Ashland beats Woodford

Ashland quarterback Sam Hunter passes into the secondary for Ryan Bonner.

Whew!

Ashland outlasted Woodford County 54-44 in a wildly entertaining high school football shootout on Saturday night in Putnam Stadium.

Not only was it one of the highest-scoring games in stadium history but also one of the greatest Tomcat comebacks.

Ashland trailed 44-34 with 6:23 remaining but scored three touchdowns in less than five minutes to win for the fifth time in seven games.

“Unbelievable,” said Ashland coach Leon Hart afterward. “I told the kids after the ballgame this was a great example of don’t ever give up.”

In a game dominated by dizzying offenses — the teams combined for 930 yards and 14 touchdowns — it was actually a couple of defensive plays that made the difference.

Defensive end T.R. Hush intercepted two passes in the last three minutes, including one that set up Ashland for the go-ahead touchdown. Stephen Burns, the other defensive end, returned an interception 45 yards for a touchdown that put the Tomcats ahead 54-44 with 1:30 remaining.

Hart explained that the Tomcats were dropping their defensive ends into pass coverage to help defend against quarterback Steven Duckworth, who threw for 320 yards and four touchdowns.

“I thought our kids really made some defensive plays when we had to have plays,” Hart said.

Woodford County was leading 44-40 and faced a third-and-five when Hush intercepted a pass in the flat and raced to the end zone for what looked like the go-ahead touchdown. However, a penalty negated the TD but still put the Tomcats on the 15-yard line.

“I read the running back and as he ran out, he was waving his hands” for the pass, Hush said. “I saw the ball coming, caught it and just took off running.”

Woodford County coach Chris Tracy was second-guessing himself for calling the pass play.

“The odds catch up with you when you throw as much as we do,” Tracy said. “Honestly, we feel like in this type of game, we can win it.”

But the Yellowjackets’ defense couldn’t come up with the big stop after getting the break on the penalty.

After two running plays failed to net any ground, freshman quarterback Sam Hunter rolled to his left and zipped a low pass that Bryant Combs cradled in his arms for a 16-yard touchdown that put Ashland ahead to stay at 46-44.

Hunter, who is 4-0 as the Tomcats’ starting quarterback, had his biggest game yet, completing 10 of 17 passes for 145 yards.

There were many stars for both teams.

Ashland tailback Rashard Carter carried 33 times for 235 yards and two touchdowns and fullback Josh Alber gained 82 yards and scored three TDs.

Blake McLeod, who filled in after Dominic DeMartino suffered a bruised knee, also scored a touchdown.

Ashland piled up 524 yards of total offense, including 379 yards rushing, on an incredible 74 plays from scrimmage.

Combs had three receptions for 68 yards and Ryan Bonner five catches for 50 yards.

“We’d like to play a little better defense,” Tracy said. “I don’t know what it is. It’s frustrating.”

Woodford County (4-3 and 3-2) handicapped Ashland’s last two district games with Bryan Station and Johnson Central.

“I think Ashland is very capable of beating Bryan Station but Johnson Central will be a little tougher,” he said. “I know they’re big rivals and very similar teams. It might be a game like this one tonight.”

Woodford County seemed to have the advantage much of the game against the Tomcats (5-2 and 2-0). Duckworth marched the Yellowjackets three plays to a touchdown on the opening drive, running it from 39 yards out.

Duckworth accounted for 402 yards of offense running and passing.

“Every time I looked around we’d have driven down the field and they’d be getting ready to score,” Hart said. “The Duckworth kid is an exceptional player. He knows how to find open receivers.”

Ashland trailed 20-14 at the half but scored 40 points in the second half — 20 in both the third and fourth quarters.

The Tomcats trailed 44-34 after Jay Tackett kicked a 23-yard field goal but they marched 69 yards in six plays, including a 44-yard pass play from Hunter to Combs, and eventually scored to make it 44-40.

That set up the series when Hush’s first interception put Ashland in position to take the lead.

Even after the loss, Tracy admitted the game had to entertaining to watch. “It’s frustrating, but it was a great game, and this is a great place to play.”

Hart said he’s been on the wrong end of shootouts before, including in the 1980 Division I-AA championship game while coaching for Eastern Kentucky University.

“It’s much better to be on this side of it,” he said with a grin.

MARK MAYNARD can be reached at mmaynard@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2648.

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