At long last.
Greenup County’s 24-game losing streak ended Friday at Fleming County, but not without drama. The Musketeers watched the Panthers score 13 points in 35 seconds before escaping with a 22-20 win.
Greenup County coach Chris Mullins finally won his first game in 23 in Lloyd. Before joining the handshake line, he was hands-on-knees tired.
“I’m thinking it’s been way too long to feel this happy,” Mullins said seconds before he was on the wet end of a water cooler shower. “I’m thinking I’m glad it’s September, not November.”
Sophomore Ryan Byrd ran 22 times for 127 yards. He needed just five letters and two syllables to describe what he felt: “Happy.”
Greenup County (1-2) was used to close games: a 26-20 loss to Lewis County and a 14-8 setback at Russell to open the season. Friday, however, had Mullins wondering if he needed some blood pressure medicine, especially after Panther quarterback Jacob Boyd’s 10-yard touchdown pass to Clayton Browning with 49 seconds left and, after Fleming County recovered the ensuing onside kick, a 22-yard toss to Wilder Williams with 15 ticks remaining.
“That’s three games decided in the fourth quarter,” Mullins said.
The Musketeers’ win hardly neutralized what Boyd did: 19-of-29 passing for 244 yards and three touchdowns. Junior Aaron James caught 10 for 121 yards.
So what doomed Fleming County (0-3)? Four lost fumbles and an interception didn’t help.
“When you have five turnovers in any varsity football game, it’s tough to win,” Panthers coach Bill Spencer said. “I was proud of our kids’ effort, the resiliency to keep fighting until the very end.”
Byrd now has 389 rushing yards, largely on misdirection plays. He said Fleming County often had six players on the line of scrimmage, but it often didn’t matter — he averaged 5.6 yards per carry.
“We knew if we could get it outside, it’d be good,” Byrd said. Mullins had another theory.
“Most teams are running fast-flow defenses,” Mullins said. “You run any misdirection just to keep them honest.”
Credit the Musketeer run defense, too — it held Fleming County to just nine yards rushing.
“If I fought off the blocker, then their backfield couldn’t stop me,” said Musketeer lineman Drew Johnston, who also had a sack.
Fleming County’s first touchdown, a 23-yard pass from Boyd to James with 1:42 left in the first quarter, was the result of two things Panther coaches saw the Musketeers do in their previous two games.
With the ball on Greenup County’s 32, James was alone against Eli Skaggs on the far right side, with three receivers on the left. When Skaggs lined up over James’ right shoulder, James went to the middle for a nine-yard catch. When the Panthers used the same formation the next snap, Skaggs lined up on James’ left shoulder — which is when James faked inside, went along the sideline, out-jumped Skaggs at the 3 and barely made the end zone.
Mullins said moving safety Josh Barney to back up Skaggs helped a little.
After Rusty Wells took Boyd’s 20-yard punt 17 yards to the Panther 35, Hunt found him practically untouched down the left sideline for the score. Kenton Boggs converted Boyd’s pass for the two-point conversion.
Both the Musketeers and Panthers had scoring chances that mistakes thwarted. Brad Marsh picked off a Boyd pass early in the second quarter, and Fleming County’s Carmelo Puente intercepted Hunt late in the period.
In the post-game huddle, Mullins said the players were responsible.
“I don’t deserve anything, the (assistant coaches) don’t deserve anything,” Mullins said. “You (players) deserve everything.”