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Failed conversion at :10 ends Charger rally

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Class 4-A Commonwealth Gridiron Bowl

By Mike Farner

LOUISVILLE - The Bullitt East Chargers didn’t quit when the season started with just two wins in the first six contests.

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The Chargers certainly didn’t quit at the end of the season, battling until the final 10 seconds on Saturday in the Class 4-A Commonwealth Gridiron Championship game.

The outcome was a 15-13 loss to undefeated Bell County, but this Bullitt East squad left an indelible mark on its community with its heart and passion.

Seemingly out of chances when Bell County scored a touchdown with 3:40 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Chargers continued to believe in success.

First, Bell County missed the extra point attempt, leaving the margin at eight points at 15-7. Even after an interception halted the next drive, the Bullitt East defense stepped up and gave the offense one final chance.

This time the offense worked to perfection. The Chargers marched 74 yards in the final 90 seconds of the game. There was a 23-yard pass from quarterback Matt Bowles to Zach McCarthy and then a 17-yard pass from Bowles to Nathan Brooks that put the ball on the Bobcats’ 34 yard line.

Three times Bowles stepped back to pass and three times the passes were incomplete. Finally, on fourth down, Bowles lofted a high-arching pass to Ricky Gray near the goal line. In a flurry of players, the ball bounced off Gray and back toward the 5-yard line where McCarthy grabbed it and then lunged toward the goal line, falling down at the 1.

With no time-outs remaining, Bullitt East opted to spike the ball at :48 to stop the clock. On second down, Adam Herth was stopped and then Curtis Logsdon went to the right and was stopped short of the line of scrimmage. The clock kept running and with 10 seconds remaining in the game, McCarthy got the ball on fourth down.

The big senior ran left and there was a wall of bodies at the goal line. McCarthy lowered his head and somehow managed to force the ball over the goal line.

Still, there were no time-outs so Bullitt East had no time to set up a special two-point conversion attempt. Instead, they had to run a normal play from the offense. Bowles took the snap and rolled right and then threw back to the middle of the field, trying to hit McCarthy. The pass was high, but McCarthy was blanketed and the ball sailed out of the end zone.

Bell County then recovered the on-sides kick and ran one play before they started celebrating their first football state title since 1991.

The big pass play was not designed for McCarthy to be in the area.

“I just saw the ball going that direction,” the senior running back said after the game. “I saw them flying to it and I thought what’s the worst that can happen?”

“He threw the ball up and Zach went after it,” Preston said later. “That is the way Zach is. He is in the right place at the right time when you need it the most.”

It was a fitting way to end a classic high school football game.

“I thought it was a great football game between two great teams,” Preston said. “This shows how special it is to be a Bullitt East football player.”

Because Bell County was undefeated and had allowed just 57 points in the first 14 games this season, most people were calling the Chargers underdogs, but they never felt that was the case.

“I didn’t think that and we never let the kids think that,” Preston noted. “We told them to respect them because they were a tremendous team and so were we. They are state champs now, but we are just as good as anybody else in 4-A football.”

Bullitt East learned never to quit when the season got off to such a rocky start. That lesson paid dividends the past two weeks in tightly contested play-off games.

Preston said that he never felt his team was losing confidence even when Bell County scored 15 straight points in the second half.

“I never felt we were handing our heads,” the coach said. “It was physical and both sides just got a little tired. Then Curtis (Logsdon) made a tackle for a loss and we were pumped up again.”

Bullitt East made all the right plays in the first half on both sides of the ball.

After Bell County missed a field goal to end its first drive of the game, Bullitt East came back with 18 straight running plays. The 80-yard drive didn’t end until the first play of the second quarter when McCarthy jumped over the line for the touchdown.

Josh Smith’s extra point kick made it 7-0.

The defense then stepped up with a marvelous goal line stand after Bell County’s Dominic Carton ran 37 yards to the 1-yard line. Twice Bobcat quarterback Shawnta Zachery tried to sneak it in and was stopped both times. On third down, Zachery fumbled the ball and lost a yard. Zachery then misfired on a pass to the endzone.

Just before halftime, Bell County got all the way to the Bullitt East 17-yard line with the help of a pass interference call. With 10 seconds remaining in the half, Zachery dropped back to pass and the pressure from the defensive front forced him to scramble and use all the time on the clock before completing a short pass that was safely away from the endzone.

But for everything that went right early in the game, it turned on the Chargers early in the second half.

On the third play of the half, Bowles was intercepted. That led to a 32-yard Bell County drive that knotted the score when Spencer Greer scored from 4-yards out with 8:42 remaining in the third quarter.

Bullitt East just could not manage any offense in the third quarter. The red and gold did not pick up a first down and played with their backs to the goal line most of the time. The defense kept making plays, including an interception by Logsdon and when Bell County had to put on the next possession, the Chargers were backed up to their 9-yard line.

Logsdon lost ground on the next two plays and on third down Bowles rolled right and tried to throw back to the middle of the field on an inside screen. Logsdon caught the ball just inside the endzone and was then quickly brought down by Keith Lowe for a safety.

“They just made an excellent play there,” Preston said. “The linebacker was blitzing and he was right there. The linebacker saw it and made a nice play.”

After the free kick came on the first play of the fourth quarter, Bullitt East got an interception from Gray, but then had to put after another drive with no first down.

This time Bell County drove all the way to the 4-yard line where they faced fourth down. A delay of game penalty moved the ball back, but with 3:40 remaining in the game, Zachery stepped back and found John Dudley Hilton over the middle for the touchdown.

On the extra point, the hold was bobbled. The holder picked the ball up and lateraled it to kicker Monte Merrick who tried to throw it. The ball was caught but well behind the line of scrimmage, leaving the margin at 15-7.

Bullitt East picked up its initial first down of the second half when Bowles and Brooks connected on a 10-yard pass, but then Bowles was intercepted by Hilton who returned it to the Chargers’ 31-yard line with 3:05 remaining.

Preston was down to just one time-out by this point so Bell County ran three plays before the coach used his final time-out. The Bobcats then jumped off-sides and on fourth down Greer was stopped at the 26-yard line with 1:33 showing on the clock.

“No way,” Bullitt East senior Michael Bozarth when asked if he doubted if a comeback was possible at the late stage. “We’ve been behind before and made it back. We never thought we were out of it. We always think we have a chance.”

Bullitt East just could not muster much offense in the second half until the last two series.

“The biggest ting was they blitzed their linebackers,” Bowles said. “We didn’t pick them up and that hurt us.”

The Chargers just spread it out on offense at the end and that opened up some space

“We just went to our two-minute offense and it was successful,” the junior quarterback noted. “The offensive line game me some time and I found some receivers.

“It was up to the seniors,” Bowles added. “They have busted their butts for four years. We gave ourselves the opportunity. Our hats are off to Bell County.”

Since moving from tight end to running back in the middle of the season and gaining over 1,000 yards, McCarthy has become somewhat of a folk hero, but the fun of this season started long before that.

“This whole season has been the most fun in my life,” he concluded. “I’ve been with these guys since I was eight. Even when it was bad, it was a blast.”

The game really turned out to be a defensive struggle. The final statistics showed Bell County with 59 plays for 253 yards while Bullitt East ran 60 plays for 216 yards. The Bobcats had 14 first downs, one more than the Chargers.

Bullitt East’s offense included 131 yards on the ground. McCarthy carried the ball 21 times for 84 yards while Logsdon had 16 carries for 47 yards.

Bowles completed six of 17 passes for 85 yards with two interceptions. He was not sacked.

Bozarth finished with 9.5 tackels while Logsdon had 8.5 tackles for the Chargers. Logsdon had three tackles behind the line of scrimmage.

Bell County collected 189 yards on the ground. Carton led the way with 71 yards on seven carries while Greer rushed 19 times for 70 yards.

Zachery attempted 14 passes, completed seven and he was intercepted twice.  The seven completions went for 64 yards.

Hilton was the leading tackler for Bell County with ten.