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WINCHESTER – Perfection is never completely attainable, especially in the first test of a high school football season. But goodness, gracious, Anderson County was impressive Friday night.
The Bearcats thumped a vastly improved George Rogers Clark, 50-21, at Cardinal Stadium, an outcome that does not tell the story of just how dominant the Bearcats really were, despite the predictable mistakes.
Anderson turned the ball over four times in the first half, twice inside the Cardinal 25-yard line. There was a defensive lapse on Clark's first play from scrimmage that resulted in the Cardinals getting a 77-yard touchdown pass. Not much else went wrong.
Anderson looked like a team every bit worthy of its lofty ranking – the Bearcats were picked eighth in the state in both the Courier-Journal and Lexington Herald-Leader pre-season coaches polls – as it routed a team that had the same general makeup of those that had given the Bearcats fits in recent years.
“I couldn't be more proud of our guys,” Anderson coach Mark Peach said. “We got down early and came back.
“We had scrimmaged two quality opponents in Danville and Mason County and we were able to do some things tonight. We still need to correct some things, but our guys hung in there in terms of really trying to execute what we wanted them to do.”
Anderson won its opener for the first time since 2010. The final margin of victory was Anderson's biggest in a season-opener since a 47-10 win over Garrard County in 2009 and the 50 points was Anderson's most prolific lid-lifter since a 52-0 shellacking of Madison Southern in 2008.
Junior quarterback Zachary Carmichael completed 11-of-20 passes for 214 yards and a touchdown. He ran for two more scores.
Another junior, running back Chris Toomey, ran for a pair of touchdowns, while sophomore running back Ryan Martin, seeing his first significant varsity playing time, ran for two more and led the Bearcats with 76 yards on the ground. Martin also jumpstarted the Bearcats with a 36-yard punt return that set up Anderson's first touchdown.
Carmichael capped that initial scoring drive with a 7-yard scoring run with 4:44 to go in the first quarter. Joe Rose's extra point put the Bearcats ahead to stay.
Anderson had found itself down quickly. After taking the opening kickoff and driving to the Clark 23, the Bearcats coughed the ball up on Sam Laytart's fumble. On the very next play, Clark burned the Bearcats with some razzle-dazzle as receiver Brent Stoneking took the ball behind the line, then fired a pass to quarterback Luke Sharrock, who was so open he could have sipped an Ale-8-One before racing to the end zone.
The two-point conversion failed, but Anderson had been alerted that the lofty ranking meant nothing between the sidelines.
“The coaches told us to just keep our cool and play the next play,” senior Ross Cox said.
It took an exchange of punts and Martin's spectacular return to the Clark 25 before the Bearcats started clicking, but when they did, they became a machine.
There were brief scoring marches, such as the first scoring drive. There were sustained drives, such as Anderson's next possession, when the Bearcats moved 81 yards in nine plays. Toomey did the honors from a yard out, but the big gainer of the march was a 22-yard toss from Carmichael to Brayden Russell.
And there was everything else in between.
Martin pushed the lead to 21-6 with a 20-yard run and added another touchdown, this time from 10-yards out, to make it 28-14. A Carmichael-to-Russell combo for 33 yards highlighted that march.
Clark had gotten within 21-14 late in the second quarter, moving 79 yards in five plays. Logan Burchett found paydirt from five yards out but the score was set up when Sharrock connected with Stoneking for a 59-yard pickup.
Clark would get no closer.
Toomey capped a 71-yard drive, motoring six yards for a score, then Carmichael and Cox connected for a 58-yard scoring strike that made it 42-14 and put things on ice.
“We challenged the kids at halftime,” Peach said. “We were able to pretty much execute what we asked the kids to do.”
The Bearcat line, which had begun to impose its will in the second quarter, was an irresistable force after the break.
“We have one of the best lines in the state,” Cox said of his buddies in the trenches. “They were just awesome.
Anderson passed for 214 yards and ran for 216.
Anderson contained Clark's speed. Receiver Khamarkis Blanton, who Peach was very concerned about, caught just one pass for 23 yards.
“They have a lot of speed,” Peach said. “To slow them down, you have to play team defense. Everybody has to mind their role. I thought Coach (Duane) Hammons had a great defensive game plan. We had a couple of breakdowns, but for the most part, we really hung in there defensively.”
“We knew they had some athletes, but we have some athletes too,” added Cox, who was noticeably shadowing Blanton at times. “When they tried to get outside on us, we had to contain them.”
Clark coach Steven Collins also lavished praise on the Bearcat defense. “They are very good defensively,” he said. “They keyed on their assignments and are very disciplined. You just have to block them. They have some big guys up front and they use their angles very well. They are very hard to get out of position and play good team defense. If you do that, you are going to be a good football team.”
It was an assessment not lost on Peach.
“We had six different kids catch the football and three ball carriers run for over 50 yards. It's about team. The offense, it's team. The defense, it's team. The kicking game, team. When we do all of those things, we can be a pretty good football team.”
**The game was delayed for more than 20 minutes when Sharrock went down with what was thought to be a concussion with 14 seconds to go. Sharrock was transported by amulance to Clark Regional Medical Center.
“He definitely got his bell rung,” Collins said. “He had some stiffness in his neck. Hopefully we will have him back soon.”
Sharrock's injury happened just in front of the Anderson bench. “He got caught in between a couple of guys,” Peach said. “Certainly, our thoughts and prayers go out to him. It was one of those situations where he was trying to do the best he could and a couple of our guys were trying to do the best they could. I don't think there was anything intentional.”
Collins added, “They kind of converged. It was a pretty good shot. It wasn't dirty. It was a clean, hard football shot.”
Cox, who said he was one of the Bearcats who hit Sharrock, noted that the players from both teams were concerned. “I just hope he is all right,” Cox said.
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