Cats prove they are still a force

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By John Herndon

It had been billed as the first round of the state playoffs, but for Anderson County, it was more of a proving ground.

Taking advantage of a rare mismatch for a second-seeded team, the Bearcats routed Louisville Iroquois 47-13 Friday night at Warford Stadium. The box score will show that Jacob Russell and Grant Cox teamed up for four touchdown passes and that Russell threw for 202 yards, 145 of them to Cox. It will also show that the Bearcats outgained Iroquois 371 yards to 226, with over half of the Raiders’ output coming on four plays.

But the relieved smiles adorning the Bearcats’ faces and their boisterous singing of the school’s fight song spoke much more than ink and paper. Breaking a three-game losing streak, erasing the sting of an embarrassing Senior Night loss and advancing in the Class 5A playoffs meant much more than the stat sheet could begin to tell.

“We had a great week of practice and tonight was a total team effort,” Anderson coach Mark Peach said. “I am very happy with the win.”

Anderson punched, took a counter-punch, then delivered the knockout blow all within the first four minutes. After Anderson’s Dustin Combs and Iroquois’ Eric Wright traded long touchdown runs, Russell connected with Cox, who momentarily bobbled the throw, but gained control for a 47-yard score to make it 14-7 with 8:05 still to play in the first quarter.

The Bearcats never looked back.

“We had overlooked Western Hills,” Cox said of the 19-point loss on Senior Night. “That was not going to happen again.”

Anderson scored twice more in the first half, then built the lead to 47-7 before giving up a late touchdown long after a crowd that had grown weary of sitting in intermittent rain and cold temperatures had begun to head for the exits.

The heavily-favored Bearcats dominated from the outset.

Combs found a gaping hole in the line and raced 43 yards untouched for a score at the 10:21 mark of the first quarter. Iroquois countered by moving 62 yards in just three playes with Wright doing the honors from 40 yards.

“Iroquois is a much better team than they had been,” Peach said. “They were only 3-6 coming in but they had some respectable losses (22-6 to a very good Western team two weeks before).”

Iroquois had also won two of its last three, but Anderson was still about a 40-point favorite in the computer rankings. Yet, when Wright broke free for his score, it was fair to ask if Anderson had put its skid behind.

The Bearcats answered with a two-play drive for Cox’s first score, then owned both sides of the ball the rest of the way.

“We knew we would have to keep fighting hard,” said Cox. “We couldn’t lay down.”

“We came out hard and kept it up,” added senior running back B.J. Robinson.

Peach was not worried. “The main thing was we wanted to keep the pressure on them.”

While Peach and his coaching staff had gone through the normal routine of breaking down film of Iroquois, the approach had been different during the week. “We just didn’t show the kids as much film as we usually do because we felt like we needed to focus more on ourselves,” Peach said.

Anderson marched 70 yards in 10 plays, with Russell scoring on a sneak on the second play of the second quarter, then after Iroquois unsuccessfully tried to catch the Bearcats napping with a fake punt from its own 25, the Bearcats officially stamped it as a rout on the next play when Russell hit Cox again.

The duo teamed up twice in the second half and Russell powered his way over for another rushing touchdown.

“I have to give all the credit to Jacob on the touchdown passes,” Cox said of the passes. “He just put the ball right in there.”

Cox tied a single game school record with the four touchdown catches.

Russell, honored before the game as the District 4 Player of the Year, padded his own passing record, as he now has 24 touchdown tosses on the year. The junior has also rushed for 14 scores.

“I can’t say enough about Jacob. I thought he had a great game,” Peach said.

Anderson practically shut down the athletic Raiders all night. Iroquois quarterback Mercedes Hudson showed he might have been a gem on a weak team, running for 86 yards and passing for 27 more.

“They were real quick and shifty,” Robinson said. “(Hudson) is a heck of a player.”

Cody Dixon led the Anderson defense, unofficially credited with eight solo tackles and two assists. Adam Baxter also in on seven stops with four assists.

“Monday and Tuesday, we pushed them hard in practice,” Peach said. “The kids responded well and now we have a chance to keep playing.”

That was all that mattered.

Game notes

•The Bearcats, now 7-4, have put three consecutive winning seasons together for the first time since the 1993 campaign ended a string of five straight winning marks. Anderson was 11-1 last year and 6-4 in 2006.

E-mail John Herndon at jpherndon@theandersonnews.com.