Quarterback Hunter Prince and new Ashland head coach Tony Love received game balls after coming off the field Friday night.
It was an unforgettable evening for both.
Prince, a junior in his first year as a starter, had a hand in all five Tomcat touchdowns and then threw the winning two-point conversion pass in overtime to beat Raceland 35-34 at Putnam Stadium.
“It was a crazy night,” said Prince, who threw two first-half TD passes and ran for three scores in the fourth quarter and OT. “We picked it up in the second half. The defense started coming together and the offensive line really played great.”
It made for an exhilarating first victory for Love, the longtime Tomcat assistant who succeeded Leon Hart this season.
“Wow, everybody got their money’s worth tonight,” Love said. “It didn’t come easily. Raceland has a talented team. We knew that coming in. There were so many ups and downs in this game, it was hard to keep track of them. I’m so happy with the fight in our kids.”
Ashland trailed 14-0 and 21-7, and never led until the final play of the game.
Prince’s 4-yard scoring run with 2:45 left in regulation play pulled the Tomcats even at 27-27, but Raceland made a big push up the middle to block the extra-point try.
Raceland got the ball first in overtime and running back Daylin Beach zipped into the end zone from 10 yards out on second down. Kicker David Pennington, playing in his first game for the Rams, connected on the extra point to make it 34-27.
Ashland struck back on the next play. Prince faked a handoff to Quinton Baker and turned up inside for a 10-yard score.
Raceland called timeout after the Tomcats lined up to go for two points. When play resumed, Prince took the snap and again used the dangerous Baker as a decoy by faking a jet sweep handoff. This time, the junior quarterback set his feet and found Jordan Kennedy open in the end zone. The senior end went down to make the catch on his first target of the night.
Love credited assistant coaches Steve Dowdy and Chad Tackett for the play call.
“Raceland thought Q was going to run the ball,” Love said. “Probably everybody in the stadium thought Q was going to run the ball. Hunter executed it perfectly.”
Ashland’s players mobbed Kennedy in the end zone, while Love began receiving congratulations.
“Echoes of Putnam Stadium were kind of leaning in our direction, I guess,” Love said. “Hard work leads to great fortune.”
The Tomcats had some good fortune late in the first half after falling behind. On third-and-14 at Raceland’s 41, Prince lofted a pass downfield that deflected off the arm of a defender and into the hands of Ashland’s Ross Thompson at the 6-yard line. Thompson turned into the end zone.
“I just threw it out there, hopefully that somebody would make a play,” Prince said. “Raceland didn’t make a play, and luckily we got it.”
It also started a three-touchdown blitz in the final 1:44 of the half. Raceland quarterback Adam Elkins connected with Kane Snyder for a 14-yard TD with 52 seconds left after Beach broke loose for a 47-yard run.
Ashland answered on Prince’s 21-yard scoring pass to R.J. Washington in the back of the end zone with six seconds to go.
“Hunter’s talented,” Love said. “He worked so hard in the offseason. Due to circumstances, whatever they were, he got his chance. He’s taken it by the reins and taken coaching well.”
Prince also scored on a 63-yard keeper on the first play of the quarter. He finished with 141 yards rushing, while Raceland limited Baker to 67 on the heels of a huge opening game at Newport Central Catholic.
“We took Baker away, but Hunter is a nice athlete and made a lot of plays,” Raceland coach T.J. Maynard said.
Fullback Josh Vaughn added 76 yards on the ground for the Tomcats (1-1).
The two teams combined for 42 first downs and more than 800 yards in offense on a muggy night that led to several game stoppages for leg cramps. Tomcat sophomore Drew O’Bryan got off to a strong start defensively before leaving with a knee injury in the second period.
Beach carried for 180 yards to pace the Rams, who racked up 352 yards rushing. Snyder followed with 90 and Zack Litteral 76.
Raceland (1-1) was hampered by two turnovers in the opening quarter before Snyder scored his first TD on a 4-yard run.
“We have to do a better job finishing drives, but I told the kids I’m proud of how we played,” Maynard said.
ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2671.