For The Independent
Johnson Central coach Jim Matney felt uneasy about this game all week.
His gut feeling turned into a gut check for his Golden Eagles Friday night.
Belfry’s smothering defense allowed the Golden Eagles to score only on their first and last play from scrimmage as the defending Class 3A state runner-up escaped Eagle Field with a 17-12 victory.
“I’m not making excuses,” said Matney, “but everyone around here was patting our kids on the back after defeating Ashland and we were not focused on the task at hand.”
The Golden Eagles defeated Ashland last week, 22-21, in an overtime thriller.
“We won’t dwell on this, we’ll learn from it,” Matney added. “In the grand scheme of things, this was simply a warm-up.”
Central (8-2), which snapped a six-game winning streak, opens up with Harrison County in the first round of the Class 4A playoffs on Friday at home.
As out of sync as Central seemed, it had plenty of opportunities, including a failed fourth-down conversion on the Belfry 24-yard line with six minutes, 45 seconds left in the first half. On a 4th-and-15, quarterback Zach Gound, who finished the game 5 of 11 passing for just 28 yards, botched a shotgun snap.
In the fourth quarter, senior Sam Preston recovered a fumble by Belfry’s Trinity Carr at the Belfry 32-yard line and a pass to Jordan Young on a 4th-and-8 was inches short.
Belfry, which ran 21 more plays than Central with 55, put the game out of reach when Josh Robinson plowed his way in from six yards out with :41.7 left in the game to make it 17-6. The score was set up by two third-down conversions: a 37-yard pass from Sani Warren to Robinson and a pass interference call on a 3rd-and-9 from their own 44-yard-line.
“We just couldn’t seem to catch a break,” said Matney. “Belfry played an outstanding game. They were pumped and ready to play us.”
Central’s Josh Dillon scored on the first play from scrimmage on a 93-yard run. Its final score came as time expired when Gound raced 36 yards for a score.
The Pirates (8-2), who have won seven of their last eight games, played without starting running back Justin Johnson. Split-end Peyton Mullins also did not play in the second half.
“I was pleased with our effort,” said Belfry coach Philip Haywood. “I thought our defense stepped up and made some plays, and our offense was able to grind it out in the end.”
Belfry opens its playoff run Friday at home against Knott County Central.