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MOUNT WASHINGTON – A golden defensive effort was more than enough for the Bullitt East Chargers on Friday as they opened the Class 5-A play-offs at home with a 30-7 victory over North Hardin.
The win was the first for Bullitt East in post-season play since 2008 when the red and gold won four straight games before losing in the state final to Bell County.
It was just two years ago that North Hardin last made a visit to Mount Washington for the play-offs. In 2011, the Trojans left with a 35-14 victory.
The Bullitt East defense wasn’t going to let that happen this year. The Chargers held North Hardin to minus-2 yards on the ground on 11 carries. The rest of the time, the Trojans were putting the ball in the air, throwing 32 passes for 191 yards on 17 completions. Even that number was somewhat misleading as nearly half of that amount, 80 yards, came on one play, resulting in the Trojans only touchdown.
For the game, Bullitt East had 71 snaps to just 43 for North Hardin.
In the week leading up to the game, Bullitt East head coach Darrell Vincent had been preaching that North Hardin was much better than their 1-9 mark this season. He kept saying how good the Trojan athletes were and how much speed they had.
That was the case on that long touchdown when quarterback Andrew Rugerio hit wide receiver Dante Johnson with a short pass over the middle. Johnson then ran past the Bullitt East secondary for the 80-yard touchdown with 3:14 remaining in the first half. That score tied the game at 7-7.
But Bullitt East had a quick answer. Following an incompletion to start the drive, quarterback Pierce Kelly connected with tight end Trent Meredith for 14 yards. Another pass went for short yardage, but on a third down play, Kelly gave the ball to Austin Colvin who busted free for a 23-yard gain to the 23 yard line.
After the Chargers called a time-out with 47 seconds remaining in the half, Kelly dropped back and threw again to Meredith. The junior tight end caught the ball at the 10-yard line and then raced into the endzone.
Bullitt East then had the momentum and they never gave it up in the second half. The Chargers scored on their first three possessions of the second half to slowly pull away. North Hardin did not get past the Bullitt East 40-yard line in the second half.
“It was huge to get a touchdown in that drive,” Bullitt East head coach Darrell Vincent said. “They had two weeks to prepare for us and they caught us being a little aggressive on that screen pass. We read it correctly, but missed some tackles.”
Senior Bullitt East offensive tackle Dylan Ferguson wasn’t worried when North Hardin tied the game.
“No way,” the big tackle said. “We were always confident that we could beat them. We’ve had to battle through tough situations like that before. I knew we’d be fine. I have no doubts about the offense.”
The Bullitt East players picked up early in the week that North Hardin was not your normal 1-9 team.
“They were very athletic,” Ferguson said. “And they were fast. They had a good team.”
“Every team is good at this time of the season,” Kelly pointed out. “You never know at play-off time what is going to happen. We have to be at our best. The second half showed that.
“Dylan has been kind of sick this week,” the quarterback added. “During some of the time-outs we got a chance to talk some things over. The ‘O’ line did a good job.”
North Hardin’s top running back, sophomore Tavon Graves missed this game with a case on his arm and that led to the Trojans throwing the ball even more than normal.
“They have been throwing it 30-plus times all year,” Vincent noted. “But number 21 (Graves) is a nice running back and he was in a cast on the sideline. They chunked the running game with him out.”
None of the Bullitt East players have been on the winning side in a post-season game at this level and Vincent thought his team was a little tight to open the game.
“We were just a little nervous,” the coach pointed out. “We were a little tight and not as aggressive to start. Then we came out in the second half and played aggressively.
“There might be times we over coach a little,” Vincent added. “Sometimes they think too much about getting beat by the big play so they aren’t as aggressive as we would like. In the second half tonight we were aggressive.”
In the second half, North Hardin ran the ball four times for zero yardage. Rugerio completed only five of 15 passes for only 20 yards.
For the game, Bullitt East had 398 yards of offense. Most of that came on the ground as the Chargers ran the ball 61 times for 318 yards. Kelly did complete half of his ten passes for 80 yards with all of that yardage going to Meredith.
Senior Brandon Samuels led the ground attack with 124 yards on 17 carries. Colvin had 12 carries for 81 yard while Kelly kept the ball on the veer attack 16 times for 58 yards.
Bullitt East did score the first time it had the ball as the red and golf marched 61 yards in seven plays. On the very first play of the game, Samuels broke free for 32 yards and later in the drive he had a 17-yard run. Samuels then got the touchdown from a yard out.
After the score was 14-7 at halftime, Bullitt East kept the momentum. After Colvin had intercepted Rugerio to end the opening drive of the half, the Chargers went 32 yards in six plays. Samuels ran the ball on four plays including a fourth down conversion. Two plays later, Kelly rolled left and then cut back to the middle of the field and covered 17 yards for the touchdown.
Following a botched fake punt attempt the next time they had the ball, North Hardin gave Bullitt East the ball at the 37-yard line. Again in this drive, the Chargers converted a fourth down play and then two plays later got the touchdown when sophomore Chad Caldwell broke free for 23 yards.
North Hardin had just one first down in the second half, but they did get an extended drive when a muffed punt was recovered by the Trojans at midfield. Still, the defense held and forced another punt.
This time, the offense took a lot of time off the clock as they went on an 81-yard march that took 15 plays and over eight minutes off the clock. Bullitt East converted their third, fourth down conversion on a fake punt early in the drive.
The drive stalled at the nine-yard line and senior Dillon Heichelbech came in and converted a 26-yard field to account for the final score.
Next Game: Bullitt East will be at home this Friday as they will play host to Grayson County (5-6), a team that defeated North Bullitt 34-26 on Friday.
Game time in Mount Washington is set for 7:30 p.m.
The other semi-final in Region 2 will pit John Hardin against Shelby County. That game will be played in Radcliff on Friday.