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LOUISVILLE – To be certain, some tears were shed as Anderson County’s football team gathered for the final post-game meeting of the season Friday night.
Doss had just held on for a 49-41 win that ended the Bearcats’ season. It happened in the same city where the Bearcats hoped to finish, but about seven miles and three long games from Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, site of the state championship game Anderson dreamed of back in August.
On a night when temperatures plummeted to near 20 degrees and limited the crowd to approximately 200 people – about 120 from Anderson – the tears were not those of despair.
“I could not be prouder of how the kids played,” said Anderson coach Mark Peach. “We fought as hard as we had all year.”
Anderson needed every ounce of energy it could muster and then some. Linebacker Cody Dixon, an all-district selection, was walking the sideline in sweat pants, joining starting linebacker Clayton Carney, who missed the final five games of the season with a shoulder injury.
Then with sophomore Josh Brown going down during the week to battle a case of mononucleosis, Anderson had just one varsity player, Adam Baxter, who had played much linebacker this season. With starting tackle Zach Cotton also out the final month of the season, Anderson’s make-shift defense relied on junior varsity, freshmen and players that had changed positions.
Anderson had also lost speedy running back Kendrick Harvey, who left the team after the first round win over Iroquois.
Down 42-13 to a team with some talents that Peach called “scary good,” the Bearcats reached deep into their reserves of fortitude to draw within a touchdown, then appeared to have a chance to tie things with 1:22 remaining when B.J. Robinson fielded an onside kick attempt near mid-field and ran it all the way for a touchdown that would have made it 49-47, with a chance for a two-point conversion.
The officials ruled, however, that the ball had not traveled the required 10 yards before Robinson touched it. Out of timeouts, Anderson could only put its hope on a Doss turnover that did not materialize.
Peach said Monday that a review of the game film indicated that it appeared that the officials made the right call on the potential game-tying play.
Anderson’s near miraculous rally started inside the final four minutes when Jacob Russell hit Grant Cox for one of their four touchdown connections. That drew the Bearcats within 49-34 and simply appeared to make the final score respectable.
But on the first play after the ensuing kickoff, Anderson’s Todd DeWoody pounced on a Doss fumble, setting up another Russell to Cox scoring play. Sam Williams’ extra point made it 49-41 with 1:30 remaining.
Russell threw for five touchdowns, a school record, and was unofficially credited with 347 yards. Russell finished with 29 touchdown passes and over 2200 yards in the air on the year.
For the second consecutive week, Cox tied a school record for most touchdown receptions in a game with four. He finished with 15 scoring catches on the season, also a school record.
But it simply was not enough to get the Bearcats out of the deep hole they were looking at even before the first quarter had ended.
“Doss is really good,” Peach said. “They have tremendous team speed.”
But it was Anderson that threw the first punch, scoring just 81 seconds into the game when Russell found Dustin Combs alone in the left corner of the end zone for an early 7-0 lead. The drive gained momentum when Russell found Cox and Combs alone over the middle for big gainers.
“We knew those plays would be there,” Peach said. “They brought their safeties up, so that pass was going to be there.”
Doss, however, responded with Demetric Unseld raced for the first of his four touchdowns at the 8:10 mark of the first quarter.
Peach showed early that he was going to pull all the stops to put the Bearcats in a position to win a second round playoff game for the first time in school history. On the Bearcats’ third drive, Russell, Cox and Robinson combined on a perfectly executed hook-and-lateral, with Robinson taking Cox’s pitch near midfield and racing to the Doss 9.
It was one of two times that the Bearcats pulled off the trickery on downfield pass plays.
Set to go back ahead, the Bearcat drive stalled on with a holding call in the backfield that moved the Bearcats back to the 34. On the next play, Russell could not get a handle on the shotgun snap. Doss recovered the fumble, then Unseld raced 55 yards for a score that made it 14-7.
Being able to hold on to the ball and getting good long snaps was a problem for both teams as they dealt with the freezing temperatures. “It is very difficult to get a grip on the ball when it is like this,” Peach said. “I thought our receivers did a great job of catching the ball tonight.”
Peach also noted that Doss placed talented lineman Kenny Townsend head over DeWoody at center, doubling the sophomore’s responsiblities.
By the end of the first quarter, Doss had built a 23-7 lead as Williams had been unable to field a high snap in punt formation then kicked the ball through his own end zone for a safety.
Unseld added a touchdown pass to Cameron Clemons before Anderson finally seemed to settle down. Russell teamed up with Cox for their first scoring pass of the night to make it 23-13. Holder Jordan Alves could not hold on to the snap for the extra point and was unable to take the ball to the goal line for a conversion.
But on the first play of Doss’s ensuing drive, Robinson, a senior playing linebacker for the first time in his career, smelled out a screen pass but could not hold on to what would have been a sure six points.
Three plays later, though, Doss came up with the break that might have made its lead insurmountable.
A snap sailed well over punter Brandon Powars’ head, but Powars tracked the ball down, finding Rayshawn Colbert for 17 yards and a first down. On the following play, Unseld made a beautiful pitch to Jaquan Persley, who raced 63 yards for the touchdown.
Peach argued vehemently that the botched punt turned first down should have been called back for an ineligible receiver downfield, but to no avail. Monday, Peach said that after a review of the game film, it appeared that the call was correct as every Doss player had an eligible number. “It did appear that the front five stayed in and four eligible people went out. It really is hard to tell with so much running around and everyone in an eligible number,” Peach said.
Doss had a fumble return for a touchdown called back by a holding penalty and Unseld sat out several plays following an injury but on the first snap after he returned to the lineup, the senior ran for another score that made it 36-13 at the break.
It was just too much to overcome.
“I told the kids that I was very proud of them. They did not quit and gave everything they had. I can take a loss if the effort is there,” Peach said.
And with the vast majority of his team set to return in 2009, Peach made a vow that the season would last longer in the near future. “I told them we are going to get past this second round barrier.”
E-mail John Herndon at firstname.lastname@example.org.