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CRESTWOOD - A bevy of early mistakes were more than the Bullitt Central Cougars could overcome on Friday as the maroon and gray dropped a 32-15 decision to fellow Class 5-A rival South Oldham.
The setback ended a streak of eight straight seasons in which the Cougars won the opening game of the campaign. Albeit, South Oldham was a major step up in competition from the Spencer County and Barren County teams that the Cougars defeated in coach Danny Leasor’s first four seasons back at the helm as well as Muhlenburg North and Breckinridge County teams before that.
South Oldham went 7-4 last season before losing to Bullitt Central 28-21 in the first round of the Class 5-A play-offs in Shepherdsville. The Dragons have most of their top players back from that team while Bullitt Central is doing some rebuilding at key positions.
“That was a good little team,” Leasor said after meeting with his players on the artificial grass following the game. “It was a good opponent for us to play at this point.”
It was the first time that Bullitt Central has ever opened the season with just one scrimmage, opting this year for the early start and then an open date late in the campaign.
“As many things as we did wrong offensively, defensively and in the kicking game, we were still in it,” Leasor noted. “We lost the game in Shepherdsville. The kids were not ready to play and that is my fault. I will correct that.
“We’ll be better,” the coach added. “We might be younger in some spots next week, but we’ll be better.”
It was South Oldham that made the early mistakes, fumbling on the opening series and then throwing an interception the next time they had the ball. Still, Bullitt Central could not take advantage of the gifts, failing on a 40-yard field goal attempt and then having to punt after just three plays.
Just before the end of the first quarter, Bullitt Central’s defense stiffened after giving up a handful of big plays and South Oldham converted a 24-yard field goal by Jack Sherry, who is also the team’s starting quarterback.
Early in the second quarter, South Oldham took control of the game with two touchdowns within 30 seconds. The first came at the end of a 71-yard drive. Three of the first four plays covered at least 14 yards before Sherry connected with Jacob Lamb on a 28-yard touchdown pass.
On the ensuing kick-off, South Oldham intentionally kicked the ball high and short. Instead of calling for a fair catch, Bullitt Central let the ball hit the ground and then in the scramble, the Dragons recovered at the Cougars’ 10-yard line. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty moved the ball back to the 25-yard line, but two running plays by Roger Johnson put the ball in the end zone and just that fast, the home team had a 17-0 lead with 7:49 remaining in the half.
Bullitt Central did manage to get on the board in the next series. Both James Joiner and Josh Hopkins had 18-yard runs in the 66-yard drive. The touchdown came when quarterback Bradley Combs connected with Cody Fulkerson on an 8-yard scoring strike.
The Cougars seemingly got out of the half only down 17-7 when South Oldham fumbled on the 1-yard line late in the half. However, a bad snap on a punt with 11 seconds remaining resulted in a safety.
“Every time we work on the kicking game we tell them to take the fair catch,” Leasor said of the key play in the first half. “It was a sophomore there and he was a deer in the headlights.”
In the second half, Bullitt Central blocked a field goal attempt and then got a 61-yard punt from Wade Curtsinger that rolled dead at the 17-yard line. But on the very next play, Sherry stepped back and connected with Lamb in stride as he ran past the secondary for an 83-yard touchdown.
Still, Bullitt Central showed life, answering with a 73-yard march led by back-up quarterback Trevor Carnell, a freshman. Carnell had a 20-yard run of his own and back-up fullback Jacob Fulkerson, a sophomore, had 14- and 17-yard runs before scoring on a 6-yard run on the third play of the fourth quarter.
Combs then returned and hit Joe Greenwell for the two-point conversion.
Bullitt Central went for the on-sides kick and Curtsinger’s ball bounced perfectly and Joiner grabbed on the run right at midfield. However, officials thought that the ball had not gone 10 yards and gave it back to South Oldham. The Dragons then chewed up most of the remaining time before adding a late touchdown by Steward Williams on a 6-yard run.
The Cougars’ last drive ended inside the 1-yard line in the final minute of the game.
“We’ll be OK,” Leasor concluded. “It’s not how you start, but how you finish. I’ll look at this as a second scrimmage. It was a learning experience and we’ll get better.”
Next Game: Bullitt Central will be at home for the first time this season on Friday when they take on Glasgow. The Scotties opened the season with a xxx xxxxx to Todd County Central.
Game time at George Valentine Field will be at 8 p.m. on Friday.