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LEITCHFIELD - The Grayson County Cougars looked a lot better in person than on film.
And quarterback Talon Gary, who had seen as much time at wide receiver, may have played his best game in directing the Cougar offense to 34-26 victory over the North Bullitt Eagles.
The loss ended the season for coach Brett Newton’s team.
The Cougars will advance to a Friday night battle against the homestanding Bullitt East Chargers in the second round of the playoffs.
“I am really impressed with their team,” Newton said after the hard-fought defeat. “The quarterback did an excellent job tonight and the big fullback (Lane Rackley) was tough to stop.”
After down 14-0 in the first quarter, North Bullitt was fighting an uphill battle all evening.
“We got off to a slow start on both sides of the ball and I don’t know why,” said Newton. “We got behind and it was hard to catch up.”
While the Eagle offense sputtered early, Grayson County was effective. The only thing that stopped the Cougars all night was turnovers.
Driving to the Eagle 13 on its opening possession, Josh Exton came up with a fumble recovery.
After the offense could not move, Grayson County took over at its own 47. That’s where Dalton Casey stepped in front of a Cougar pass for the first interception.
On its third play, Exton scored from 30 yards out. However, a holding penalty negated the score and the drive would stall.
Grayson County scored its first touchdown after a six-play drive capped off by a sensational one-hand grab by Trey Waltermire. Gary’s pass covered 34 yards.
The conversion made it 7-0 with 4:22 left in the first quarter.
After the Eagle offense failed to move the ball, Grayson County needed just three plays to cover 62 yards. After Gary ran a keeper for 50 yards, Dakota Payton ran the final 10 for the score with 2:50 left in the first quarter.
That’s when the Eagle offense came alive.
At its own 43, Exton took the direct snap and ran around the left side for the touchdown. Logan James hit Casey for the conversion.
It appeared that Grayson County would score on the final drive of the first half.
On fourth down from the 26, Gary’s pass was picked off by Casey near the goal line and he returned it to the Cougar 37.
With two seconds left, a desperation throw from Exton to Casey was incomplete.
Down only 14-8, Newton felt good at intermission.
However, the Cougar offense came out immediately and scored, with Dylan Woodcock covering the final five yards.
The Eagles came back and scored in a rather unconventional manner.
On fourth down at the 3, James took the ball and looked to run around the right side. However, with that bottled up, he reversed his field and found Exton open for the touchdown.
Having closed the gap to 20-14, the North Bullitt defense could not get the big stop.
Rackley rambled for a 32-yard gain to put the ball at the Eagle 6. From there, Woodcock got his second score.
Finally forcing the lone Cougar punt of the night, North Bullitt fans were back on their feet at the 6:37 mark of the final quarter.
From its own 36, James found Exton open for a 64-yard touchdown to draw the Eagles to within 26-20.
Thanks to another big run of 48 yards by Rackley, Grayson County would again put some distance.
With 4:34 left, Gary found his way into the end zone from the 13. This time, the two-point conversion worked as Rackley found paydirt and a 34-20 lead.
Still not done, North Bullitt got the next drive started in excellent field position after Exton returned the kickoff 28 yards.
Turning the ball over on downs, things didn’t look too promising.
However, Casey recovered a fumble at the Cougar 45. After James ran for 29 yards, Exton threw a pass to Jordan Pate and interference was called.
On the next play, Exton found Chance Egnor open for an 8-yard touchdown.
Needing an on-side kick, North Bullitt had two players near the ball but it was ultimately recovered by Grayson County to seal the victory.
It was a gutty performance for a team which suffered through a lot of nagging injuries and had to learn a new spread offense, which was put in mid-way through the season.
“The effort was there all season,” said Newton, whose team ended the year at 4-7. “It was a gutty performance.”
Exton closed out his career with an exceptional performance, said Newton.
And two other playmakers -- Casey and James -- will return next season.
Defensively, he was surprised the Eagles were not able to slow down the victors.
“They ran the ball very well,” said Newton. “Their quarterback did an excellent job of reading the defense.”
Despite being behind much of the game, Newton said there was a sense that if the Eagles could tie the contest or get ahead, Grayson County might get down.
“We had our chances,” said Newton. “But we just got down early and couldn’t make that up.”