MOUNT WASHINGTON – A quick turn of events midway through the first quarter paid long-term dividends for the Bullitt East Chargers on Friday as they whipped visiting Marion County 35-7 in the second round of the Class 4-A play-offs.
Twice in the opening moments of the game the Knights marched inside the Bullitt East 40 yard line. The second time, the visitors got as deep as the 17-yard line. A third down pass into the endzone was just inches long and on fourth down Bullitt East senior Ricky Gray knocked down a pass at the goal line.
On the very next play, Bullitt East’s Jonathan Bernard got the ball running straight up the middle. He broke through the line and suddenly saw nothing but grass ahead of him. The junior out ran the Marion County defense for a 78-yard touchdown that turned the momentum and propelled the Chargers to the state quarter-finals for the first time since 2005.
The win set up a showdown with North Bullitt on Friday in Mount Washington.
Bullitt East pushed ahead 21-0 by halftime and after Marion County scored midway through the third quarter, the Charger defense put on the clamps on the Knights, keeping them bottled up on their end of the field until the closing moments.
It was the second win this season for Bullitt East over their district rivals. Earlier in the week, Charger head coach Doug Preston had talked about how difficult it is to beat a good team twice.
“It was hard,” the coach said with a smile after the win. “It’s tougher than it looks. They have a heck of a football team.
“I thought we played pretty well,” the coach added. “We still have things to work on, but the kids played together and they are a good bunch of boys.”
Bernard’s big run was not a fancy play. It was a ‘42’ call, a play the Chargers have been running since switching to the wishbone offense the week of the first Marion County game.
“It was good blocking,” Bernard said after the game. “It was great blocking.
“We had a great week of practice,” the junior added. “Every play has big play ability. We have good blocking up front.”
Bernard finished with seven carries for 106 yards in the game as Bullitt East amassed 318 yards on the ground.
“That did turn the momentum,” Preston said. “We knew the first five or six minutes they (Marion County) would really come out and play hard. I expected it to be close all the way.”
Bullitt East improved to 7-5 with the victory while Marion County’s season ended at 9-3.
The contest was played in bitterly cold conditions, but it was dry and there was only a light win. Fortunately, those were the conditions that week in practice.
“We just came out and practiced in those conditions,” Preston said. “We even came out and practiced under the lights one night this week. We knew it would be cold.”
The win was the fifth in the last six games for the Chargers.
“We just prepared really well,” Bullitt East senior Adam Herth noted. “We had a good scouting report on them. The coaches did a good job preparing us.
“I feel like we are getting better every week,” he added. “We have been practicing hard and it is showing.”
Following Bullitt East’s first touchdown, the defense forced Marion County to punt after three plays and this time the Chargers took a more sustained approach to scoring, marching 65 yards in nine plays. Bernard, Zack McCarthy and Kyle Lingar all had carries in the drive. The biggest play was the touchdown when McCarthy broke through the line and raced 22 yards for the touchdown.
The Knights did get a first down on the next series and moved into Bullitt East territory, but on fourth down, the Charger defense stopped running back Dylan Peterson well short of a first down.
Starting at their own 34-yard line, Bullitt East again kept the ball on the ground. The red and gold picked up a first down, but then faced a fourth and two situation at the Marion County 43-yard line. The team lined up in punt formation, but the snap went to Bernard who was the up man and he found room around the left side, going 28 yards to the Knights’ 15-yard line.
Two plays later, quarterback Matt Bowles faked the hand-off into the line rolled left, finding lots of room as he raced 13 yards for the touchdown.
Caleb Noe kicked his third straight extra point and Bullitt East had a 21-0 lead at halftime.
Now Bullitt East just needed to play keep away. The first Marion County drive picked up three first downs, but then Gray had an interception near the goal line on a fourth down play. Bullitt East then ran three plays and punted.
Marion County’s only score then came on a 73-yard drive that took six plays. The big play was a 42-yard run by T.J. Jones. Jones then got the touchdown two plays later from 5-yards out.
But Bullitt East would just not be stopped. The next drive took over six minutes off the clock and it wasn’t until the ten minutes remained in the fourth quarter that Curtis Logsdon capped a 47-yard drive that took 12 plays with a 5-yard carry. Three times the Chargers converted on third down in the drive.
Twice Bullitt East held Marion County without a first down. The icing on the cake then came with 4:03 remaining when McCarthy bolted 39 yards to the endzone to account for the final points.
Bullitt East has led at halftime of the last five games and the defense has allowed just one touchdown in the last four contests in the first half.
“I’ve been saying a lot that our defense has been tough,” Preston said. “We’ve been tough all year and it continues to improve.”
The Chargers were without normal defensive coordinator David Williams who had a death in his family earlier in the week. The rest of the assistant coaches took over the defense during the week.
Bullitt East finished with 334 yards of total offense. On 49 of the 52 plays the Chargers had in the game, they kept it on the ground. The 318 rushing yards included 115 yards on 16 carries for McCarthy along with the 106 yards by Bernard. Lingar carried the ball 11 times for 57 yards.
Bowles attempted just three passes in the game and the only completion was a 16-yarder to Nathan Brooks in the second half.
Both teams ran the same number of plays in the contest, 52. The Knights rushed for 167 yards while quarterback Eric Miles, the co-Player of the Year in the district, completed seven of 20 passes for 68 yards.
The leading rusher for Marion County was junior Jacob Tabor who had 13 carries for 108 yards.
After the game, Preston said that he never let the idea of a rematch with North Bullitt cross his mind leading up to the Marion County game.
Now, the titanic clash is set and there will be football practice on Thanksgiving Day.
“We just want to get ready for them now,” the first-year coach said. “We won’t change anything. They have a good team and I’m just happy that we have a chance to play them again.
Bullitt East defeated North Bullitt 17-14 back on Oct. 10 in Mount Washington.
Game time on Friday in Mount Washington is set for 7:30 p.m.