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Anderson County survived and advanced Friday night.
“That's all that matters now,” Bearcat coach Mark Peach said after his team withstood a major scare from Cooper to record a 45-35 win in the first round of the state Class 5A playoffs at Hollie Warford Stadium.
The top-seeded Bearcats, the state runner-up in 2011, overcame a 14-point deficit to oust last year's state runner-up. The Bearcats rallied from a 35-21 halftime deficit with a dominating performance in the second half.
Cooper, which had moved the ball for 264 yards in the first half, was without starting quarterback Will Ludwig for the final 24 minutes after Ludwig suffered a severe cut on his lip in a mad scramble for a fumble late in the first half. Without Ludwig, the Jaguars managed just 31 yards the rest of the way.
Anderson struck quickly just 59 seconds into the second half when junior Dusty Puckett intercepted a pass from Cooper's backup quarterback Billy Prickett and returned it 36 yards.
“That was huge,” Peach said. “We were able to score quickly and that got us within one score,” Peach said.
“When Dusty made that interception, everybody on the team was hyped,” Anderson quarterback Zachary Carmichael said.
The Bearcats drew within 35-31 when Joe Rose nailed a 31 yard field goal, then took the lead for the first time when Carmichael hit Ross Cox to make it 38-35 with 5:53 to play.
Cox's touchdown catch put the exclamation point on an 83-yard drive set up when Sam Laytart picked off a Prickett pass.
Anderson got some insurance when Cox scored from six yards out with 1:57 to go. Anderson had gotten the ball when Puckett came up with his second interception of the night.
Cooper turned the ball over six times, resulting in 31 Anderson points.
Brayden Russell had returned a pick for six in the first quarter, then was on the receiving end of a 63-yard strike from Carmichael in the second frame. Cox also scored on a 54-yard bomb in the second quarter.
Ludwig threw for four touchdowns and the Jaguars got another score when Kyle Henderson picked up a blocked punt and returned it 25 yards for a score.
“We had told the kids Cooper would not come in here intimidated, not with the schedule they play,” Peach said. “Have you ever seen a 3-7 team play at that high level?”
Anderson, however, began to chip away in the second half and the Anderson offensive line took control.
Cox, who missed last week's game at Collins, caught six passes for 107 yard ran four times for 22 yards. Russell caught three passes for 106 yards.
Carmichael completed 12-of-24 passes for 228 yards. He was intercepted three times, all in the first half.
Anderson will host Conner, a 30-27 winner over Montgomery County in Friday's playoff opener. Conner is led by quarterback Drew Barker, the presumed front-runner for Mr. Football and ranked among the Top 10 quarterbacks nationally. He is considered the prize of Mark Stoops' 2014 recruiting class at the University of Kentucky.
Anderson defeated Conner, 31-30, in the regional championship game in 2011.
For a complete look at the Cooper game and a look ahead to Conner, see the Nov. 13 edition of The Anderson News.