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Senior Night is supposed to be memorable, but Anderson County’s 2010 version was a bit off the chart.
Or maybe it was the perfect summary to a group often overlooked and under-appreciated during their high school football careers. But the Bearcat seniors are doing just fine, thank you.
The score sheet says that junior quarterback Seth Carmichael raced to the end zone in overtime to give Anderson a 40-37 overtime win and the Class 5A, District 4 championship over Oldham County on Friday night.
The box score will also note that juniors – Carmichael with two touchdowns, Ethan Kelly with four and Bill Rose with four extra points – did all the scoring as the Bearcats took just the third district crown in school history, the second in four years.
The key phrase is “second in four years.” When Carmichael crossed the goal line, it put an exclamation point on the current senior class legacy. Anderson’s only other district title came in 1972.
“Steve Sims made a great block and I was able to get outside,” Carmichael said of the game-winner that set off a wild celebration with the Anderson student section rushing the field.
Sims, a senior, sealed his defender, allowing Carmichael to bounce outside, where he raced virtually untouched to the end zone.
“It’s like I am walking on air,” Sims said of winning the district crown that was virtually handed to Oldham in pre-season.
But walking on air would not have been possible without the Bearcats blocking an extra point with 1:40 to play. Oldham had come all the way back from a 34-21 deficit to tie things when Austin Johnson and Brett Leary connected on a screen pass that went for a 19-yard score.
All that most at Hollie Warford Stadium knew was that someone got enough hand on Jake Weigel’s kick to make it flutter harmlessly to the ground in the end zone. After watching the game film, the coaching staff determined that it was senior Devin Jett.
Jett has played sparingly during his four years but has become a bit of a special teams terror on 2010 as he’d already blocked a punt this season. Without Friday’s blocked PAT, it is likely the district title would be back in Buckner for the third straight year.
That one blocked kick sending the game for the district championship might be fitting to the seniors leading Anderson County football in 2010. They have been somewhat overshadowed by the numbers put up by their immediate predecessors and successsors. Yet, the current group of nine has been big-time winners. A victory this week at winless Spencer County would be their 34th in four years, the most in Anderson football history over a four-year span.
“The seniors have been great,” Carmichael said. “As long as we are winning, they are happy.”
None of those wins was any sweeter than Friday’s win over a team that had hung Anderson with its first loss in two of the last three years. Given up for dead, as far as a district championship was concerned, following a loss at Jeffersontown on Oct. 1, the Bearcats somehow regrouped.
In taking a 27-21 halftime lead Friday, Anderson had managed to score more points than all but one of Oldham’s opponents had managed in four quarters this year. “We have always had a great offense,” Sims said. “We feel we can score on anybody.”
Which is why Peach felt confident after his defense had held Oldham to a Weigel field goal on the Colonels’ overtime possession.
The call for Carmichael to sprint to the right side was unwavering. “Actually, I was trying to see how they were going to line up,” Peach admitted. “But when the kids broke the huddle and were going up to the line, we saw how (Oldham was) lined up, we knew we had had a shot (at scoring.)”
Carmichael’s lane just off tackle was plugged, but the junior bounced outside, then raced untouched to the goal line, where he split a pair of defenders.
Oldham had gotten the extra period started with Leary gaining a yard. Then the Colonels sent backup quarterback Brett Strand in to run out of the shotgun, but he was tagged for a two-yard loss. On third-and-11, Travis Phillips smelled a screen pass from Austin Johnson and nailed Leary at the line of scrimmage.
“That was the biggest play of their possession,” Anderson defensive coordinator Duane Hammons said of Phillips’ stop. “That was the same play they had scored on to tie it.”
Phillips led the Anderson defense with six unassisted tackles and nine assists.
For 48 minutes and five plays, Anderson and Oldham put on a show worthy of a title matchup. Anderson’s used its opening drive to riddle the vaunted Oldham defense, moving to the 15 before fumbling.
It would be the first of five Anderson turnovers, but seemed to give the Bearcats confidence they could move on a team that had held the record-setting Bearcats of 2009 to only seven points, the only time Anderson has been limited to single digits since 2006.
Leary, who rushed for 153 yards, broke the ice with a 42-yard scoring run midway through the first quarter, but Anderson responded with a 74-yard drive that culminated with Ethan Kelly making a spectacular grab of a Carmichael throw in the end zone on fourth-and-16. The 24-yard score came even though Carmichael had been called for intentional grounding on second down.
Anderson took the lead early in the second quarter when Kelly, who scored four times, ran for five yards, capping a drive set up by Spencer Ruggles’ interception and return to the Oldham 45. Oldham turned the ball over three times, a stat not characteristic of the Colonels.
The teams merely traded touchdowns the rest of the half with Johnson running for a score and throwing to Will Funk for another for the Colonels, while Kelly broke off a 67-yard run then took a pass from Carmichael for 70 yards.
However, Oldham’s Jared Combs blocked an extra point, ending Bill Rose’s perfection on the year at 40, making it 27-21 at the half.
Anderson seemed firmly in control when the Bearcats made Oldham pay for a botched fake punt at the Colonel 38. Six plays later, Carmichael scored from three yards out to make it 34-21.
Then with Oldham going for it on fourth-and-4 at the Anderson 44 on the ensuing series, Sims caught Johnson for an 11-yard sack.
“I did not start on defense tonight and didn’t play defense last week (against South Oldham),” Sims said. “I knew I had an opportunity and needed to make the best of it.”
But Anderson, which had seen big fourth quarter leads disappear against Henry County and Bullitt Central earlier in the year, seemed to be shooting itself in the foot again.
First, Cody Sheehan returned Kelly’s fumble for 55 yards and a score to make it 34-28 insid the first minute of the fourth quarter. Then Carmichael was picked off on successive possessions with the second leading to the game-tying score.
“I didn’t make the best of decisions at times tonight,” Carmichael said.
But in the overtime, his choice to utilize his speed paid off.
“That play was all Seth,” Peach said.
And it gave the Anderson seniors quite a sendoff for nine making their final regular-season appearance at Hollie Warford Stadium.
“They are the nuts and bolts of our team,” Peach said of his seniors.
That is fitting, since Anderson County football has a little more hardware for the trophy case.
**Anderson said goodbye to its senior class before the game. All played major roles in the Bearcats’ win over Oldham County. Anderson seniors are Josh Brown, Zack Cotton, Todd DeWoody, Jake Gribbins, Devin Jett, Ryan Ratliff, Steve Sims, Scotty Watts and Neal Wells.
**Anderson has played two overtime games in the last three weeks. Before that, Anderson had not played in an overtime game since 1999 when the Bearcats beat Western Hills. This marks the first time Anderson has had two overtime games in the same season.
**By winning the district, the Bearcats also clinched the home field advantage throughout the state playoffs until the state championship game. Anderson will be at home the first two playoff games by virtue of being the higher-seeded team.
Anderson will open the playoffs on Nov. 5, hosting Louisville Waggener. The Wildcats are the four seed out of District 3 and have a 2-7 record heading into the season finale.
If the Bearcats win that game, they would play the winner of South Oldham at Bullitt Central the following week. Anderson has one-point victories over both teams this year.
On the other side of the regional bracket, unbeaten John Hardin hosts Jeffersontown and Oldham County will entertain Louisville Doss in the first round.
The Class 5A championship game will be played at Western Kentucky University’s Houchens-L.T. Smith Stadium on Saturday, Dec. 4 at 3 p.m.
E-mail John Herndon at email@example.com.