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SHEPHERDSVILLE - If there had been one very minor, questionable aspect to Bullitt Central’s remarkable dream football season, it had been that the Cougars had been slow starters this year.
In all of the team’s big wins, Bullitt East, Anderson County and North Bullitt, the maroon and gray had fallen behind and then rallied to get the win. That makes it exciting for fans, but wears on coaches at a point.
Well, on Friday, the Cougars put together a strong three quarters, the first three quarters in fact, as they rolled past visiting Southern 40-22. Bullitt Central was up 27-0 at halftime and it was 34-0 entering the fourth quarter before a few problems arose.
Still, the smiles certainly overshadowed any frowns as the Cougars moved to 7-2 overall. On Senior Night, the maroon and gray also picked up its first district win in Class 6-A.
The victory, paired with Madison Central’s 28-6 win over Shelby County, means that Bullitt Central will travel to Madison Central on Nov. 14 for the first round of the Class 6-A play-offs.
“For three quarters we really did a good job,” Bullitt Central head coach Danny Leasor said after the win. “Then we lost our poise. These kids have just not been in this situation before. They have to learn to handle success.”
There was also some worry after the game with injuries suffered by two key players - senior Jesse Vittitoe and junior T.J. Flener. Vittitoe suffered another ankle injury late in the game and was taken to the hospital. Flener probably suffered a dislocated finger.
Other than that, it was another impressive performance for a team that hasn’t had many over the past decade. Bullitt Central scored the first four times it had the ball against a Southern team that had seemed very impressive after beating Louisville Western a week earlier.
In that Southern victory, quarterback Calvin Ferguson had gone crazy, piling up impressive offensive numbers. Against Bullitt Central, Ferguson was held in check. The senior rushed 21 times for only 65 yards while scoring two touchdowns. He did complete 17 of 28 passes for 157 yards, but most of that came in the second half when the outcome was already decided.
“We had a good defensive plan and we executed it well in the first half,” Leasor said. “At halftime, we told them we wanted to play it like the score was 0-0.”
It didn’t bother the veteran coach when heavy rains the morning of the game left the field looking more like a swamp.
“I’m glad it was a muddy field,” Leasor noted. “That helped us. We have never lost on this field in the mud. We’re a good mud team.”
In fact, the Cougars looked like a different offensive team because of the wet conditions. Instead of using the ‘Pistol’ offense that they have mastered this season, the Cougars ran just about ever play out of a more traditional Power-I look.
Bullitt Central ran the ball 33 times against Southern and 24 of those carries were by junior Jeremy Bennett who finished with 111 yards. The up-back in the Power-I was often converted lineman Larry Brown.
“Since coach Leasor came in he has always wanted to run it straight ahead and run it when we need to,” associate head coach Mike Gossett explained. “We want to get it in the hands of number 26 (Jeremy Bennett). It’s old style football.”
Still, the Cougars have not given up on the ‘Pistol’. It was a major part of the game plan. But when it started raining on Thursday night, the coaches changed the game plan to use the Power-I more. That meant that quarterback Damion Wibbels took every snap under center instead of out of the shotgun.
“The ‘Pistol’ is still our base offense,” Gossett said. “When the field conditions are bad and we have to run out the clock, we’ll do the Power-I.
“We altered the game plan quite a bit,” the coach added. “We didn’t play a lot of wide-outs and we just wanted to hang in there and run the ball and make the big play when we had the chance.”
The first big play was not out of the offense, but came when Vittitoe returned the first punt of the game 50 yards to the Southern 11-yard line. After an off-side penalty, two runs by Jeremy Bennett put the ball in the endzone.
The second drive was more conventional after the Cougars got the ball on their own 37-yard line after stopping Ferguson short of a first down on fourth down.
Bullitt Central ran the ball eight straight times, but then faced a fourth and 5 situation at the Trojans’ 20 yard line. Wibbels faked the handoff to Bennett and then found Vittitoe wide open in the left flat. The senior turned up field and darted into the endzone.
Vittitoe made another big play when he returned the next Southern punt 26 yards early in the second quarter. That put the ball on the Southern 33 yard line. Bennett had two runs for 12 yards, but on the next play he ran right only to pull up and throw a pass that Flener caught in the endzone.
Moments later, Flener intercepted a deflected pass and Bullitt Central was in Southern territory again. The rusing attack picked up a first down and then Wibbels found tight end Bruce Felty free over the middle and the senior went to the endzone to cap a 33 yard play.
Three extra point kicks by Wibbels made it 27-0 at halftime.
Bullitt Central kept the hammer down when they scored on their first possession of the second half. Again, the Cougars ran the ball six straight times and then caught Southern playing the run when Wibbels found Felty wide open for a 27 yard touchdown connection.
With a 34-0 lead, Bullitt Central got a little lax in the fourth quarter. The defense had stopped the Trojans inside the 10 yard line late in the third quarter, but then Southern scored on a 7-yard run by Ferguson early in the final frame. The Trojans then recovered the on-sides kick and then time scored when Ferguson connected with Chris Richard on a short pass for a touchdown.
Now it was 34-14 with 9:12 remaining in the game and Southern tried another on-sides kick. This time the ball bounced right up into the hands of Vittitoe and he headed straight up the field. When the senior broke through the only wave of tacklers, he went untouched to the endzone for the touchdown.
Southern did add one more score, a 7-yard run by Ferguson with 5:12 to play, but when Bullitt Central recovered the on-sides kick, the Cougars ran out the clock with three first downs on six straight running plays.
For the game, Bullitt Central finished with only 258 yards of total offense. Jeremy Bennett had the 111 yards on the ground. Wibbels completed three of five passes for 82 yards and Bennett had the one completion for 20 more yards.
Southern had 243 total yards in the game but only had 86 yards on the ground.
Next Game: There won’t be any post-season pairings on the line, but Bullitt Central will close out the regular season on Friday against the other team in the Louisville area having a remarkable season when they travel to Goshen to take on North Oldham. The Mustangs are 8-0 after beating Western Hills 17-7 last week.
Game time on Halloween night is set for 7:30 p.m. at North Oldham.