Leave it to Ashland defensive end Cade O’Bryan to take matters into his own hands.
O’Bryan, who is both large and opportunistic, stripped the ball from a Boyd County running back midway through the first quarter and rambled 32 yards untouched to the zone.
The play triggered the Tomcats to a 56-16 Homecoming romp Friday night at Putnam Stadium.
Ashland fans have seen it before. O’Bryan, 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds, had two fumble returns for touchdowns in the season opener against Lawrence County, including a similar steal-and-score.
“Cade has a knack for that,” said Tomcat coach Leon Hart, who picked up win No. 75 in his 10th season at the school. “How many times does a defensive end score three times in a season? He’s an exceptional player.”
Ashland drove to Boyd County’s 2-yard line on the game’s opening possession. But a holding penalty wiped out Quinton Baker’s scoring run, and two plays later Boyd County’s Justin Holcomb recovered a Tomcat fumble at the 12.
The home team’s deflated feeling didn’t last long, however, as O’Bryan made his big play to light a spark for the sixth-ranked Tomcats.
“When you give up a big defensive score at a place like Putnam Stadium, it’s hard to get the momentum back,” Boyd County coach Ray Brooks. “Ashland has so much speed.”
The Tomcats built a 20-3 halftime lead despite three turnovers, then broke the game open with a 22-point third quarter.
Freshman running back Quinton Baker turned in another electric performance, dashing for 207 yards and three touchdowns on only 15 carries. Two of the scores covered 58 and 64 yards as Baker found daylight and outran everybody.
“He just keeps making plays,” Hart said. “ Quinton is getting better at hitting up inside.”
Ashland quarterback Aaron Elam ran for one score and threw for another, a 53-yard strike to wideout Malik Massey.
Before it was over, senior Slater Swift got a surprise trip into the end zone for the Tomcats.
One of the team’s defensive leaders at linebacker, Swift has also helped out as a blocking back the past month though Hart told him not to count on ever taking a handoff.
Swift got his chance, however, on the Ashland’s next-to-last possession. He carried three times, including a 15-yarder, and scored on a 1-yard dive to make it 48-16 with 4:06 remaining.
“Coach Hart made it pretty clear I would not get the ball,” said Swift, who was a running back in middle school before playing offensive guard three years for the Tomcats. “I guess at some point he changed his mind. The only thing I was thinking about was holding onto the ball.”
While Swift enjoyed the end zone plunge, he said he still considers it more rewarding to block.
Ashland (6-1) rushed for 412 yards in beating Boyd County for the 10th consecutive time.
After O’Bryan’s defensive touchdown, Boyd County’s Reid Dearfield broke off a long run from midfield but the play was nullified by a holding penalty. Brooks said it took some of the steam out of his team.
“You could see it in the kids’ eyes,” the Lions coach said. “It was kind of like from the highest of highs to a little bit of a low.”
Ashland shook off a personal foul penalty for its first offensive score. Baker took a handoff designed to go left, but a couple of Lions were waiting in his path. Instead, Baker immediately cut to the right and ran away from a pack of Boyd County defenders.
Elam hit Massey in stride for a 53-yard score to make it 20-0 with 5:32 left in the half.
Boyd County (2-4) got on the scoreboard before the intermission on Zac Bruner’s 41-yard field goal
The two teams produced three TDs in span of a minute-and-a-half in the third quarter. Logan Salow’s 37-yard punt return set up a Baker 5-yard scoring. Boyd County’s Jason Smith returned the ensuing kickoff 85 yards for a TD, then Elam broke loose for a 24-yard TD. He also run in the 2-pointer.
On Ashland’s next possession, Baker took a latteral toss from Elam and raced 64 yards as the lead ballooned to 42-9.
ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2671.