MOUNT WASHINGTON - The biggest battle ever for Bullitt County football supremacy played out in dramatic fashion on Friday as Bullitt East and North Bullitt went toe-to-toe in a slugfest for the Class 4-A, Region 2 title.
North Bullitt got in the first punch, but it was Bullitt East that landed a series of haymakers in the second half as the Chargers rallied from a 7-6 halftime deficit to beat their arch-rivals 26-7 to advance to the state semi-finals for the first time since 2005.
The win was the second for Bullitt East over the Eagles this season. Back on Oct. 10, the Chargers had prevailed 17-14.
“We’ve come a long way,” first-year head coach Doug Preston said of a team that was 2-4 at the start of the season. “I’ve felt all the way through that we had one of the best teams in the region. Tonight, like during the season, I felt we got better as we went along.”
Both teams now have an 8-5 record.
It was all about ball control for the Chargers. For the game, Bullitt East ran 71 plays from scrimmage to just 42 for North Bullitt. That translated into 419 yards of total offense to just 175 yards for the Eagles.
Still, despite having a 39-12 advantage in snaps in the first half, Bullitt East trailed 7-6 at the break. On the Eagles first play from scrimmage, running back Dalton Cissell had broken free on a 58-yard scoring run.
That would be the highlight for the Eagles other than a stingy defense in the first half.
“We got off to a quick start and then we couldn’t get much started after that,” said veteran North Bullitt head coach Brett Newton. “We played good defense in the first half. Then, they found some creases and holes and took advantage of those.”
It was the second straight season that North Bullitt lost in the third round of the play-offs.
Bullitt East did score a touchdown just before halftime, but a blocked extra point left North Bullitt ahead at the break.
“It wasn’t a good feeling,” Preston said of the meeting at the break. “What we reminded the kids was that their offense was basically one play. We made some adjustments and felt we could run the ball. We settled down and executed better and the offensive line dominated things.”
North Bullitt got the ball to open the second half, but three plays lost five yards and the Eagles had to punt.
On the second play of the drive, Bullitt East’s Zach McCarthy broke through the line of scrimmage for 16 yards to the North Bullitt 39-yard line. After a short run by Curtis Logsdon, Charger quarterback Matt Bowles stepped back and found Logsdon streaking down the sideline. The ball was on target and Logsdon made the catch before being tackled by Cissell at the 1-yard line.
On the next play, McCarthy scored the go-ahead touchdown.
The score remained 12-7 when Bowles was sacked by David Elmore on the two-point conversion attempt.
Bullitt East appeared ready to put the game out of reach late in the third quarter when they marched to the 1-yard line. However, on third down, Logsdon fumbled the ball and North Bullitt recovered at just about the exact same spot on the field where the Eagles had fumbled back in the regular season meeting when they were prepared to take the lead.
North Bullitt did manage a first down, but then Newton rolled the dice on a fourth and three play at the 27-yard line. The Eagles were really looking to draw Bullitt East off-sides, but then snapped the ball anyway and quarterback Jordan Mayberry had no chance to get the first down.
Two plays later, McCarthy broke off the right side and raced 28-yards to the endzone.
Early in the next drive, Mayberry went out with an injury and sophomore Dalton Hadley moved in at quarterback. The Eagles did manage one first down, on a pass interference penalty on the Chargers, but then on fourth down, Hadley was hit in the backfield and fumbled.
McCarthy, the running back who started the season as a tight end, then found more running room on the very next play as he rumbled 54 yards before being tripped up by Mayberry just short of the endzone. McCarthy then got the touchdown on the next play.
Two extra point kicks by Josh Smith accounted for the final 26-7 score.
Bullitt East senior Michael Bozarth played center on offense and led his team with 15 tackles from his linebacker spot.
“I’m extremely proud of the defense,” he said after the win. “After that first play we stepped up and did an amazing job.”
There really were no big speeches from the coaches at halftime for Bullitt East.
“We knew we could come back,” Bozarth said despite the fact that the team had not trailed at halftime in over a month. “We knew our offense could do it. We just had to do some little things.
“We showed we could do it in that drive just before halftime,” he added. “We knew what we had to do and we did it.”
McCarthy carried the ball 21 times for 177 yards and scored three touchdowns.
“North did a few things we hadn’t seen,” said the senior who also plays linebacker. “Our coaches had us well prepared so they didn’t do anything we weren’t ready to handle.”
Was winning a regional title where McCarthy expected to be when the season began?
“I’d say we’re just taking it in stride,” he said. “That’s really a hard one to answer because we’ve been taking it one game at a time. That’s how we got here.”
The halftime talk was pretty simple.
“First thing they said was that it was zero-to-zero,” Matt Bowles said on the field after the game. “We had given up the one big play, but there was nothing we could do about that now. They told us that if we won the second half that we would win the game.”
Bullitt East wanted to control the ball and take the big plays when they were available.
“We just want to keep the ball in the hands of the ones who have done the work,” Bowles added. “Four yards at a time will work. We knew the big plays would happen. The line has been opening holes for those plays all year.”
North Bullitt just was not able to generate any offense. The green and gold ran just the 12 plays in the first half and that accounted for 84 yards, but 58 of those yards came on Cissell’s touchdown run.
For the game, North Bullitt had just 175 yards of total offense and 155 of that came on the ground. When the Eagles were forced to put the ball in the air, they completed just four of 17 attempts for 20 yards.
Cissell, who earlier in the week had been selected as one of the ten finalist for the Mr. Football award in Kentucky, closed out his remarkable high school career with 15 carries for 115 yards.
Bullitt East just won the game on the ground. The Chargers rushed for 322 yards on 60 carries. McCarthy had his 177 yards while Logsdon finished with 107 yards on 24 carries.
Bowles did complete five of his 11 passes for 97 yards.
Bullitt East had a 23 to eight advantage in first downs.
These two rivals have played each other so often, but both teams stayed pretty much with what got them to this big game.
“They pretty much did the same thing on both sides of the ball,” Newton said of the Chargers. “They threw it a little more. You know it’s not good when they are running it and Mayberry (the safety) is up making the tackles.
“In the end, it came down to them making plays and we didn’t,” Newton concluded.
Bullitt East has 19 seniors this season and as freshmen, many of those players were at least members of the team that reached the state semi-finals where they were beaten by Bowling Green High School on the road.
That experience paid off this week.
“I thought we were very ready,” Preston said. “I didn’t sense anything bad at all. We pressed a little early and maybe we were trying too hard. We made some mistakes and I talked to them. Then we settled down, especially in the second quarter.”
Next Game: Now Bullitt East will get to play in a state semi-final game for the fifth time in school history. The game will be played in Mount Washington this Friday against Calloway County after that team defeated Allen County-Scottsville 42-26.
See Wednesday’s edition of The Pioneer News and www.pioneernews.net for a complete preview of that contest.
The winner of that game will advance to the Class 4-A State Championship game on Saturday, Dec. 13 at the University of Louisville’s Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.