Rain can't dampen Cougars' run past Eagles

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By Mike Farner

SHEPHERDSVILLE - The Bullitt Central Cougars looked Mother Nature right in the eye on Friday and didn’t blink, putting together a strong effort in adverse conditions to beat arch-rival North Bullitt 34-14 in the 34th renewal of The Game.

It was not a fit night for man nor beast, but the Cougars sloshed through the rain and mud to win for the second straight time in the series. Bullitt Central now has a 20-14 edge in a rivalry that dates to 1976.

For Bullitt Central head coach Danny Leasor, the big reward came at the end of the game when his team was presented The Bullitt Cup by the award’s sponsor, Arch L. Heady and Sons Funeral Home/Dignity Memorial, the Awards Center and The Pioneer News. Fans and players stayed on the muddy field after the game to soak up the celebration despite the heavy rain.

In the nine seasons from 1998 to 2006, Bullitt Central football posted a 20-70 record without a single winning season. In the three years since Leasor came aboard for his second stint as the head coach, the Cougars have gone 19-13 and have been 4-2 against Bullitt East and North Bullitt.

“We’ve come a long way,” Leasor said as he tried to drip-dry in his office after the game. “I’m very pleased and proud of back-to-back county championships and back-to-back eight-win regular seasons.

“But we don’t have much time to celebrate,” the veteran coach said. “We have to get ready for Jeffersontown. Everybody played well in deplorable conditions.”

For North Bullitt, it was a frustrating night in a frustrating season. The Eagles looked strong for most of the first quarter, but then one mistake turned the game around.

“That sort of sums up the whole season,” North Bullitt head coach Brett Newton said over the weekend. “We do some good things and then a costly turnover at the time and it hurts us. The defense was stopping them and we had first downs on offense.”

The Eagles dropped to 2-8 for the season with their sixth straight loss. North Bullitt will travel to Western High School in Louisville this Friday for the first round of the Class 4-A play-offs.

Bullitt Central was the favorite coming into this game, but North Bullitt took the action to the Cougars early in the game. Much of the damage was done by Eagle senior Travis Ridley as North Bullitt unveiled a ‘wildcat’ type offense with the snap going directly to the player who would carry the ball.

North Bullitt had run the offense at various times during the regular season, but because of the bad conditions on Friday the ‘wildcat’ became the offense of choice for this game. Ridley, the team’s best athlete, has seen spot duty this season under center in a rotation with junior Dalton Hadley with Ridley mostly running and Hadley being the passer.

Actually, North Bullitt had a number of players take the direct snaps and run with the ball, including Isaac McLean and Zack Campoamor. When Bullitt Central fumbled on its third play of the game, North Bullitt went 64 yards in just five plays for the touchdown. McLean had a 13-yard run and then Campoamor raced 26 yards. Two plays later, Ridley kept the ball for 20 yards to the 1-yard line. The senior scored on the next play.

As the rain picked up in intensity, both teams played conservatively. The two rivals exchanged punts and when Bullitt Central failed to get a first down again, they punted to the North Bullitt 19-yard line.

Hadley got the call this time and he went straight to the air. However, his pass was well under thrown and came down in the hands of Bullitt Central’s Terry Coulter at the 38-yard line. Coulter raced across the field and picked up a wall of blockers near the 20-yard line and dove into the endzone.

Wade Curtsinger’s extra point put the Cougars up 7-6 and they would lead the rest of the game.

“The quarterback I put in made the wrong read,” Newton pointed out. “That hurt us.”

The interception changed the complexion of the game completely.

“We knew they would throw on us because we have had some problems stopping the pass,” Coulter said after the game. “We were in a cover-4 and it came right to me. I saw the blockers and ran behind them. T.J. (Flener) gave me a block.

“No doubt that gave us a lot of momentum,” the senior added. “The last few weeks we’ve started slow and then have fallen behind. We needed a big play and that one got us going.”

Bullitt Central controlled the play the rest of the first half. After North Bullitt punted with just one more first down, the Cougars went 86 yards in just five plays. Actually, the Cougars faced a third and 10 situation at their own 14 yard line when quarterback Damion Wibbels connected with T.J. Flener near the Cougar sideline. Flener slipped a tackle well short of the first down marker and then raced 30 yards to the 44-yard line. Following a penalty, Wibbels connected with his other wide receiver, Danny Flener, for 16 yards.

On the next play, Wibbels turned and handed the ball to Jeremaie Bennett. The speedy senior found a huge hole over his right tackle and he darted 35 yards to the endzone.

In the third quarter, Bullitt Central gave the ball to Bennett and he put the game on ice with a pair of long touchdown runs.

The first of those runs came on the next play after North Bullitt had turned the ball over on downs at the Bullitt Central 41-yard line. Bennett went right again and when he found the hole he was off to the races down the home sideline for a 59-yard score.

When North Bullitt failed on a fake punt attempt to end the next series, Bullitt Central took over at midfield. Bennett went 15 yards on first down and after an incomplete pass, he got the ball again and went left this time for 35 yards to the endzone.

That made it 27-6 and the game was out of reach.

On the last play of the third quarter, North Bullitt did add on a touchdown when Ridley scored from 12 yards out to cap a 39-yard march after North Bullitt had a long kick-off return.

Bullitt Central then closed out the scoring midway through the fourth quarter with a three-play drive that covered 49 yards. Coulter had a 26-yard run and the touchdown came when Wibbels faked the ball to Bennett and then went untouched 20 yards to the endzone.

Bennett carried the ball just 15 times, but finished with 200 yards and the three touchdowns. The only long run he had in the first half was the touchdown.

“It was one of those things where the field conditions helped for a little bit,” Newton said of slowing down Bennett. “But you can’t contain him forever. He got his runs when it needed them. If we do contain him we might have had a shot in the game.”

In the second half, Bullitt Central spread their wide receivers out a little more and that forced the North Bullitt defense to move out, leaving more room for Bennett.

“We spread them out and they had to walk a back out there and that spread them,” Bullitt Central associate head coach Mike Gossett said. “Then the offensive line did a better job and that gave Jeremaie some room to run.”

Bullitt Central finished with 266 yards on the ground and added another 65 through the air as Wibbels completed three of his eight passes with one interception.

North Bullitt rushed for 169 yards, led by Ridley who carried the ball 24 times for 87 yards. The Eagles were able to pass for 28 yards. The green and gold mishandled a number of snaps from center, but did not lose a fumble. They did turn the ball over three times on interceptions.

Next Games: Bullitt Central will be at home for the first time in the play-offs since 1979 when they take on Jeffersontown in the Class 5-A first round game. The Chargers finished the regular season 6-4 after losing to Eastern 29-7 on Friday.

Game time in Shepherdsville is set for 7:30 p.m.

North Bullitt will travel to Western High School on Friday for the Class 4-A play-offs. The Warriors won the District 3 title and have a 5-5 record after falling to Ballard 11-2 on Friday.

Game time is set for 7:30 p.m.