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East shows strength despite setback to one of state's elite

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By Mike Farner

LOUISVILLE - Bullitt East's Mike Settles might not be big on 'moral' victories, but the Charger head coach wasn't that displeased on Friday following his team's 42-31 loss at Manual, the state's fourth-ranked team.

The red and gold finished with 354 yards of total offense and other than some missed extra point attempts, the Chargers were within a touchdown of one of the most talented teams in the state.

With just one week left in the regular season, Bullitt East just needs to shore up a few shortcomings on defense. Manual never had to punt in the game and except for failing on one fourth down play, scored each time they got the ball.

"Neither offense could be stopped," Settles said on the field after the game. "Our team came out ready to play. I'm proud of the way they attacked.

"We just have to get better on defense," the coach added. "We're not very good (on defense) right now."

Manaul, which moved to 8-1 heading into their traditional game against Male this week, finished with 372 yards of total offense with an almost perfectly balanced attack between running and throwing.

The two teams combined for five touchdowns in the final five minutes of the game.

Bullitt East (4-5) pulled within 28-19 with 4:26 remaining in the game when quarterback Matt Bowles and tight end Zach McCarthy connected on an 11-yard scoring pass over the middle.

Originally, Bullitt East lined up to kick the extra point. However, Manual jumped off-sides, moving the ball half the distance to the goal line. At the one-and-a-half yard line, Settles opted to go for the two-point conversion earlier than planned. Unfortunately, the veer option try was stopped short of the line, leaving the Chargers more than a touchdown behind.

Bullitt East had missed an extra point kick just before halftime that forced Settles to go for the two-point try.

The Chargers went for the on-sides kick, but Manual fell on the ball just over midfield. On the very next play, Manual put starting quarterback Joey Harness back in the game and he stepped back and fired a long pass down the sideline that was hauled in by Gerry Cooper who ran into the endzone to complete the 52-yard scoring play.

Despite three more touchdowns to be scored, the teams were only battling to decide the final score after the big scoring play.

"We just have young players that have to recognize the situation," Settles said of the defensive breakdown on the long scoring pass. "They brought the number one quarterback back out and then number one (Cooper) is a great receiver. We just played poor defense."

Failing on the two-point conversion put Bullitt East in a bad spot, but the team couldn't pass on such a golden chance after the penalty.

"We knew we would have to go for two at some point," Settles said. "That (the penalty) gave us a more successful chance. We just didn't capatilize."

Bullitt East missed on a late two-point conversion against Marion County and lost by a point earlier in the season and the Chargers missed on two other two-point conversion attempts in this game.

"We have to get better on two-point conversions," Settles noted. "We didn't do that well."

After Manual had gone back up 35-19 on the long pass play, Bullitt East added a touchdown on a 7-yard pass from Bowles to Steven Johnson that capped a fouor-play drive that included three completions by Bowles.

Manual answered with another touchdown that was set up by a 44-yard run when Bullitt East had just ten players on the field. The Chargers then capped the scoring run on a 14-yard pass from Bowles to Claine Risinger with :01.7 showing on the clock.

It was a scoring drive late in the first half that made it a competitive game on Friday. Manual was up 21-7 after scoring with 1:22 remaining in the second quarter.

Bullitt East bounced back with a 73-yard drive that took ten plays over just 65 seconds. There were three incompletions, but Bowles connected on six passes including a 21-yarder to Risinger that put the ball on the 17-yard line with 11.4 seconds remaining in the half.

Bowles was just a hair long to Nathan Brooks on the next play, but on the final play of the half, the sweetest play in the Charger playbook worked once again. Bowles dropped back and then back some more before tossing a pass over the middle to Johnson on the inside screen. The senior wide receiver found the endzone as the horn was going off.

Unfortunately, the extra point attempt sailed wide right, but Bullitt East was right in the game.

"That score just before halftime was big," Settles said. "The kids went in with a lot of confidence. They couldn't want to get back on the field."

Because they were behind for the entire game, Bullitt East threw the ball more than in any other game this season. Bowles, a sophomore, continued to show his blossoming maturity as he completed 20 of 32 passes for 232 yards and four touchdowns. He was intercepted once early in the game.

The Chargers also added 122 yards on the ground as they ran 69 plays from scrimmage, 15 more than Manual. On paper, senior running back Tony Knox accounted for 122 rushing yards on 15 carries with one touchdown, but the team's rushing total had some minus yardage because of sacks suffered by Bowles.

Settles is happy with his offense and with the development of his young quarterback.

"It was great practice for us in the fourth quarter," Settles said of the post-season run ahead for the red and gold. "We got lots of practice in the passing game.

"Our defense just put us in bad positions," the coach added. "It's good to know our offense can run and throw the ball effectively."

In its nine previous games, only one team, Shelby County, had scored more than 21 points against the Crimsons. Bullitt East scored five touchdowns against Manual, two more than St. Xavier, the state's top-ranked team.

Manual, which ran for 176 yards and threw for 196 yards, just has a lot of speedy athletes.

"Defensively, we talked about not giving up the big play," Settles said. "It's hard to do against Manual. We slowed them down a few times, but we never stopped them."

NEXT GAME: Bullitt East will try to build momentum for the post-season on Friday as they close out the regular season with a home game against Nelson County. The Cardinals are also 4-5 and had a recent three-game winning streak snapped when undefeated Nelson County turned them back 35-21.

It will be Senior Night in Mount Washington on Friday with game time set for 7:30 p.m.