ASHLAND Things started about as well as Ashland could ask for en route to a 49-14 win over Greenup County in the opening round of the Class 3A KHSAA state playoffs Friday night.
After recovering their own fumble on the opening kickoff, the Tomcats scored on the first offensive play from scrimmage as Keontae Pittman burst free for a 58-yard touchdown run.
Then Ashland recovered a fumble off a bad exchange on a Greenup County handoff that started the Tomcats out at the Musketeer 29-yard line.
Blake Hester cashed in next for Ashland on one play, starting on the left side of the formation and bouncing back towards the opposite end of the field, eluding several Greenup County tacklers in the process.
“It was a pretty clean night for us other than a couple of penalties. I’m really pleased with these guys,” Ashland coach Tony Love said. “We know that when you’re in the playoffs, you have to strive for excellence, and that was the challenge to these guys.”
Things continued to be tough for the Musketeers from that point, as Greenup County did not pick up a first down until the 9:30 mark of the second quarter.
“Any time you face a good football team like that in the playoffs and they jump out on you that quick, you try to weather the storm and hope that you can settle down and eventually make some plays,” Greenup County coach Scott Grizzle said.
Ashland later got its aerial attack going, as Jake Gregg slung three first-half touchdown passes.
Gregg first hit tight end Zaine Christian from 18 yards out with 4:07 remaining in the first period. The catch was Christian’s first of his career.
The Tomcats capped off their first-quarter scoring on another Gregg touchdown toss, this time to Andy Layne.
Layne was in single coverage, and Gregg delivered a crisp pass to find Layne, who hauled in his first catch for a score on the year.
In the second quarter, Pittman stole the show. His first of three touchdowns in the frame came from a yard out with just over two minutes gone in the second quarter.
Then it was Pittman on the receiving end of a 19-yard score on a four-play, 47-yard drive after Greenup County turned the ball over on downs.
Pittman then concluded Ashland’s scoring for the night with another 58-yard touchdown run just before halftime.
Gregg’s three touchdowns tied a season high that was set the last time Ashland faced Greenup County.
“He’s a high-percentage kid, and he understands and knows what we are about offensively,” Love said. "There’s times throughout the game though when you have to pull the trigger, and he’s 100% capable.”
The Tomcats led 49-0 at the break, with the defense dominating. Ashland allowed 47 total yards of offense in the first two quarters and one first down.
Love credited the mental aspect of his team along with their physical attributes for slowing down the Musketeer attack.
“Our kids just kind of understood the speed of their passing game from the first time we played them,” Love said. “We made a couple of adjustments in coverage and we were dialed in pretty well.
“(The defense) has as much pride as our offense, and they kind of compete against each other. It was nice to see that both elements of our football team were really challenging each other to outperform.”
Ashland used its second-team offense and defense for the duration of the final two quarters, thus ending the night of Pittman and Hester after a half.
Pittman amassed 210 yards and three rushing touchdowns on just 10 carries. Hester added 119 yards on eight carries and a score.
Greenup County senior quarterback Eli Sammons threw two touchdowns in the third quarter — a 57-yard connection to Auston Clarkson and an 18-yard hookup with Austin Evans — to close out his storied career.
Sammons is one of 15 seniors to depart as the Musketeers close their season at 4-7.
Ashland returns home next Friday night to face Russell in the second round of the playoffs.
Love expects much of the same from the first meeting — a smash-mouth, physical affair.
“I think it’s going to be an old-school, downhill running attack and great defense kind of game,” Love said. “It’s going to test everybody’s toughness, and I’m assuming there’s going to be a full house in here (at Putnam Stadium).”
GREENUP CO. 0 0 14 0 — 14
ASHLAND 28 21 0 0 — 49
A — Keontae Pittman 58 run (Ethan Slone kick) 11:38
A — Blake Hester 29 run (Slone kick) 11:12
A — Zaine Christian 18 pass from Jake Gregg (Slone kick) 4:07
A — Andy Layne 23 pass from Gregg (Slone kick) 2:36
A — Pittman 1 run (Slone kick) 9:53
A — Pittman 19 pass from Gregg (Slone kick) 6:02
A — Pittman 58 run (Slone kick) 1:50
GC — Auston Clarkson 57 pass from Eli Sammons (2-pt fails) 9:17
GC — Austin Evans 17 pass from Sammons (Purdy pass from Sammons) :43
First Downs 17 11
Rushes 31-379 24-75
Comp.-Att.-Int. 4-5-0 9-18-0
Passing Yards 59 118
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 2-2
Punts-Average 1-40 5-27
Penalties-Yards 4-30 6-50
Ashland rushing: Pittman 10-210, Hester 8-119, Palladino 2-19, Eden 5-15, Mullins 4-6, Workman 1-5, Clutters 1-5
Greenup County rushing: Burgess 13-35, Sammons 5-21, Purdy 4-13, Wireman 1-3, Clarkson 1-3
Ashland passing: Gregg 4 of 5 for 59 yards
Greenup County passing: Sammons 10 of 17 for 121 yards.
Ashland receiving: Layne 1-23, Pittman 1-19, Christian 1-18, Hester 1-minus-1
Greenup County receiving: Clarkson 2-62, Evans 7-56