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DRY RIDGE – By game time Friday night, the heavy rains had stopped at Grant County, but the deluge, Anderson County style, was only about to begin.
On their way to a 41-0 romp, the Bearcats unleashed a third quarter torrent that drowned any inkling of a Grant miracle. Anderson scored three touchdowns in less than six minutes, finding the end zone twice on plays longer than 50 yards and blocking a punt for the other score.
Not that Anderson had been in trouble. On a field that turned to a quagmire in less than a quarter, the Bearcats dominated from the outset. “We only had the ball for three possessions in the first half and scored on two of them,” said Anderson coach Mark Peach.
But Anderson was favored by anywhere from 35 to 50 points. The mud had taken away Anderson's passing game, the best in Class 5A, and practically forced the Bearcats to make their statement on the ground.
There were no long bombs, a favorite selection on the Anderson menu. Quarterback Jacob Russell, the state's leading passer in Class 5A tried to hit long a couple of times in the first half but was well off.
“The mud really messed up your timing,” Russell said.
“We had to take short choppy steps,” said running back Dustin Combs, who said he had never played in such slop. “You have to learn to like it.”
Nursing a 14-0 halftime lead, and seeing enough football in his lifetime to know that a fumbled pitch in horrendous playing conditions could be all that Grant needed, Peach challenged his team to step up, mud and all. It wasn't as much stepping up as it was smothering the Braves.
“Coach said it was 0-0 at that time,” Combs said. “We had talked all week about not taking them lightly.”
First it was Russell bulling his way through the line, then getting his footing along the right sideline for a 55-yard touchdown run. He would finish with 128 yards on the ground, a season best, and two touchdowns.
The punt block team followed on the next series, with Grant Cox getting to Grant punter Preston Cahill and Combs racing 25 yards for the score to make it 28-0.
On Anderson's next possession, Russell finally uncorked a 53-yard scoring bomb to sophomore Matt Sprague on a post pattern.
“It was hard to get a grip on the ball,” Russell said. “You had to kind of shot put it.”
“It was very tough,” Sprague added. “You couldn't get any traction anywhere.
Russell capped a 10-play, 65-yard drive with a sneak for a score early in the fourth quarter before Peach inserted a group of clean-shirted freshmen and junior varsity players to close things out over the final 10 minutes.
While the scoreboard showed that Anderson was only holding a two-touchdown lead, the Bearcats were never in any sort of trouble.
Their first play from scrimmage looked to be a 79-yard touchdown pass from Russell to Combs, who circled the field when the play was cut off, but the score was taken down by an illegal block.
No worries, though. The Bearcats just went the distance in five plays with Russell hitting Neal Wells for 28 yards, then following with a 29-yard run of his own to highlight the march.
Midway through the second frame, Russell and Sprague connected on a scoring toss taken right out of the backyard playbook.
After Ben Walker's touchdown run was erased on a holding call, the Bearcats faced fourth-and-goal at the 11. Out of the shotgun, Russell dropped a bad snap then scrambled before finding Sprague open at the goal line.
It was pure improvisation.
“I saw that he dropped the ball, so I cut to the middle of the field,” explained Sprague, who said that it was his first touchdown since playing youth league football. Sprague had elected to play other sports but rejoined the football team this fall.
Grant, which was playing at least four freshman, including quarterback Nathan Davis, took advantage of two Anderson penalties to drive to the Anderson 13 before fumbling just before halftime. Bearcat Clayton Carney fell on the ball to thwart Grant's only drive.
“That was a huge lift,” Russell said.
Of the 96 yards total offense Grant could muster on the night, 41 came on that march as did three of the Braves' seven first downs.
Meanwhile, the only thing slowing Anderson down was the quagmire the field had become by the end of the first quarter. The Bearcats piled up 398 yards, 267 on the ground, and averaged almost 10 yards a play as they ran their record to 5-0 and opened district play with a win.
“We knew we would have to have a running game,” Russell said. “You just couldn't throw.”
Still, Russell completed nine of 13 passes and upped his streak to 15 quarters without an interception. His only misfire of the season came in the first quarter of the Meade County game, the second of the season.
Peach said his team did not overlook Grant, now 2-3 and 0-1, despite being an almost prohibitive favorite.
“We talked about the article (in the Sept. 23 Anderson News, noting that one of the best teams in Anderson football history was similarly favored at Grant but came home with a loss). We also talked about USC and Washington.
“It was just very difficult to play in these conditions and I thought the kids responded well. We got a shutout. Kevin (Ray, the special teams coach) made some adjustments at halftime and we got a blocked punt. We didn't turn the ball over.
“I was really proud of the kids for the way they responded tonight.”
*Just before Russell's long touchdown run, he completed a bizarre pass to center Todd DeWoody, who had not run with the ball since his youth league days. DeWoody, a junior, chuckled about his fortune on what had been called as a simple swing pass to Grant Cox, the state's leading receiver coming into the game.
“I was supposed to block downfield,” DeWoody said. “The ball hit Grant in the chest but he couldn't hang on. It just popped out there.”
After the ball hit Cox, DeWoody became an eligible receiver and picked up 15 yards on the play.
“It was pretty fun, really,” DeWoody said.
*While the field looked to be in good shape at kickoff despite a week of rain, it deteriorated quickly. “About two plays,” Peach quipped.
Some Anderson fans drew a comparison to a mud bath at West Jessamine in 2006. “It was getting close to that,” said Russell, who was a freshman quarterback that night.
“It was almost as bad,” Peach said. “You have to get accustomed to playing in it.”
E-mail John Herndon at email@example.com.