With a district title in its sights, Ashland took care of business on Friday night.
The Tomcats defeated Greenup County, 35-6, at Putnam Stadium to grab their sixth straight win. It also moves their district record to 3-0, guaranteeing them at least one home playoff game.
But next week Ashland has a chance to earn home-field advantage for the playoffs when it hosts undefeated Johnson Central for the district championship. And after Friday’s win over Greenup County, Tomcats coach Tony Love sent a message to his team: Lock it down.
“Next week is going to be the biggest game of their career,” Love said. “Johnson Central is a good team, and coach (Jim) Matney does a good job. Nobody has been able to slow them down this year. We’ve stressed this to our kids and we’re going to challenge them.
“We are playing for a district championship and home-field advantage, so I don’t think our kids are going to lack motivation.”
Ashland initially struggled with Greenup County, which was gunning for an upset.
After forcing the Tomcats’ first possession into a turnover on downs, the Musketeers marched the ball into Ashland territory.
As the offense stalled and faced a fourth-and-17, the Musketeers answered with the game’s first touchdown. Jared Hunt found Riley Hamm for a 25-yard touchdown pass down the middle of the field.
“Greenup County is not the same team they’ve been the past three years,” Love said. “They are much improved. They’re a lot more disciplined. We knew we were going to be in for a tough game.”
After giving up the first touchdown, Ashland then marched down the field, scoring in less than three minutes with a Quinton Baker three-yard run.
Greenup County then started driving again, getting into Tomcats territory. But on a third-and-12, Hunt was intercepted by senior safety James Queen.
Queen returned the ball 60 yards and set up another Baker touchdown run, this time from six yards out. Queen admitted that he was a little upset he wasn’t able to put the ball in the end zone.
“Our coach just started screaming to trail out to the flats and I just jumped that out route,” Queen said. “I thought I had (a touchdown) because I had blockers out in front of me. Then I just saw someone out of the corner of my eye and they just got my ankle.”
The senior was upset he couldn’t get a pick-six, but would end up finding the end zone later in the game. In the third quarter, quarterback Hunter Prince found Queen wide-open for a 19-yard touchdown pass.
Love said it’s easy to get those open passing plays when the other team’s focus is on Baker, who finished as the game’s leading rusher with 118 yards on 20 carries.
“I keep saying this — people are going to line up and to try and take Quinton away,” Love said. “Other teams don’t want Quinton to beat them, so we have to be patient and not force things.”
Tomcats fullback Josh Vaughn finished with 92 yards on eight carries.
After starting off strong, Greenup County ran into the kind of bad luck that’s plagued them the past three years.
The Musketeers lost star running back Ryan Byrd for the season on the first offensive play last week. This week, Jeffery Williams, his replacement, had to be taken off the field on a stretcher after the first offensive play.
Coming into the game, Greenup County had lost five key players because of injury or illness. By halftime, four more had to leave the game.
In the second half, with several players playing both sides of the ball, Greenup County managed only 69 yards of total offense.
“It’s unbelievable with the injuries,” Mullins said. “You don’t want to make excuses, but it’s uncanny the amount of injuries we’ve had. What can you say when you have that many guys are out, and at the end of the third quarter it’s a 21-6 football game. It goes to show you that, in comparison to two years ago, our younger kids are stepping up and giving us a chance.”
But by the time the fourth quarter came around, the Musketeers couldn’t stop Ashland’s Miles McGranahan, who added two touchdowns in the final frame. The senior finished with 73 yards on just five carries.
“Our defense was on the field the entire second half and they got tired,” Mullins said. “(McGranahan) was fresh and he just made our guys look slow. It was a physical game. I thought we did a good job on Baker, but ultimately we had guys going every single snap.”
Greenup County still has a chance to make the playoffs, with a game against Boyd County next week to decide who makes the trip up north to play Highlands.
Mullins said he doesn’t care about playing the perennial state champs, he just wants a shot in the playoffs.
“After two 0-10 seasons, 4-6 and a spot in the playoffs sounds good to me,” Mullins said. “We want to play (Highlands). Our kids aren’t afraid of anyone, they weren’t afraid of Ashland or Johnson Central. So just give us the opportunity, and we’ll ask our kids to go out there an take it.”
KYLE HOBSTETTER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2658.
With a district title in its sights, Ashland took care of business on Friday night.
- Local Sports
Panthers pound Ashland for repeat trip to Rupp (with video)
The Fleming County Panthers waited nearly an hour to ascend the ladders set up under the goals at Ellis T. Johnson Arena on Tuesday night.
To the victor belongs the spoils, which traditionally includes the nets after winning a tournament title. But Fleming County milled around on Morehead State’s floor taking pictures and soaking in the atmosphere after handling Ashland 82-59 in the 16th Region Tournament final.
Snipping the twine was almost an afterthought. In fact, except for a minute or so of celebration with their student section immediately following the final buzzer, the Panthers didn’t really even seem all that excited.
They expected to be here, and they were all business after earning back-to-back region titles and trips to Rupp Arena.
AARON SNYDER: Truth or Dare unkind to ’Cats
Ashland was left feeling like the shy kid after an intense game of Truth or Dare.
Truth: Fleming County outrebounded Ashland, 39-24, after Ashland outdueled Greenup County by 10 the night before.
'Relaxed' Steward earns MVP award
Both Fleming County coach Mark Starns and stellar senior Troy Steward attributed his significant strides this season to aggressiveness.
Playing a part, too, in Steward earning the 16th Region Tournament Most Valuable Player award was the lack of nerves, which were nearly overwhelming at times a year ago.
Central's 15th Region reign continues
Once was good.
Twice was nice.
Three was sweet for the Johnson Central Eagles.
Senior Slade McPeek scored 22 points and earned most valuable player honors Tuesday night as Johnson Central rolled past Shelby Valley, 81-56, for its third straight 15th Region championship at the East Kentucky Expo Center.
- Fleming goes for two: Panthers beat Ashland for 16th Region repeat Fleming County pulled away early and never looked back as the Panthers pounced on Ashland, winning 82-59 in the 16th Region championship game on Tuesday in Morehead. Fleming County will face Scott County in the Sweet Sixteen next Wednesday at Rupp Arena.
VIDEO: 16th Region semifinals highlights
Fleming County defeated Lewis County, 66-58, and Ashland beat Greenup County, 81-61, on Monday night at Morehead State University to set up tonight's championship matchup. Tipoff is set for 7.
Ashland cruises past Greenup to 16th Region championship game
Tyler Stewart is known for his unrelenting hustle as one of Ashland’s glue guys.
When the senior guard can pitch in some offense too, as he did Monday in the 16th Region Tournament semifinals, that’s just one more problem for Tomcats opponents.
Stewart scored 20 points, senior Steven Friley posted a double-double with 21 points and 14 rebounds, and Ashland outscored Greenup County 21-9 in the third quarter to break open what was a seven-point game at halftime and cruise past the Musketeers, 81-61.
Fleming battles back to 16th Region final
A healthy Wilder Williams this season has given Fleming County a whole new dimension.
Prior to his sophomore year, Williams sustained a football injury that resulted in three ankle surgeries and limited him to bench duty last season while the Panthers made their run to the 16th Region championship.
A physical 6-foot-3 player, Williams is making his presence felt around the basket as Fleming County looks to return to the Sweet Sixteen.
AARON SNYDER: Will the next hero be unmasked?
Who will the bat signal shine for tonight?
Or, should I say, the Cat signal?
In the third installment of a trilogy that might rival the Batman three-pack of “Batman Begins,” “The Dark Knight” and “The Dark Knight Rises,” Fleming County and Ashland will battle in a matchup that has produced a classic clash in each of the last two 16th Region Tournaments.
If the first two collectively served as a gradual progressions to tonight’s scene, the climax could be off the charts.
Corey Gregg was Ashland’s superhero in 2012, when the senior confidently fired a perfect 3-point shot from the right corner. The triple thrust the Tomcats and Panthers into overtime, from which Ashland emerged 79-73 in a first-round game.
Central wins, Lawrence falls in 15th
The biggest concern for Lawrence County coach Josh Cook was staying out of foul trouble.
His team stayed in it all night, and it cost them a spot in the 15th Region title game.
Shelby Valley senior Tyler Carr led four players in double figures with 19 points as the Wildcats knocked off Lawrence County, 72-60, in the semifinals of the 15th Region Tournament at the East Kentucky Expo Center.
“This one hurts,” said Cook. “We’ll learn from this, and I have no doubt that our kids will get back here and finish the job.”
- More Local Sports Headlines
- Panthers pound Ashland for repeat trip to Rupp (with video)