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SHEPHERDSVILLE – Almost ten minutes into the 38th renewal of The Game, the Bullitt Central Cougars were down 14-0 and didn’t appear to be going anywhere fast.
That all changed in about ten seconds.
That is about as long as it took for Bullitt Central junior sensation Trevor Carnell to return a kick-off 85 yards for a touchdown.
The Cougars had the spark that they needed as they would go on to beat arch-rival North Bullitt 55-26. Bullitt Central (4-2) pulled ahead in the second quarter and led 28-20 at halftime. The second half belonged to the Cougars as they pulled away from a tiring Eagle squad.
The game was the first of three straight match-ups in the Bullitt Cup and the first of four weeks of play that will decide the Class 5-A, District 4 seedings for the post-season.
Carnell was as surprised as anyone that the kick-off came his way.
“I really go into a game not expecting a kick to me,” the junior said on the field after the game. “I always hope that it comes to me. I know I can get it to the endzone. I have a sense that I can do it.”
Perhaps the one person more surprised than Carnell to get the kick was North Bullitt head coach Brett Newton. His kickers had explicit orders not to kick it anywhere near the Cougar speedster. After Carnell’s return, the Eagles switched kickers.
“That showed you why we didn’t want to kick it to him,” Newton pointed out.
North Bullitt (2-4), which allowed Carnell only 99 yards on the ground in last year’s meeting, had bottled up the Cougar running back on the team’s first possession, holding him to two yards on two carries. The kick-off return unleashed the Cougar offense.
For the game, Carnell had 22 carries for 204 yards as he scored four touchdowns.
“It was a momentum thing,” Newton lamented of the kick return. “Up until that point we were firing on all cylinders. You work so hard to get to that point and then you give up a quick return. It wasn’t offensive yardage but our kids just saw him run down the field. It drains you mentally.”
Bullitt Central also took advantage of eight North Bullitt fumbles, five of which the Cougars recovered. Many of those miscues came without contact as the Eagles continue to transition into a more spread attack with sophomore quarterback Logan James running out of the shotgun.
Another mistake in the North Bullitt kicking game came four plays later when a fake punt attempt came up well short of the first down, giving Bullitt the ball at the Eagles’ 37-yard line. Early in the second quarter, that drive ended with Cougar sophomore quarterback Cameron Dukes darting 22-yards to the endzone for a touchdown.
That tied the score at 14-14.
Two plays later, James fumbled and Jason Johns recovered at the Eagles’ 28-yard line. On the very next play, Dukes through a high-lob pass that 6-3 Bullitt Central wide receiver D.J. Dennison pulled down for a touchdown.
Dukes, who converted seven of his eight extra point kicks, then put the Cougars ahead for good with the kick.
The last gasp from North Bullitt came moments later when James connected with Dalton Casey on a 60-yard touchdown pass. The Eagles are going for two-points after every touchdown this season and this time James’ pass attempt failed.
Bullitt Central completed the first half rally as they went 50-yards in eight plays following a squib kick after the long touchdown pass. Carnell carried the ball on four of those plays including the final 30 yards for the touchdown.
That put the Cougars up 28-20.
The early deficit was not lost on the Cougars players as North Bullitt had converted a pair of long drives as they controlled the ball and the clock.
“I was pretty nervous at the time,” Dennison said. “I still knew that we could come out on top. I know how we are. The touchdown (Carnell’s return) really helped us and got us back on our feet.”
After taking the opening kick-off, North Bullitt marched 61 yards in 11 plays. The Eagles actually covered 71 yards after James was sacked on the first play of the series. The elusive quarterback completed two passes in the drive and then scored the touchdown himself on an eight-yard run around the left end.
Following a three-and-out for the Cougars, North Bullitt went 65 yards in 14 plays. Three times James converted third down passes and later a 19-yard completion put the ball on the one-yard line. The Eagles went back on a penalty, but James pulled them out with a six-yard run on third down for the touchdown.
James then hit Chance Egnor in the back of the endzone for the two-point conversion.
For a single moment, North Bullitt had a 14-0 lead before the kick-off.
“We have seen that type of speed,” Leasor said, both of James and the quick pace that North Bullitt was operating their offense. “The speed of the offense wasn’t the problem, it was us not reading the keys. We weren’t reading anything.
“That little back (James) made us miss,” the coach added. “They gave us some problems early. I just told the kids to settle down.”
Leasor was very pleased with the contributions from offensive players other than Carnell. Dennison and Dukes combined on two touchdown passes while both Dukes and Dennison scored rushing touchdowns. Jason Johns, who has taken over as the running back in front of Carnell added 26 yards on the ground on five carries.
“I thought DJ had a good game and Cameron made some things happen,” Leasor said. “Some of the other backs helped out and that helps take pressure off Trevor.”
In the second half, Bullitt Central scored four of the first five times it got the ball. Two of those scores came on single play drives.
The Cougars did have to put after the opening series of the second half, but two plays later, the Eagles fumbled and Nate Ennis recovered at the North Bullitt 36-yard line. On the repeat of the first half touchdown pass, Dukes lofted another ball to the endzone that Dennison hauled in over a shorter Eagle defender.
North Bullitt did stay relatively close when they scored for the last time on an eight-yard run by James with 8:33 remaining in the third quarter.
Bullitt Central then pulled away with a strong running game. Still in the third quarter, Carnell finished a 53 yard drive with a 14-yard touchdown run and just before the end of the quarter, Dennison went 12-yards to finish a 60-yard drive.
Early in the fourth quarter, Carnell capped the night for the home fans with an electrifying 57-yard dash to the endzone. The junior ran around the left end and was racing down the sideline in front of the Cougar bench when he suddenly took a right turn, breaking into the clear for the final 30 yards.
The total yardage in the game was really not that much different. Bullitt Central had 428 yards of offense with 330 of those yards on the ground. Dukes completed six of 11 passes for 92 yards.
North Bullitt countered with 393 total yards. James completed 18 of his 30 passes for 220 yards and the ground attack collected 173 yards.
The difference was the fumbles and the fact that North Bullitt had 75 yards in penalties to just 20 for the Cougars.
“We just can’t miss opportunities and turn it over,” Newton said. “We were facing a good team. You can’t give them a short field.”
North Bullitt was hurt early in the game when senior center Luke Humphrey went out with a leg injury. He did not return, but he did walk off the field after the game.
Next Games: District play will continue for both teams this week.
Bullitt Central will make the short trip east to take on Bullitt East in The War. The Chargers stand at 5-1 after not playing last Friday.
North Bullitt will be at home to take on Shelby County. The Rockets are 3-2 after falling 27-14 at Frankfort on Friday.
Both games are set to start at 7:30 p.m.