yards and then the two combined for another 8-yard pickup.
Hitting Bernard with a five-yard pass to get a fourth-down conversion, it came down to a final play.
Taking the snap from the Knight 37 with three seconds left, Bowles hurled the ball to the end zone. Bernard and McMillen both had a shot at the jump ball, along with two Marion County defenders. The tipped ball fell to the ground.
With the victory, Marion County went to 5-2 on the year and 1-0 in the district.
“I was confident we would score on that last drive,” said Preston. “These kids never quit.”
In the first half, Preston said it was a physical game on both sides. In the second half, the offenses started to get going.
“Matt made some great throws and he took some tough shots,” said Preston. “But he stood back there and played very well.”
Disappointed with the setback, Preston said the key is that the team is getting better each game.
“We’re on the verge,” said Preston. “We don’t play a bunch of cupcakes. Our schedule is tough. But we’re getting better.”
He said the difference between last year’s team, which also started slow and then lost a heartbreaker in the 4-A state championship game, and this year’s squad is experience.
“We’re still a young team,” said Preston. “But we’re getting better. The players can’t give up and they won’t give up.”
NEXT GAME - The Chargers will be on the road for a district battle against North Bullitt on Friday at 7:30 p.m. The Eagles lost their district opener Saturday against LaRue County.