MOUNT WASHINGTON - In a rivalry as intense as The Clash, sometimes inches seem like miles.
That case was no more evident than on Friday as the battle royale between Bullitt East and North Bullitt literally came down to less than 12 inches. That was as far as North Bullitt was from the goal line on the third play of the fourth quarter.
Trailing 17-14, the Eagles wanted to get the ball to running back Dalton Cissell. It never happened. The snap to quarterback Jordan Mayberry was bobbled and then dropped to the ground where Bullitt East’s Kyle Lingar fell on it at the 3-yard line.
Bullitt East picked up a pair of first downs and ran almost six minutes off the clock. Then, they held the Eagles on fourth down before sealing the victory by forcing a pair of turnovers in the final 2:13.
Football can be a game of inches.
“It was tonight,” Bullitt East head coach Doug Preston said after the game. “It was a game of inches.”
Some coaches might have been thinking ahead to the next offensive series and how they could regain the lead, but Preston didn’t see it that way.
“I wasn’t thinking that far ahead. I was hoping someone would make a play,” the coach said. “We’ve had a lot of goal line stands this season. We knocked the center back and the ball popped loose. It was a tremendous defensive play. Our kids kept battling.”
It was one of the first times this season that something good happened to the Chargers. Twice they have blown fourth quarter leads in losses to Bullitt Central and Fairdale.
The victory moved the red and gold to 3-4 overall, but more importantly, the Chargers are now 2-0 in district play.
“It’s a tremendous feeling,” Bullitt East senior linebacker/center Michael Bozarth said on the field after the game. “We went out and did what we had to do.”
But there were anxious moments, especially when the ball was inside the 1-yard line.
“It was bad,” Bozarth admitted of the feeling at that time. “I knew that somebody had to do something. We just got a solid push up the middle and it was a bad snap.”
The win should take a lot of pressure off the Chargers heading into a ‘bye’ week before they travel to LaRue County on Oct. 24 for the last district contest.
“We always feel pressure in big games like this one,” Bozarth pointed out of being a Bullitt East player. “We were 2-4 and our coaches and community expect us to be better than that. We expected to play a game like this one and so did the coaches and the fans.”
It was a bitter loss for North Bullitt, a team ranked as high as third in Class 4-A this season, but which has now lost two close games in a row. After giving up 62 points in the two previous games, North Bullitt fell behind 17-0 in this one before finding solid ground and making a late rally.
“Against any team you can’t spot them a lead like that and you can’t turn it over inside the other team’s 1-yard line,” North Bullitt head coach Brett Newton said. “They were the better team tonight.”
North Bullitt was confident coming into The Clash and would like to meet Bullitt East again in late November in the play-offs.
“Coming in we thought we were (the better team),” Newton said. “It’s like the last three weeks when we thought we had good preparation. But when the ball was snapped they whipped us up front on offense and defense.”
North Bullitt running back Dalton Cissell was held well below his season average and while he wasn’t the game-breaker, he did finish with 110 yards on the ground, but it took 23 carries to get to that total.
“They told me he had like 120 yards and 75 of that was on two plays,” Preston said. “We played our normal defense. Nobody has shut-down Dalton Cissell and nobody will. We just wanted to contain him. We did that for the most part.”
Bullitt East was up 17-0 with 3:41 showing on the clock before halftime and the Eagles had yet to gain a first down.
Finally, North Bullitt made a game of it when they marched 62 yards in ten plays just before halftime. Mayberry picked up five yards on the third play of the series for the Eagles initial first down. Two plays later, the senior quarterback scrambled for 22 yards.
In fact, Cissell and Mayberry alternated carrying the ball in the seies. The touchdown came with 33 seconds before halftime when Cissell scored from 1-yard out.
At 17-7 at halftime, both teams had reason to be optimistic.
But it was North Bullitt who would get the ball first in the second half. Bullitt East’s kick-off was short and Tim Hardin picked it up, cut between two Bullitt East defenders and raced all the way to the 24-yard line before being tackled by kicker Caleb Noe.
North Bullitt went backwards four yards before an incomplete pass made it fourth down. Kicker C.J. Parker came on the field, but when the snap was low, Mayberry, the holder, picked it up and raced to the right. He picked up 17 yards and a first down, putting the ball at the 11-yard line.
On the next play, the senior quarterback went to his right again and went all the way to the endzone.
The defenses controlled play for the next six minutes before North Bullitt got the ball on a Bullitt East punt at their own 35-yard line late in the third quarter. Five straight running plays picked up 23 yards and on third down, Mayberry connected with wide receiver Shae Ellis on a 23-yard completion.
After the quarter break, Cissell went for 16 yards to the 2-yard line on the first play of the fourth quarter. Mayberry then kept it on a keeper and came up just inches short of the goal line. The next play was the botched snap and Bullitt East had held.
“It was supposed to be a simple hand-off to Dalton,” Newton said. “Jordan got a little rushed and pulled away from the center early.”
But it was too late for the Eagles after that. The early 17 points that Bullitt East put on the board held up down the stretch.
The Chargers won the coin flip and decided they wanted the ball right off the bat. The red and gold went 65 yards in eight plays. Senior running back Curtis Logsdon had a 29 yard run on third down and then Zach McCarthy had 13 yards in two plays.
Bullitt East even managed to overcome an illegal block when quarterback Matt Bowles connected with wide receiver Taylor Ramirez to the 3-yard line. On the next play, Logsdon scored over the right side.
The Charger defense held North Bullitt on a pair of third down plays and forced punts. Two series later, the red and gold held the ball for nine plays and when the drive stalled at the 12-yard line, senior Josh Smith came in and kicked a 29-yard field goal.
Again, the Bullitt East defense came up big. On the previous series, the Eagles could not get a first down from a yard out and this series ended with the Eagles failing to pick-up one yard on two straight plays.
The fourth down failure gave Bullitt East the ball on the North Bullitt 40-yard line. It took just five plays for the offense to cover that distance. The red and gold were helped along by a face mask penalty and with 3:41 remaining in the half, Logsdon scored from 12 yards out.
Those 17 points were enough for Bullitt East to win The Clash.
This was a hard-hitting game in which both teams had players helped from the field only to have them return a few players later.
“They finished it out,” Preston said. “They played with a lot of heart and pride. They all did tonight. I won’t take anything from North Bullitt. They played hard also.”
Bullitt East now has an open date this week before playing three straight weeks to end the regular season. Preston is glad for the time off even with the emotion from this victory in their back pockets.
“We need it in the worst way,” the coach said of a week off. “”We need it because we’ve been playing injured all season. We need to heal.”
Bullitt East finished with 244 yards of total offense on 56 plays. The Chargers had 216 of those yards on the ground including 101 yards on 22 carries by Logsdon.
Bowles completed two of six passes for 38 yards.
North Bullitt had it lowest offensive output of the season, finishing with just 192 yards on 46 plays. The team did have 169 yards on the ground and Mayberry completed three passes for 23 yards.
Next Game: While Bullitt East is off this week, North Bullitt goes back into the fire for another emotional ball game as they will play host to Bullitt Central in the annual renewal of The Game, the oldest rivalry in Bullitt County.
Bullitt Central is now 4-2 after falling 53-24 to Fern Creek last week.
This is the last of the three games in the Bullitt Cup competition. Bullitt Central will win the Cup with a victory while there will be a three-way tie if North Bullitt wins.
Game time on Friday at North Bullitt is set for 7:30 p.m.