CANNONSBURG The last time Boyd County beat Ashland was Halloween night in 2003, yet it was spooky season for the Tomcats on Friday night.
Ashland breached the Lions’ red zone early and often in the fourth quarter, traveling inside the 20-yard line four times. But Boyd County’s defense, equal parts opportunistic and a brick wall, protected a 7-3 advantage — the first lead Boyd County had had in the city-county rivalry in 11 years — with a series of potentially game-saving plays.
The Lions’ Aaron Weis batted away a deflected pass on fourth down in his own end zone on the first play of the fourth quarter. Boyd County’s Josh Thornton pounced on a Tomcats fumble into the end zone for a touchback one possession later. And on Ashland’s next trip, it once more fumbled into the end zone, where Thornton was waiting — one play after Skyeler Tallent held on for a tackle for a loss of five to turn second-and-goal from the 2 into third-and-7.
Thornton’s second consecutive theft gave Boyd County five takeaways for the game. But the Tomcats kept coming, and they finally found a big play of their own.
Ashland wideout Terell Jordan won a one-on-one to haul in a 30-yard scoring arc from Bailey Thacker with 5:10 to play.
SJ Lycans’s extra point set the final count at 10-7, Tomcats, who won for the 18th consecutive time in the series.
But it was Ashland’s narrowest margin of victory against the Lions since the aforementioned 34-14 Boyd County victory in the 2003 regular season finale.
So Tomcats coach Tony Love conceded joy was not the only emotion he felt as time expired Friday night.
“Any time you win one late in the ball game, it’s a feeling of relief,” Love said. “I told the kids after the game, I learned a long time ago, enjoy every win, because winning in football, especially at Ashland, is a very difficult thing. You’re getting everybody’s best shot.”
The Tomcats made 249 yards of total offense stand up and worked around five turnovers, 100 penalty yards and missing pieces up front with an airtight defensive effort.
Ashland (1-1) limited Boyd County to 58 yards — all on the ground — and four first downs, only one of them in the second half.
“We did a lot of things not well from an offensive standpoint,” Love said. “Our defense was unbelievable tonight.”
Love said Ashland, which has allowed 17 offensive points to opponents in two games, improved from a Week 1 loss to Raceland in finding playmakers.
“Last week, we got a little bit of a ‘Who’s gonna make the play,’” Love said. “This week, we got the ‘I want to make the play’ mentality going. And that’s growth with a young football team.”
Boyd County (1-1) experienced a similar phenomenon, going toe-to-toe with the defending Class 3A state champion and longtime aggressor in their series.
That didn’t make Lions coach Evan Ferguson feel much better — he sported a rueful grin during a postgame interview, lamenting a narrowly missed opportunity at a win — but but he recognized the progress Boyd County continues to make.
“It’s football. It’s a war. It’s a battle,” Ferguson said, “and we won a lot of little battles in that game, but you come up short there and you lost the war.
“But at the same time, I don’t think we did. I think we’re on the right track. I think we’ve gotten a lot better. ... We decided to play on that end of the field (deep in Boyd County territory) for the whole second half, and the fact that we just said, ‘Keep playing, trust in your values, hard work works’ ... hats off to our kids.”
Lycans booted a 35-yard field goal with 2:57 to go in the first quarter to open the scoring. Boyd County missed a 26-yarder three possessions later, but found something better after Logan Butler’s 20-yard interception return to the Ashland 15 early in the second frame.
Lions quarterback Dakota Thompson punched in a 1-yard TD on third-and-goal on the seventh play of the ensuing drive. Cole Thompson’s extra point put Boyd County up, 7-3, at the 4:56 mark of the second quarter — a lead the Lions clutched until the dying moments.
“We were all antsy about scoring,” Jordan said, “and we finally got one.”
Thacker put the ball right where the junior, listed at 5-foot-6, could snare it.
“Man-to-man coverage, and we’d talked about it already,” Jordan said. “It was what we wanted.”
Boyd County got the ball back down three with 5:10 to go and picked up one first down on backup quarterback Rhett Holbrook’s 17-yard scramble on third-and-17, but had to punt. The Tomcats put it away with two runs for first downs by Brett Mullins.
Mullins ran 16 times for 86 yards and Vinincio Palladino chipped in 10 totes for 40 yards for Ashland. Jordan caught four passes for 43 yards.
Love thinks Ashland is “gonna be a very dangerous, explosive offense” once it gets straightened out, he said, but added that ball security is an emphasis, especially in light of similar issues in the loss to the Rams.
“We can’t live with that,” Love said. “You cannot be a good football team turning the ball over five times every Friday night.”
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ASHLAND 3 0 0 7 — 10
BOYD CO. 0 7 0 0 — 7
A — SJ Lycans 35 FG, 3:57
BC — Dakota Thompson 1 run (Cole Thompson kick), 4:56
A — Terell Jordan 30 pass from Bailey Thacker (Lycans kick), 5:10
First Downs 12 4
Rushes-Yards 34-153 35-58
Comp-Att-Int 11-20-1 0-7-0
Passing Yards 96 0
Fumbles-Lost 4-4 1-1
Punts-Avg. 2-57.0 7-32.3
Penalties-Yards 10-100 7-64
Ashland rushing: Mullins 16-86, Palladino 10-40, Brown 1-19, Thacker 5-13, Team 2-(-5).
Boyd County rushing: Collins 8-35, D. Thompson 9-18, Meade 9-7, Barrett 4-6, R. Holbrook 3-2, Team 2-(-10).
Ashland passing: Thacker 11 of 20 for 96 yards, 1 interception.
Boyd County passing: D. Thompson 0 of 4, R. Holbrook 0 of 3.
Ashland receiving: Jordan 4-43, Pittman 4-31, Brown 2-17, Palladino 1-5.
Boyd County receiving: None.