November surprise

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By John Herndon

Practically no one saw this one coming.

Surely not Anderson County which had beaten Western Hills a combined 67-6 the previous two years.

And most certainly the Anderson fans, who had a reputation for filling the stands at Hollie Warford Stadium but, for the second straight home date, left many seats vacant.

Perhaps not even Western Hills, which was reeling from three straight losses and had been fighting through some key injuries.

But as the scoreboard clock ticked toward the final horn, it was apparent that Western Hills had done more than just record its second win ever at Anderson County. The 32-13 final score reflected how thoroughly the Wolverines had taken the Bearcats to the woodshed.

“We did not show up. I am embarrassed,” said Anderson coach Mark Peach. “I take all the blame, 110 percent.”

Despite it being Senior Night, Anderson delivered an uninspired performance that Peach called, “The worst since my first year here. This was the worst we have played since my first year here in 2005.”

At the other end of the field, Western Hills players were high-fiving each other over a superb game, perhaps their finest of the year. Wolverine head coach Don Miller was sporting a huge smile following his first win over his alma mater. “It was nice to come over here and get this win,” said Miller, who still lives in rural Anderson County.

Miller said that Anderson’s 46-3 win a year was just a distant memory. “We brought it up a little bit,” he said with a big smile, “But the main thing was to keep playing hard and playing as a team.”

Anderson, which had won 15 of 16 games before falling to Bullitt Central on Oct. 3, has now dropped three straight and four of its last six. The Bearcats still advance to the state playoffs, which begin Friday, Nov. 14. Because of the Bearcats’ second-place finish in Class 5A, District 4, Anderson will host Louisville Iroquois. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.

The Bearcats can only hope they got a long overdue clunker out of their system against a Western Hills team that had been rated a two- or three-touchdown underdog by the computer rankings that appear in the state’s largest daily newspapers.

The Bearcats scored 30 points below their season average, which had been good enough for 11th-best in the state.

The 13 points scored was Anderson’s lowest total since a 37-0 loss to Lexington Catholic in the final game of the 2006 season. A team that had been amassing slightly better than 400 yards a game managed just 263.

Quarterback Jacob Russell threw for 171 yards but hit on just 11 of 30 passes, with at least six of the incompletions being the result of receivers dropping catchable passes. “It was too many to count,” Peach said of the dropped throws.

While Anderson had just five penalties on the night, one nullified B.J. Robinson’s long kickoff return to start the second half, another aided a Western Hills scoring drive and a third forced Anderson into a third-and-26 situation at a crucial time in the second half.

It was simply not the same team that had been ranked as high as seventh in the state just two weeks before.

And Western Hills did not appear to be a team that was in the midst of a three-game losing string coming in. The Wolverines made their own breaks and made the Bearcats pay for any mistakes.

Early, it appeared that Anderson would continue its dominance of the series, which dates back to 1982. Holding the Wolverines to a three-and-out series following the opening kickoff, the Bearcats needed just seven plays to move 80 yards. Russell found B.J. Robinson alone in the left flat for a 39-yard scoring pass less than five minutes in.

Even though it would take Western Hills nearly 16 minutes to score, there were signs that Anderson might be in for a tussle as the Bearcats could manage just one first down on their next three series.

Western Hills finally struck on a 49-yard pass from Dylan curry to Cam Lee, who was wide open across the middle. There was a bad snap on the extra point, but Curry recovered to hit Justin Wright for the 2-point conversion that made it 8-7.

“That was a big play, but I don’t think it was a game-changer,” Miller said.

Peach, however, saw it differently. “It was huge. It was a busted play and they ended up with two points. It was huge for them,” he said.

But after another three-and-out by the Bearcats, the Wolverines caught a huge break on second-and-7 at their own 29.

Aaron Faris lost control of the ball as he was hit at the line of scrimmage. Anderson’s Jordan Alves returned the apparent fumble for a touchdown but the officials’ judgment call was that Faris’ forward progress had been stopped and Western Hills would retain possession.

Four plays later, after being aided by an Anderson personal foul, Wright and Lee connected again, this time from 30 yards.

“That was a big play but it did not cost us the game,” Peach said of the fumble ruling.

Anderson officially became a team in deep trouble on the ensuing kickoff when Robinson and Kendrick Harvey were unable to come up with a clean exchange as they attempted a reverse on the return. Western Hills recovered the fumble at the Anderson 14, setting up Lee’s 39-yard field goal with 2:02 let in the first half.

“We practice that play every week,” Peach said. “It was a great call by Coach (Kevin) Ray. There was nothing in front of Kendrick.”

But in just over six minutes, Anderson’s 7-point lead was long gone and the Bearcats’ swagger had taken up residence on the opposite side of the field.

Anderson pulled within 18-13 as Russell found Grant Cox open for a 14-yard touchdown pass to cap the opening drive in the second half. The Bearcats were not able to convert the 2-point attempt.

But the Bearcats were unable to get inside the Western Hills 40 the rest of the way.

Meanwhile, Western Hills repeatedly made the big plays, perhaps none bigger than Curry’s 24-yard pass to Chris Pugh on third-and-19 three minutes into the fourth quarter.

Three plays later, Wright bulled his way up the middle for the touchdown that clinched the game and Western Hills’ first winning season since 2000.

Curry would finish with 210 yards passing, completing 13 of 24 throws. Western Hills outgained the Bearcats 324-263.

The Wolverines’ Josh Bell added another score on a 28-yard run with 4:35 to go.

By that time, fans had started filing out of the stadium, unable to endure the inevitable.

“I was very embarrassed by our performance,” Peach said again. “I told the kids it was my fault.”

Peach was asked if his team, getting ready to embark on its playoff journey, was embarrassed too.

“I sure hope so,” he said.