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Cougars can't overcome early scores, mud

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John Hardin 14, BULLITT CENTRAL 0

By Mike Farner

SHEPHERDSVILLE - The defensive effort was inspiring, but that wasn’t enough on Friday as the Bullitt Central Cougars dropped a 14-0 decision to John Hardin in a battle for the top spot in Class 5-A, District 3.

John Hardin came into the game averaging over 400 yards of total offense through the first eight games of the season. On Friday, the Bulldogs managed just 203 yards and more than half of that came on three plays in the first half.

Bullitt Central just could not generate any offense, being held to a season-low 148 yards. Senior running back Jeremaie Bennett carried the ball 27 times for 104 yards, the first back to surpass 100 yards against John Hardin this season, but the overall rushing total was just 103 yards.

In the fourth quarter, all but a handful of snaps were taken on John Hardin’s end of the field, but the Cougars could not make a play to put the ball in the endzone. The last three Bullitt Central drives reached the Bulldogs’ 26-, 25- and 30-yard lines.

“We had our opportunities,” Bullitt Central head coach Danny Leasor said after the game. “You take aw the two bit runs they had and we had a chance. We played well in bad conditions. We just didn’t convert when we had the chance.”

Heavy rain the night before turned Bullitt Central’s field into a quagmire. This is the first season for the new Bermuda surface and it has just not had time to take root. With or without rain this week, the field will be a mess this Friday when North Bullitt visits for the final game of the regular season.

The field conditions affected both teams as each squad collected only eight first downs. Each team had an interception and there were seven total fumbles with six changing hands.

“The conditions of the field shut our stuff down,” Leasor said. “Our field had a lot to do with it being a defensive struggle.”

John Hardin came into the game as the state’s third-ranked team in Class 5-A. They left as just one of two remaining undefeated teams in the class at 9-0.

Bullitt Central dropped to 7-2 with the one game remaining.

Still, both teams will host games in the first round of the state play-offs which begin in two weeks. Bullitt Central will take on Jeffersontown while South Oldham will travel to John Hardin.

Bullitt Central and John Hardin could meet again in the third round of the play-offs.

“You have to answer when opportunity knocks,” Leasor said as he stood on the field. “That is especially true when you play a good football team. That was a very good team we were playing.”

This was a much better effort than the Cougars had put on two weeks earlier when they were blitzed by then undefeated Anderson County 42-7 in the team’s only other loss this season.

“We kept them in check most of the night,” Leasor said. “We just could not convert.”

The Cougars made a key change at halftime when they inserted an extra player on the defensive front. That move helped shut-down John Hardin’s sweeps around the ends that had hurt Bullitt Central in the first half.

“We just went to a seven-man front and slanted to the motion,” Leasor said. “Then the field conditions got worse and that hurt both teams. That made for a lot of changes in what we wanted to do.”

Bullitt Central held John Hardin to just three first downs in the second half, but could manage just three of their own. Only one of those came in the fourth quarter. Three times in the final frame John Hardin fumbled and three times Bullitt Central recovered and on three straight drives the Cougars failed to gain a first down.

The only first down in the final frame came in the final two minutes and two plays later quarterback Damion Wibbels was intercepted at the 6-yard line, ending Bullitt Central’s upset hopes.

Early in the game it looked like it would be another Anderson County night for the Cougars as John Hardin dominated the first quarter. On the second play of the game, the Bulldogs’ Michael Wright went around the left side and raced 60 yards to the endzone.

On the ensuing kick-off, Bennett fumbled and John Hardin recovered, but the defense held.

Two series later, John Hardin ran Wright around the end again and he darted 39 yards to the Cougars’ 37-yard line. The visitors got the 9-yard line but a holding penalty and some stout defense forced John Hardin into a fourth and goal situation at the 14-yard line. Quarterback Alex Dingle rolled right and had plenty of time to find Austin Oldham open in the back of the endzone for the touchdown.

That was pretty much it for the John Hardin offense. Over the last three quarters, the Bullitt Central defense did not allow the Bulldogs past midfield.

The final numbers showed Bullitt Central with the 103 yards on the ground and the maroon and gray had another 36 through the air. Wibbels completed six of 15 passes for 45 yards.

John Hardin finished with 183 yards on the ground and they completed just five passes for 20 yards.

Bullitt Central played without senior linebacker Andrew Dodd on Friday. He missed most of the week with the flu. Senior lineman Gus Thompson went down with a lower leg injury in the second half and did not return. He was expected to get X-rays over the weekend.

Next Game: Bullitt Central will be playing for a second consecutive Bullitt Cup title on Friday when they play host to North Bullitt in the annual renewal of The Game. The Eagles dropped to 2-7 with a 33-7 loss to Marion County on Friday.

Game time at Bullitt Central on Friday is set for 7:30 p.m.