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FRANKFORT – Anderson County had done everything it could.
For 47 minutes and 46 seconds, the Bearcats went toe-to-toe with unbeaten Franklin County. The Bearcats ran 84 offensive plays. They gained 618 yards. They even held the football for nearly 36 minutes.
They practically moved the ball at will – 36 first downs, apparently a school record – and matched everything Franklin County could throw at them.
Except Ryan Timmons.
Just 14 seconds from a district championship after Joe Rose drilled a 24-yard field goal to put the Bearcats up 52-50, it might as well have been 14 years with Timmons set to return the kickoff for the Flyers.
The Bearcats did almost everything right.
Rose squibbed the kickoff to Lorenzo McCaskell, lined up across the field from Timmons. The ball took a big hop just before it reached McCaskell, allowing the Flyer returner to field the ball without going down. McCaskell still bobbled the ball.
Anderson did everything right.
Until McCaskell was able to lateral the ball to Timmons.
Fourteen seconds. It didn’t matter.
“They had been going his way all night,” Anderson coach Mark Peach said. “We knew if we kicked away from him, they would probably try a reverse or something.”
Timmons went right, juked a tackler or two, cut back to his left and the race was on.
Peach knew his team’s monumental upset wasn’t going to happen when Timmons “got to the right hash mark and cut it across the middle of the field.”
In Kentucky, a race with Timmons is a race for second place. Timmons went 80 yards to give Franklin a 56-52 win and the Class 5A, District 6 championship.
The Flyer fans stormed the field to celebrate with their heroes.
Some Anderson players wept bitterly. Others stood, too stunned to express any other emotion. Bearcat fans, who had packed – and rocked – the visitors’ bleachers, quietly filed out.
Fourteen seconds had changed everything.
“What can you say,” Peach said. “It was a tremendous effort. We can’t let this game beat us twice. We are a good football team. If we can continue to make strides like we have been, we can make a post-season run like we did last year.”
Friday, it had been a battle of heavyweights that lived up to its billing. And more. Much more.
When Rose kicked his field goal, it was the fifth time the lead had changed, the third time since the 3:04 mark, when Zachary Carmichael capped a 74-yard drive with a 1-yard dive that made it 49-42.
Franklin answered 59 seconds later when Timmons took a swing pass from Logan Woodside. After timeouts by both teams, Timmons scooted around right end for a conversion that put Franklin back up 50-49.
As it had all night long. Anderson responded.
“I couldn’t be more proud of our guys,” Peach said. “We had some opportunities to fold and never did that. Every time (Franklin County) did something, the kids came back.”
Out of timeouts and taking over at the Anderson 35 after the ensuing kickoff went out of bounds, the Bearcats struck quickly. Carmichael hit Ross Cox for a 27-yard pickup on the first play. They hooked up five times for 116 yards on the night.
Carmichael, who registered a career high 139 yards on the ground, motored 15 yards to the Franklin 12, prompting a Flyer timeout. That stoppage, and Franklin’s last one, after the next play, did not allow the Bearcats to run the clock down to kick on the final play. Three running plays netted 6 yards, forcing the Bearcats to go for the win.
The snap scooted along the ground but holder Sam Laytart was able to get the ball down for Rose, who had to hesitate but was able to put the ball through the uprights with plenty to spare.]
“Sam did a great job getting the ball down and Joe Rose just made a clutch kick there,” Peach said.
But there were still 14 seconds left.
Everyone around the Anderson camp knew how lethal Timmons could be. Peach had compared the state champion sprinter to Usain Bolt and said that if Timmons ever decides to go for Olympic glory, he was sure the Franklin senior would win.
But for a half, Anderson had managed to keep Timmons bottled up. At halftime, he had caught one pass for eight yards and had just one carry for a 4-yard loss Nathan Cox had done the honors, nailing Timmons in the backfield. But on the very next play, Woodside connected with Greg Maupin for a 64-yard scoring pass to put Franklin up 7-0.
Woodside, a senior who had played at Anderson as a freshman and sophomore, finished with 300 yards and five touchdowns through the air. Timmons finished with 58 yards rushing (on four carries) and 80 yards receiving (3 catches) to go with his decisive kickoff return.
But Carmichael was matching the Toledo commit, throwing for 288 yards and four touchdowns. Granville Hayes and Dusty Puckett both hauled in two scoring passes. Carmichael ran for three more, including a sneak from inside the Franklin 1 on the final play of the first halt to put Anderson up 21-14 at the break.
“Zachary Carmichael has to be one of the best sophomore quarterbacks in the state,” Peach said. “He ran for three touchdowns and threw for for more against the No. 4 team in the state.”
“We had big games from a lot of people. Zachary, Ross Cox, Tristan Ashburn, Granville Hayes, Dusty Puckett. Our line was outstanding tonight.”
Ashburn, getting his first extensive work as a ball carrier, answered with 109 yards on 23 carries. Most were simple runs up the middle behind an offensive line that controlled things up front.
As a team, the Bearcats piled up 330 yards on the ground, the largest team total since at least 2010. The 52 points were Anderson’s largest total since putting 56 on Montgomery County in the second round of the state playoffs last year.
That the Bearcats still came up short is a testament to Franklin’s reputation as Kentucky’s most explosive team. The Flyers averaged nearly five points for every minute they possessed the ball and 12.4 yards for every time they snapped it.
No one around the Anderson camp will argue that the Flyers are one of the favorites to follow Anderson as the eastern half of the state’s representative in the state championship game.
But Peach was quick to note his team is a threat too.
“We can’t let this game affect us,” he said. “We have so much of the season left to play. We have another district game to play.
“We are a good football team.”