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LANCASTER – Sacrifice is a concept often discussed yet rarely practiced.
And it is often the single trait that separates the great from the good.
“That is why I love football so much,” Anderson County coach Mark Peach said moments after his team had routed Garrard County 47-10 in the Garrard Hall of Fame Classic on Friday night. “You have to have so many individual sacrifices for the good of the team. Tonight, we had so many kids make the sacrifice for the team.”
Anderson rolled up 471 yards of total offense, but it wasn't Jacob Russell's passing that moved the Bearcats up and down the field. Tabbed by some as the state's top quarterback, Russell only completed 10 of 15 passes for 137 yards and a touchdown. Nice numbers, but not the kind that would prompt jaws to drop. Record-setting receiver Grant Cox caught just three passes for 20 yards, although he did have one nice gainer taken down by a penalty.
It didn't matter.
“They seemed determined to take away our passing game. Their defensive line was coming after him, so we thought we could get underneath with some screen passes and we were able to open up our running game,” Peach said. “I thought Jacob was super. He showed poise and didn't get frustrated.”
Russell simply handed the ball to classmates Dustin Combs and Ben Walker and left it up to them to find the holes the Anderson offensive line was creating.
“If one is not there, the other is going to be there,” Combs said of the Bearcats' two-pronged attack.
It was there for Combs, who has split time between wide receiver and running back during his career. Combs finished with a career-best 130 yards and four touchdowns. He was named the classic's Most Valuable Player.
Combs could only chuckle when asked if he had ever had a night like the one to kick off his senior season. “I have not,” he said with a laugh.
After misplaying the second half kickoff, Combs capped a 12-play, 91-yard drive with an eight-yard scamper that put Anderson up 27-3 just over five minutes into the second half.
Peach, however, is stressing that the main fun comes, not from personal statistics, but that the only stat that matters is the one on the scoreboard. Anderson seemed to have gotten that point at Garrard.
Walker, who had just 70 yards all of last season, picked up 77 Friday. “He was like the Ben Walker of two years ago,” Peach said. Walker was the leading ball-carrier on Anderson's undefeated team in 2007.
As the game wore on, the Anderson line took control on both sides of the ball. The holes for Combs, Walker and six other Bearcat ball carriers grew bigger. Garrard, which tried running extensively behind right tackle John Shoemaker, an all-state candidate, could muster just 200 yards of offense until what amounted to a game-ending drive. Garrard scored its only touchdown with 14.7 seconds to play. The tandem of Tyler Ray and Fred Harris, speedsters that Peach had feared, combined for just 89 yards.
“Our line was super,” Peach continued. “I thought all five guys up front did a nice job opening some holes.
“I was extremely proud of our defense. Garrard County averaged 31 points a game last year. They had some speed but our defense played super. Last year, they put us in bad position at times, but tonight, they rose to the occasion.”
Anderson harassed Garrard's freshman quarterback, Billy Abney, but he still completed eight of 20 passes for 88 yards.
Anderson never trailed. After Garrard's Zach Hounshell shanked a punt on the game's first series, the Bearcats drove 43 yards in 10 plays for a touchdown less than four minutes into the season.
Garrard's Will Demarcus answered with a 27-yard field goal four minutes later, but Combs scored on second-quarter runs of 11 and nine yards to put Anderson up 20-3 at the break. The second score ended an 86-yard march that ate up almost six minutes.
Garrard had threatened following Combs' first score. After Hounshell returned the kickoff to the Anderson 25, the Lions dropped one sure touchdown pass and then saw Russell pick off an Abney pass inside the 10 to stop the drive.
The Bearcats put things away with their long drive to start the second half. Walker got things started with runs of seven and 12 yards, but Anderson caught a huge break after a pass interference call gave the Bearcats a first down at the Garrard 43.
Garrard appeared to have recovered a fumble after a snap out of the shotgun went over Russell's head. However, the play was ruled dead on an inadvertent whistle, giving the ball back to Anderson.
“That was huge,” Peach conceded, “but I thought I heard a whistle. For a split second, everyone froze.”
Anderson needed few breaks in demolishing a team that had been ranked in the Lexington Herald-Leader's pre-season Top 10.
“We had noticed that,” Cox said of Garrard's ranking, “but the rankings don't matter. It comes down to when you get on the field.”
“Coach had challenged us and said we would have to be ready to work,” Combs added.
While the Russell-Cox tandem did not put up big numbers, Combs caught four passes for 51 yards and senior Kyle Rogers, playing in his first high school game, took his first catch 46 yards for a score.
Middle linebacker Zack Edwards turned in a huge game, recording nine tackles, two of them going for a loss.
“Zack is what I am talking about with sacrifice,” Peach said. “He is a young man that has been in our program four years and has worked extremely hard. He has made himself into a football player.”
Sophomore Seth Carmichael, also making his first varsity start, recovered a fumble and broke up a pass inside the Bearcat five to end the first half when things were still in doubt.
While Anderson was impressive, there are still questions about the team and it is a long way from being a statewide power. Peach said as much in his post-game team meeting.
“He just congratulated us and said we'd have to work hard,” Combs said.
“We aren't satisfied,” Peach told his team. “We need to take one week at a time.”
And, perhaps, one sacrifice at a time.
E-mail John Herndon at email@example.com.