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MOUNT WASHINGTON - The numbers game finally caught up with the Bullitt East Chargers.
With what coach Doug Preston called the worst season of major injuries he’s seen, Bullitt East fell 39-22 to the Fairdale Bulldogs in the first round of the Class 4 playoffs.
The Chargers, who fell in the state championship game last year, ended with season with a 4-7 record.
“They played hard,” Preston said of his team. “It just caught up with us.”
For the second straight game, the Chargers went into the locker room in good shape at halftime only to see the opponent run away after intermission.
“It’s hard to get better if you can’t practice,” said Preston. “But you can’t practice if we’re trying to protect people.”
Bullitt East started the season with a lot of youth and that only got more youthful as the season progressed.
On Friday, the Chargers hosted a very athletic Fairdale team, which featured quarterback Bradley Vincent, who could run and pass the ball.
In preparing for the game, Preston said he was concerned about the dual threat of Bradley and the height of the Fairdale receivers.
Both of those concerns would come true.
In its traditional ground attack, Bullitt East came out and immediately went on a nine-play, 80-yard scoring drive on the opening possession.
With Zack Caudill injured after getting the call at tailback, Preston got Matt Husband back after an injury.
Challenging the Bulldog secondary, Matt Bowles hit Jordan Smith for an 11-yard pickup on the first play; however, a penalty negated the play.
Undaunted, Bowles came back and hit Smith on a 30-yard completion. They also hooked up on a 12-yard play.
With the ball at the Fairdale 15, Husband got to the one-yard line and then finished the drive with the one-yard run. Caleb Noe hit the extra point with 7:31 left in the first quarter.
Fairdale appeared ready to tie the score. On its second play, Vincent connected with Quintrel Morris on a 63-yard pass play. However, the Charger defense held at the 19.
When the Chargers failed to move the ball, Noe boomed a 70-yard punt to pin the visitors at its own 15. However, on the second play, Vincent hit Morris with a little pass in the flat and the senior speedster did the rest. He eluded several Chargers en route to an 81-yard touchdown. Smith blocked the Martin Gonzalez extra point.
The Bullitt East offense got on track again as they appeared to score on Wade Kelly’s seven-yard sweep. However, a holding call nullified the play and a fumble ended the drive.
The Charger defense held again but Husband went out with when he reinjured his ankle.
Up 7-6 at halftime, Preston said he felt good but knew his players were tired. With most playing on both sides of the ball, Preston said it begins to wear on them, especially as the season went along.
Having the ball first, Fairdale went up for the first time on its opening drive. On its eight play, Vincent found Austin Woosley in the end zone from the 8. Gonzalez connected on the kick for the 13-8 lead with 8:36 left.
Bullitt East seemed to get another break on its next punt when Fairdale misplayed the ball and Smith picked it up and ran into the end zone. However, the muffed punt could not be advanced. Starting at the Bulldog 32, the visitors were immediately called for a roughing the passer penalty to move it to the 17.
The drive stalled and Noe kicked a 32-yard field goal at the 5:04 mark.
Fairdale came right back and Jason Spalding ran 35 yards for the score. A key on the drive was a facemask called on third down against Bullitt East. Without the call, Fairdale would have punted.
Still fighting, Bullitt East came right back to make it 20-16.
Bowles, playing his final game at quarterback, connected with Hunter Story for a 15-yard play. And from his own 42, Bowles kept the ball and ran through the middle of the pack en route to a 58-yard touchdown.
Prosperity didn’t last long as Fairdale needed just three plays to score. After Vincent hit Brett Weston for 21 yards, Woosley covered the final 51 yards to make it 27-16 with five seconds left in the third quarter.
Forced to go to the air, Bowles was picked off by Weston, who returned the ball 70 yards for the score.
After Dylan Lewis’ kickoff return put the ball at the 47, Bullitt East came back. Zack Martin ran for 11 yards and Bowles found room around the corner for 30 yards. On fourth down, Bowles hit Smith for a 3-yard pass with 5:09 left.
Fairdale would tack on a final score when Spalding broke free from the 50.
“The kids played hard,” said Preston. “I am very proud of every person on this team.”
He said coming off the success of the past season didn’t put any added pressure on this team.
“There’s always high expectations here,” said Preston. “And they played hard every week.”
In reality, Preston said it is difficult playing a lot of young players who haven’t played in varsity competition. On top of that, he was playing a lot of guys out of their normal positions. And, those playing both ways will wear down, especially in the second half.
“We moved the ball well and our defense played very well in the first half,” said Preston. “But it snowballed in the third quarter.”
On a positive note, Preston said a lot of younger players got valuable varsity experience and that should be dividends next season.
Still, the last game means that seniors will be leaving the program.
“They provided leadership,” said Preston.
Unofficially, Bowles hit nine of his 20 passes for 140 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for 88 yards and a score.
Husband and Martin each had 54 yards and Story had 19.
Smith caught five passes for 73 yards and Nathan Judd caught two for 50 yards.
Fairdale will move on to play Western in the second round of the playoffs. Western defeated North Bullitt in its opening game.