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CRESTWOOD – It was apparent that Lazarus had some company Friday night, but it was still good to make sure.
Maybe check the carotid for a pulse. Exhale some more. Breathe deeply. Reach out and shake someone's hand or do something, anything, that reassures reality and that your mind, and body, is still in good working order.
Winning a football game 38-37 when you were behind 37-10 with 12 minutes to play will do that to you, you know.
Anderson County fans needed to sing the school fight song with the team, maybe even pinch themselves moments after the Bearcats had erased the 27-point margin in less than eight minutes then held on to win at South Oldham on Friday night.
“Wow,” Anderson coach Mark Peach said as he checked his heartbeat. Presumably, it was righting its rhythm after stopping throughout the fourth quarter.
The Bearcats actually took the lead with 4:33 left when quarterback Seth Carmichael found Blake Curtsinger all alone in the end zone on fourth-and-goal. Anderson then hung on to remain in contention for the Class 5A, District 4 regular season championship.
“Wow,” Peach said again.
Wow? Is that the best anyone could do on a night when Anderson had been left for dead after South Oldham's Jacob Lane caught a 30-yard touchdown pass on – are you ready for this? -- fourth-and-15 with 1:49 to play in the third quarter? Jack Sherry's extra point completed a 30-point, third-quarter explosion that put South Oldham ahead 37-10
South had turned two Anderson turnovers into touchdowns and effectively got a safety and a touchdown off another miscue in the third frame.
Make your reservations for John Hardin in the state playoffs. Fourth place in the district standings was staring Anderson down.
But the Bearcats decided to cancel with a Lazarus-like performance unheard of at any level of football. “This team has a lot of fight in it,”Carmichael said.
Carmichael led the attack, throwing for four touchdowns in the fourth quarter and completing 24 of 33 passes for 297 yards.
And Peach, a deeply religious sort, guided the comeback with the daring of a high-stakes gambler and the cold blood of an assassin. Twice, Peach ordered his team to execute an onside kick.
Twice, it worked.
Two other times, he instructed the Bearcats to go for it on fourth down. Both times worked, including the game-winning pass. “There was no question that we were going to pass,” Peach said. “We had tried to run the ball in twice and got a grand total of three yards.”
For their parts, Carmichael rolled left, then squared up to hit Curtsinger about two yards inside the back of the end zone. He had curled across the middle and was all alone.
Curtsinger and Carmichael had teamed up to cap a 70-yard drive on the first play of the fourth quarter, connecting on a 9-yard scoring pass. “Anytime you have a comeback, that first (score) is always big,” Peach said. “The kids were really down and that picked them up.
“Then when we got the first onside kick, it really picked us up. You have got to get that first score and you are hoping to build some momentum after that. We caught them off guard on the first one.”
Four plays later and a minute later, Peach gambled again, this time calling for a bomb on first-and-10 from the South Oldham 38. Ethan Kelly took Carmichael's pass from a South Oldham defender and simply stepped to the end zone to make it 37-24.
And Peach gambled with another onside kick.
“They were ready for the second one,” Peach said, “but we were still able to get it.”
This time, Travis Phillips came up with the ball and less than three minutes later, Carmichael hit Matt Sprague on a slant pattern.
The scoreboard said South Oldham still led 37-31. The only question, however, was whether the clock still had enough time left.
Looking back, it seems like a silly question. South Oldham was reeling worse than Anderson had in the disastrous third quarter but expected another onside. Instead, Bill Rose kicked to the end zone.
The Dragons moved to their own 43 before Michael Gray, their leading rusher on the season, fumbled. Anderson's Jake Gribbins recovered.
Eight plays later, Carmichael and Curtsinger connected. Bill Rose ran his season-long perfection to 37 extra points to give Anderson the lead.
South had one final chance, driving to the Adnerson 28, but on fourth-and-3 with 1:24 left, Matt Sprague broke up Sherry's pass to seal the win.
“He went up for the ball, but I just got a hand on it,” Sprague said.
In the first half, Anderson had fairly dominated play, but only led 10-7 at the break. South Oldham's Roger Johnson picked Carmichael off after a tipped pass to stop one Anderson drive at the South 15 leading to a tying score, then on the final drive of the half, a miscommunication on the field cost the Bearcats time and forced them to settle for a Rose field goal on the final play of the half.
Anderson was ahead 10-7 but could have, should have been up more.
“We had played very well in the first half,” Peach said.
But four minutes into the second half, the Bearcats were down 28-10 as South drove 66 yards for a score following the second half kickoff, then on successive plays South's Jared Good returned an interception 37 yards for a touchdown then on Anderson's next snap, Carmichael and his running back collided, forcing a fumble that Reid Glison picked up and ran home.
“It was a mixup on the handoff,” Carmichael explained.
After yet another fumble, South drove inside the Anderson 1 before stalling but Kelly was stopped for a safety.
At 37-10 there was little hope for a victory, much less a district championship. While Anderson had long-since clinched a playoff berth, the Bearcats needed a miracle and no one could have predicted such an outcome with 12 minutes to play.
No one, that is, but Anderson assistant Robert Meacham. ““I asked Matt Sprague, 'When have you ever seen a team score 30 points in a quarter?'” Meacham said. “Matt said, 'They just did.' I said, 'Exactly. If they can do it, we can too.'
Actually, the Bearcats only needed 28.
But on a night when Anderson County came back from a football grave, who's really counting?
E-mail John Herndon at firstname.lastname@example.org.