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If this was a tune-up for the playoffs, Anderson County must have gotten ahold of some bad gas.
To be sure, Anderson defeated Marion County, 28-12, last Friday at Warford Stadium. Anderson ran its record to 8-2 and was never in serious danger of an inexplicable loss to the 2-8 Knights. But it was not the kind of performance that would put an exclamation point on a fine regular season.
“I am embarrassed,” Anderson coach Mark Peach said. “Pretty much in every phase, we stunk it up on offense, defense and the kicking game. We fumbled the ball. We dropped passes. We missed interceptions. We missed tackles.”
Anderson had been roaring like a Lamborghini since coming back from a 20-0 deficit at West Jessamine on Oct. 5 but Friday, the Bearcats' performance was akin to a 4-cylinder with bad gas. They sputtered on offense and saw a Marion team that had scored six points in October stay within striking distance until the final minutes.
“I am disappointed,” Peach said. “I have to have them ready to play. For some reason, we didn't have them ready to play.”
Anderson fumbled four times, losing two, and threw an interceptions. There were seven penalties, nearly all falling in the “crucial” category.
Peach went on, “You can't say one person stunk it up tonight. Just line us up alphabetically or numerically or by height. Everybody had a hand in this.”
Peach did not buy the convenient explanations of the game being meaningless for his team, Senior Night festivities or the cold, damp weather that undoubtedly had much to do with Anderson having its smallest home crowd in years.
“You are going to have conditions like this in the playoffs. You have to play,” he said. “All those things you mentioned are excuses.
“We want to have a championship program. Highlands, they don't care if it is sunny or if it is cold or if it is on top of Mt. Everest. Whenever they play, they are there to play at a very high level. That is what we want to do and that is what is disappointing.”
Peach said his post-game message was that the Bearcats “have an opportunity to play at home next week (against Cooper) and we have to work as hard as we can.”
While the Bearcats got on the board with a 17-yard pass from Zachary Carmichael to Granville Hayes with 1:17 to go in the first quarter, it was apparent from the outset this was not the same team that had played at Franklin County and against East Jessamine in the two previous games.
After taking the opening kickoff, Marion was able to hold the ball nearly six minutes and drove from their own 19 to the Anderson 31 before stalling.
Anderson seemed to perk up a bit on the 69-yard march that ended with Hayes making a spectacular over-the-shoulder, diving catch, but Marion returned the favor, driving 79 yards with quarterback Hayden Taylor hitting a wide-open Lincoln Hayden for a 37-yard touchdown.
“We had great defensive field position all night, but we let them off the hook,” Peach said.
The Knights tried some razzle-dazzle on a fake for the extra point, but Taylor was stopped well short of the goal.
Still, an Anderson team that many thought could name the score Friday, led 7-6 four minutes into the second quarter.
The Bearcats again showed some life when they drove 75 yards to make it 14-6. Carmichael zig-zagged through the Marion defense for a 27 yard score. He and Hayes had connected on a 24-yard pass to set things up and overcome a holding call, but Anderson could not sustain any momentum.
It remained that way in the second half, when it appeared the Bearcats got the break they needed for a jump start. After Marion's Aldo Perez backed the Bearcats up to their own 12 with a 59-yard punt, Hayes fumbled after picking up a first down at the 25. Marion appeared to have recovered, but somehow the ball squirted out of a pile directly to sophomore receiver Dusty Puckett, who scooped the ball up at the 38, then raced 62 yards for a touchdown.
The play is officially scored as a rushing attempt, but all that really mattered was Anderson led 21-6 and, again, looked to be perking up.
The spark lasted two plays before Taylor and Hayden connected again, this time for 68 yards, Anderson stopped Justin Dawson's conversion run to make it 21-12,
Puckett finally broke Marion's back with a 25-yard punt return to the Marion 25. Four plays later, Tristin Ashburn found the end zone from eight yards out to put Anderson up 28-12 with 7:22 left.
It was a night when the Bearcats had no one close to the 100-yard rushing mark and only Hayes, with five catches for 121 yards surpassing that mark in the receiving category. Anderson's 384 yards of total offense were about 60 below its average.
The Bearcats did have bright spots from Puckett and Rose, who hit all four of his extra point attempts to go 47-for-47 on the year. The Anderson defense held Marion to 29 yards on the ground. Peach also noted his team's kickoff coverage limited Marion to 79 yards on five returns. The Anderson defense limited Marion to 29 rushing yards.
Still, Peach was not happy.
“If we play like this next week, it will be over at the half,” Peach said before knowing his opponent. “Whoever it is, they will embarrass us. We know what kind of potential we have and how we can play, so we have to get ready to play our best next Friday.”
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