MOUNT WASHINGTON - A 74-yard touchdown run by Taylor McMillen on the third play of the game gave Bullitt East hope, but a pair of North Hardin touchdowns on each side of halftime spelled trouble for the Chargers Friday in the first-round of the Class 5-A play-offs.
After leading 7-0 and still being tied at 14-14 with 1:38 remaining in the first half, the contest turned to North Hardin when they scored a touchdown on the last play of the first half. Getting the ball to start the second half, the Trojans went 60-yards on the third play of the half to open a 28-14 edge before eventually rolling to a 35-14 victory.
The game was the first meeting ever between the two schools in football and the first play-off game in two years for the Chargers who moved up to Class 5-A this season.
Coming into the game off three straight losses to end the regular season, Bullitt East was an obvious underdog despite playing at home. The Chargers showed some strength early, but could not maintain it as they ended the season with a 4-7 record.
North Hardin was the happy victor, but they earned the booby prize, earning the right to take on powerful John Hardin next week in the second-round of the play-offs. John Hardin advanced with a 64-13 victory over Shelby County.
"Monday wasn't our best practice, but it was getting better as the week went on," first-year Bullitt East head coach Darrell Vincent said after the game. "I thought by Wednesday or Thursday that we were ready to make a statement. The kids had a great attitude. We felt good by Wednesday. We started the game will, but could not maintain it."
Perhaps the Chargers could complain about truth in advertising. In the recent videos that Vincent and his coaching staff had watched of the Trojans, the team's base offense was the wishbone, the preferred offense of former Bullitt East head coach Doug Preston who is now the offensive coordinator at North Hardin.
As it turned out, the Chargers did not run a single play in the game out of the wishbone. Instead, they spread the field and let quarterback Michael Brunson and running back Matthew Brownell stay in the backfield by themselves.
The spread look was not a surprise to Vincent as North Hardin had used that earlier in the season. It was just a shock that they never lined up in the wishbone.
"Over the last two games they have been about 50-50 running the wishbone," Vincent pointed out. "They ran stuff we had seen. So that wasn't a major surprise."
Bullitt East struck early with trap up the middle to McMillen that he turned into the 74-yard touchdown. After North Hardin scored twice early in the second quarter, the Chargers bounced back with a 38-yard run by McMillen that set up a 21-yard touchdown run by Buzz Hadley with 1:38 remaining in the half.
However, Bullitt East could not get off the field. North Hardin marched 70 yards in seven plays. They were helped along by a pair of pass interference penalties as well an 11-yard run by Brownell and a 21-yard screen pass from quarterback Michael Brunson to Avery Price.
After the second pass interference call moved the ball to the 5-yard line with :08.4 showing on the clock, Brunson took the next snap and rolled right. The junior quarterback then threw back to the left, hitting Vincent Dobbins in the back of the endzone for the touchdown that put the Trojans ahead for good.
"They just moved the ball late," Vincent lamented. "It was tied and we let them get that one score in. If it was 14-14 at halftime we would have been in good shape."
Bullitt East has frustrated Vincent and his staff the second half of the season with poor tackling and that reared its ugly head again at key times in this game.
"There were a couple of times I felt we had them wrapped up and we let them out of some tackles," Vincent said. "We had them for 4-yard gains and they would go 40-yards."
After the score just before halftime, North Hardin carried the momentum over to the second half. They made it very tough on the Chargers when Brownell got to the corner on the fourth play of the second half and raced down his own sideline on a 60-yard scoring run.
That seemed to deflate the Chargers. They did manage to pick up three first downs in the next drive including converting a pair of fourth down plays, but there was no more energy after quarterback Nathan Christmas was sacked and fumbled after Bullitt East had reached the Trojans' 35-yard line.
North Hardin quickly went 60 yards the other direction, getting help from a questionable pass interference penalty as well as an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for arguing the call. The final points came on a 1-yard plunge by Antonio Simmons.
That marked the fifth straight possession where North Hardin had scored a touchdown.
Over the final 15 minutes of the game, Bullitt East did not make a first down and gained just 17 yards on two possessions. In fact, after gaining 186 yard in the first half, the Chargers managed just 45 yards in the second half including only 30-yards on the ground.
McMillen was the leading rusher for the Chargers with 127 yards on seven carries. The senior had 125 of those yards in the first half.
North Hardin finished with 303 yards of total offense with 218 of that coming on the ground. Brownell carried the ball 12 times for 124 yards with two scores while Brunson completed six of nine passes for 85 yards.
This was the fifth time this season that North Hardin had followed up a loss with a win. The Trojans advance to the second round of the play-offs with a 6-5 record to take on 11-0 John Hardin, a team that beat North Hardin 51-21 back on Oct. 14.