ASHLAND Three words could sum up Keontae Pittman’s performance Friday night at Putnam Stadium.
Fast. Elusive. Untouchable.
The senior tailback scorched the Greenup County defense for touchdown runs of 55, 14, 77 and 67 yards behind a 254-yard night as the Tomcats blanked the Musketeers 47-0 in the opening round of the Class 3A playoffs.
Ashland scored on the second play of its first two drives with JT Garrett highlighting the first half and Pittman doing a solo performance in the second. Garrett had three touchdowns of his own, a 56-yard score to open the contest on a jet sweep, followed by a 72-yard pass to Jack Alley to close the first frame, punctuated by a 4-yard scamper out of the wildcat late in the second quarter.
“That’s kind of been our MO all year long, but it was nice to see some well-sustained drives out there, too,” Ashland coach Tony Love said. “The defense stepped up again. All around, it didn’t look like there were three weeks off from our last game but there’s still room to improve when we get back on the practice field this week.”
Garrett finished with 177 all-purpose yards.
Ashland’s longest scoring drive opened the second half on an eight-play, 50-yard drive that consumed 4:09 and ended with Pittman’s second score.
Less than two minutes later, Pittman was off to the races again for his second of three third-quarter scores. But as easy as the senior tailback made things look on the field, Love said Greenup County forced his offense to make several adjustments.
“Coach (Zack) Moore did a good job making the edge difficult for us,” Love said. “They had a hanging outside linebacker who was playing into it and he’s not accounted in our blocking schemes. But when you do that, you have to take someone out of the middle to do that and that’s where things started to open up, hitting between the tackles instead of off-tackle.”
That’s when Pittman hit his final score of the night with 45 seconds to play in the frame, making a cut after blasting through a hole on the left side of the line, then finding a crease that sprung him free before he reached midfield with the closest Musketeer defender 10 yards behind.
“In my three years here at Greenup, that how it’s been every year,” Moore said. “Until we can get to the point to where we can limit those explosive plays against (Ashland), this will kind of be our bugaboo. We are going to be up to the task and go to work on it as soon as we can … as soon as the world allows us.
“These are the games that we want to be in. These are the games that we don’t want to shy away from.”
Greenup County could not have asked for a better start than it had from the opening kickoff after Brayden Craycraft returned the ball to the Ashland 40. What followed was a script Moore said he knew all too well: a Quinton Farrow 5-yard run on first down and a 6-yard gain on second down that instead of moving the sticks was negated by a holding penalty.
Instead of first-and-10, it was second-and-9 and a pair of incomplete passes handed the Tomcats the football near midfield.
“Offensively, that pretty much sums up how it’s been all season,” Moore said. “We’ll get a positive play and the next thing you know, we are playing behind the sticks. We’re just not a very good team right now that is capable of playing behind the sticks. We’re not a big-play team. Until we can do some things with people out on the edge, we are going to have to play the game 10 yards at a time.”
Ashland outgained Greenup County 528-131 while doing so on five fewer plays. And the Tomcats defense pitched its third consecutive shutout, a feat they had not done since blanking Henry Clay, Montgomery County and Rowan County in a row in 1990.
“There’s a whole other level these guys are capable of getting to,” Love said of his defense. “Just from watching it tonight, we missed tackles, we could swarm to the ball better — and that’s not to say we did a bad job — but the kids could identify things better. They are working hard and I see the talent and hunger that we have out there; they just have to get the reps in order to get that.
“Tonight was a really good night because it was a longer game than most people expected. I left them out there because I wanted to see how they would react going three quarters-plus and they held up well.”
Ashland limited Greenup County to six first downs, with two of those a result of Tomcats penalties.
Hunter Gillum led Ashland (7-0) defensively with a pair of punishing hits early in the contest and a pair of interceptions.
“He was making those plays at the line of scrimmage from the free safety position,” Love said. “People think, your defensive back is making a play at the line, he’s not paying attention. But you see him make the pick, too, so that tells me he’s reading his keys, he’s believing what he’s seeing and he’s attacking the line. He really set a great tempo for us on defense tonight by coming up and setting the edge on the D-gap.”
Ashland pushed its winning streak over Greenup to 22 games in the winning effort, last falling to the Musketeers in 1999. Regardless of the number of shortcomings to the Tomcats, Moore admitted this season was his favorite during his three-year stint in Lloyd.
“I think our team was showing some tremendous growth when we got cut off,” Moore said. “We would improve from week to week to week and it was really a shame that we couldn’t play in the last 35 days. I’m not saying we would’ve come out here and won tonight but I think we could’ve put ourselves in position to do a few more things that we didn’t accomplish here this evening.
“I give the credit to our players because they’ve kept a tremendously positive attitude during the whole thing. That’s hard to do right now and if everyone would live their lives like a bunch of high school kids wanting to play football, I think we’d all be better off.”
GREENUP CO. 0 0 0 0 — 0
ASHLAND 21 6 20 0 — 47
A—JT Garrett 56 run (SJ Lycans kick), 9:32.
A—Keontae Pittman 55 run (Lycans kick), 6:14.
A—Jack Alley 72 pass from Garrett (Calyx Holmes kick), :08
A—Garrett 4 run (kick fails), 5:44.
A—Pittman 14 run (Lycans run), 7:50.
A—Pittman 77 run (Holmes kick), 6:06.
A—Pittman 67 run (Lycans kick), :45.
First Downs 6 17
Rushes-Yards 27-72 31-384
Comp-Att-Int 4-19-2 6-10-0
Passing Yards 59 144
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 0-0
Punts-Avg. 5-31.4 0-0
Penalties-Yards 4-35 5-60
Greenup County rushing: Farrow 15-36, Clevenger 4-27, Noble 3-8, Clarkson 2-4, Parker 1-2, Wireman 2-minus 5.
Ashland rushing: Pittman 13-254, Garrett 3-61, Mullins 6-26, Brown 2-22, Tackett 1-9, Gillum 1-5, Highley 2-4, Clutters 1-2, Palladino 2-1.
Greenup County passing: Wireman 4 of 9 for 59 yards, 2 interceptions.
Ashland passing: Mullins 5 of 9 for 72 yards, Garrett 1 of 1 for 72 yards.
Greenup County receiving: Clarkson 2-16, Craycraft 2-43.
Ashland receiving: Garrett 1-14, Alley 1-72, Humphrey 1-5, Pittman 1-32, Eden 1-15, Gillum 1-6.