SHEPHERDSVILLE - There have been times in the recent past, when The Game between North Bullitt and Bullitt Central did not live up to its name.
At times, one team was a lot better than the other, i.e. North Bullitt winning 56-0 two years ago. Other times, neither team was very good.
On Friday, in the 33rd renewal of the oldest rivalry in Bullitt County, there will be two teams on the field both with winning records and with both thinking they can make a little noise in the post-season this fall. Forget that both teams lost last week, Bullitt Central is already 5-2 while North Bullitt is 4-2.
In fact, the biggest part of this game could be that the winner will carry a lot of momentum into the final three weeks of the regular season.
“This is a very big game,” Bullitt Central head coach Danny Leasor said on Monday. “It’s the biggest one of the year for us.
“North is a county rival and we have a chance to do something that hasn’t happened here in a long time,” the coach said of winning the Bullitt Cup that goes to the Bullitt County football champion. Plus, if we win we’ll have a winning season. There are a lot of positives for this game.”
Bullitt Central already has a 30-27 victory over Bullitt East and North Bullitt lost to the Chargers 17-14 last week. In each of those games, the home team won.
The Cougars can win the Bullitt Cup (which has only existed for three years) for the first time with a victory on Friday. North Bullitt can only force a three-way tie for the trophy by winning.
While when the season began it would not have been imaginable for Bullitt Central to be the favorite in this game, that is sort of the way it has turned out. There are the Bullitt East results as well as the fact that Bullitt Central beat Anderson County a week after the Bearcats beat Jeffersontown, a team that then beat North Bullitt.
While that might be a little convoluted, it points up the strides that Bullitt Central has made this season.
“They have been building for the past few years,” North Bullitt head coach Brett Newton said of taking on the Cougars. “They had the best freshmen team a few years ago. Now, they are having a good season.”
Bullitt Central has confused a few teams this season with their new ‘Pistol’ offense. However, Newton points out that his team has run plays this year with a running back behind the quarterback in the shotgun formation so his team has seen variations on that formation in practice.
“We have that set in our offense,” the Eagle coach said. “We ran it a little bit earlier in the season. There offense is more spread than what we ran. It’s not much different than one back in a shot gun.”
What Bullitt Central has this year the Eagles have not seen out of them in the past is better team speed.
“With the Bennett brothers (Akeem and Jeremy) they have speed and then they have (Jesse) Vittitoe and he gave us fits last year. (Quarterback Damion) Wibbels is a good athlete. They have weapons.”
Newton feels that last week’s loss to Bullitt East makes this week’s game with the Cougars even more important. North Bullitt has lost two straight games (to Jeffersontown and Bullitt East) and needs to right the ship before hosting a very good Marion County team next week in a game that will decide the number two seed in the district for the post-season.
North Bullitt has won the last five meetings in the series since Bullitt Central won in 2002. In that 2002 game, Bullitt Central winning was the only victory either team had that season. So, both programs have come a long way.
Overall, Bullitt Central leads the series 18-14.
Leasor, who is in his second stint with the Cougars, has an 8-2 overall record, mostly coaching against former North Bullitt coach Tom Fox.
North Bullitt won 28-14 last year in a game that was overshadowed when the father of North Bullitt quarterback R.D. Reynolds passed away just a few hours before kick-off. The game had little or no emotion.
But, the Eagles have many of the same weapons from that game back this season.
“It’s no secret who they will give the ball too,” Leasor said of North Bullitt getting the ball into the hands of Dalton Cissell.
Still, after watching the Bullitt East game on video, Leasor was impressed when quarterback Jordan Mayberry kept the ball. He also saw that they were handing the ball to both Shae Ellis and David Elmore with some success.
“It will be a typical North Bullitt and Bullitt Central game,” the coach added. “It’s always a big game.”
Leasor was impressed with the Eagles when he saw them on video against Jeffersontown and Bullitt East.
“That East game was winnable for them,” the coach said. “Then we saw them with Jeffersontown. That was a mystery. It’s like they didn’t show up. They gave up the big plays. That’s the one bad game for them. Everybody has those.
“We saw two losses, but that doesn’t mean they are going to lose three in a row,” Leasor noted. “They are getting healthy with the quarterback.”
For six quarters, North Bullitt did not play well against Jeffersontown and Bullitt East. They trailed the Chargers 17-7 at halftime, but then held them scoreless and had chances to move ahead. So, they did get some things straightened out.
“Looking back, the defense played better and the offense had the ball more,” Newton said. “But, we can’t wait. There are times we’ve waited to the second half to be better and we can’t do that.”
In fact, both coaches pointed to a key to the game being the offense that can hold onto the ball for the longer periods of time would have a big advantage, although, both teams have the ability to break the big play.
Bullitt East contained Cissell to some extent last week with a six-man front. That is what Bullitt Central has used in a number of games this season.
“They are back to playing a six front,” Newton said. “We faced that with Bullitt East last week. We need to do a better job of opening it up and finding a spot for Dalton to run the ball.”
“They kept him bottled up and didn’t let him cut back,” Leasor said of Bullitt East holding Cissell to 110 yards. “He has good vision and gets you with the cut backs.
“If we hold him to 100 yards or less we did a good job,” the coach pointed out. “East is no slouch. They have a good team. Those were two good teams playing each other.”
The Eagles could switch from giving the ball to Cissell so much to spreading the wealth a little more.
“Jordan showed that he can do other things and handle that,” Newton pointed out. “As coaches, we need to get some other people in there and spread it out and not rely so much on Dalton. Shae Ellis played well at fullback. He has a little more speed than D.J. (Elmore) at fullback.”
Of course, the players all know each other growing up competing against each other in youth games as well as past freshmen and junior-varsity contests. Even the coaches know each other as Leasor and North Bullitt defensive coordinator worked together on the staff at Fairdale in 1993, the year after left his first stint at Bullitt Central.
Newton thinks that in recent years that because the Eagles and Bullitt East are in the same district, that The Clash might have surpassed The Game as the top rivalry for his team. Still, because of recent events, the game is now important again.
“I think Bullitt East, being in our district and how we struggled with them (in the past) so it took a priority with the kids,” Newton said. “The kids are smart enough to realize this is a different Bullitt Central team. They know they will give us everything we can handle. So, we have to be prepared.”
Both coaches had good news on Monday as both expect to be pretty close to 100 percent in terms of injuries. Bullitt Central could have offensive lineman Riley Keltner back for this game. North Bullitt could welcome back D.J. Atherton who missed last week’s game with a knee injury.
Game time at North Bullitt on Friday is set for 7:30 p.m.