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It was not your typical de-throning. Not by a long shot.
There was nothing fancy. There were no last-second shenanigans. It was total domination.
Cooper, the new kid on the block, but one steeped in football tradition, did not just end what many thought was Anderson County's legitimate shot at repeating as Region 3 champions Friday night. The visitors from northern Kentucky quickly smashed that thinking, leaving no doubt who would advance to the second round of the Class 5A playoffs with a 48-0 thrashing.
In earning the school's first-ever playoff win, Cooper put on a clinic of old-fashioned, fundamental football. The Jaguars handed Anderson its first shutout since Lexington Catholic did so in the final game of 2006.
Anderson, last year's state runner-up, had entered the playoffs with high hopes, ended the year at 8-3. Conner improved to 10-1 and will play at South Oldham in this week's regional semi-finals.
“They performed at a high level tonight and we certainly did not,” Anderson County coach Mark Peach said. That pretty well summed everything up.
Cooper has only been in existence since 2008, but looked like a traditional power. The Jaguars whipped Anderson on both sides of the line of scrimmage and played mistake-free football. Running back A.J. Collins found gaping holes in the Anderson line to run for three touchdowns and 125 yards.
In the only semblance of Cooper doing anything fancy all night, Collins fired a 74-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Morgan that put his team up 21-0 midway through the second quarter.
Collins also picked off a pass and returned it 48 yards for a touchdown that was simply gravy on the main course. That put Cooper up 41-0 and capped a third quarter that saw the Jaguars end any hope of an Anderson comeback.
Anderson was in need of a comeback early but could not mount one as six turnovers – three fumbles and three interceptions – sealed the Bearcats' fate.
“Any time you have six turnovers, it is a recipe for disaster,” Anderson coach Mark Peach said.
The first one set the tone early.
Cooper had taken the opening kickoff, then made it look easy, driving 63 yards in nine plays. Collins shot through a hole and waltzed to the end zone from seven yards out.
On the ensuing kickoff, Anderson’s Ross Cox, the big play artist all season, was unable to cleanly field the kickoff at his own 18. When the ball bounded away, Cooper’s Tanner Kissel pounce on it at the 25. Four plays later, Collins hit the end zone again, this time from 13 yards out with 6:43 left in the first quarter.
“You had six minutes gone and we hadn’t even touched the football and were down 14-0,” Peach sighed.
Cooper coach Randy Borchers added, “We were fortunate enough to get turnovers when we needed them.”
Anderson finally settled down, driving to the Cooper 17, when Cox lost the handle again. On the very next play, Collins found Morgan well behind the Anderson defense for an easy 74-yard scoring strike.
A promising drive looking like Bearcat points suddenly turned into a 21-0 Cooper lead.
Morgan had stopped Anderson’s first drive when he swiped a Zachary Carmichael pass at the Cooper 15. Late in the half, Tyler Morris picked off a second Carmichael pass at the Cooper 1. All told, Anderson had five first-half possessions and turned the ball over on four of them.
Peach was puzzled by Anderson's sudden carelessness. “We had a great week of work and a great week of practice, compared to the Marion County game,” Peach said, referencing a stinker the Bearcats threw up a week earlier. “We didn't play very well.”
Peach was asked if Anderson's youth – many sophomores played key roles for the Bearcats – finally showed up at the wrong time. “We don't use that as an excuse,” he said. “Last time I checked, Kentucky (basketball) did all right with a bunch of freshmen last year.”
It could not have come at a worse time. While Cooper had been ranked in the state's Top 10 most of the year, the Jaguars are somewhat of an unknown. That could be due to the relative newness of the school, but it could also be attributed in part to being overshadowed by some of the traditional northern Kentucky powers.
Cooper, however, proved it was worthy of its ranking. The Jaguars totaled 428 yards of offense and made moving the ball look easy at times. Defensively, the Jaguars not only forced six turnovers, but also thwarted Anderson's attempts to generate offense. “It was hard to stop their run and we could not run the ball at all,” Peach said.
Anderson mustered just 44 yards in 23 ground attempts. At the same time, Cooper shut down the Anderson passing attack, ranked at the top of Class 5A in the final statewide statistics released last week. Quarterback Zachary Carmichael, who had been hitting close to 65 percent of his passes on the year, completed just 12-of-28 with three interceptions. Cooper batted down five of his passes at the line of scrimmage.
Tackle Dustin Mitchell swatted away three of Carmichael's throws and was in on seven tackles while generally making life miserable for the Bearcats.
“I was real nervous coming into this game,” Borchers said. “I had talked to Coach Peach and told him this was not the matchup we want. We some film on Anderson County and they are a great football team. They were runner-up last and we have followed them all year. They have beaten some really good football teams.
“This is one of our best football wins. That is how much I think of that team.”
Peach would return the complements. “Cooper is an outstanding football team and you can't take anything away from that. They are the most complete team we have seen this year. Offense, defense, kicking game. They are well-coached.”
It was a great team that ended the winningest four-year run in Anderson history as the current seniors won 38 games in their careers. “We are going to celebrate our seniors at the banquet. Our freshmen and JV teams had great years. We will celebrate that. Our middle school had a successful year. Moving forward, we are hopeful our underclassmen can use this experience to move forward to next season.”
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