LEXINGTON Johnson Central's football team didn't have to count to 100.
Twenty-one was all the Golden Eagles needed.
Johnson Central capped a 15-0 season Saturday with its second Class 4A state title in four years over Boyle County, 21-20, at the University of Kentucky's Kroger Field.
In the immediate aftermath, Golden Eagles coach Jim Matney searched for a stone the team chaplain picked up from a stream in the valley of Elah, where the Bible states in 1 Samuel 17 that David slew Goliath.
“God is good, I was very fortunate,” Matney said. “I wish everyone has a blessed life like I have … I'm very happy, very, very happy. David was the underdog.”
To quarterback Ryley Preece, Saturday's win was more meaningful because he and his fellow seniors were on the sidelines in 2016.
“We're a well-oiled machine, and that's the way our offense works,” Preece said. “It's built to beat you down, keep you goin’ in the game, make the defense tired, wear 'em out.”
The Golden Eagles ran for 270 of their 321 total yards. Boyle County coach Chuck Smith said Johnson Central didn't do anything he didn't expect.
“I knew they were one of the best teams we've played in a couple years, actually,” Smith said. “They … did what they do really well.”
So why was the numeral 100 such a sticking point in Paintsville and maybe the rest of Appalachian Kentucky? A comment Boyle County Middle School Principal Steve Karsner uttered during a Thursday pep rally – “A lot of people at Johnson Central can’t even count to 100, so I vote for Boyle County’s defense to hold them under 100 yards rushing, and our offense to score 100 points” – riled people from Paintsville to Pikeville and maybe to Harlan and Hazard.
“I don't know, it affects our mountains a lot,” Matney said. “We've been fightin' since I was a little boy for the poor white children of Appalachia and all my friends, the poor black children of Appalachia. I've been fightin' prejudice and injustice my entire life.”
Smith said nobody in his district condones what Karsner said.
“I'm a Kentuckian myself,” Smith said. “I'm proud of all parts of Kentucky.”
Johnson Central played as if they had a coal mine's worth of fuel on their sideline: the Golden Eagles had the ball nearly eight minutes longer than the Rebels; senior Dylan Preston ran 15 times for 97 yards and a touchdown; fellow seniors Devin Johnson and Cody Rice each scored once; and Preece needed just eight carries to amass 69 yards.
Boyle County (14-1) gained 402 yards, and quarterback Reed Lanter (31 of 48) threw for 300 yards and touchdowns to Reiley Colwick (14 catches, 133 yards) and Reese Smith (11 balls, 150 yards). Problem was, the Rebels also lost three fumbles – Grant Rice, Mason Lemaster and Hunter McCloud recovered one apiece – and Rice and Preston each intercepted a pass.
Johnson Central and Boyle County were tied at 14-14 at intermission, but the paths to their impasse diverged.
Boyle County's first-quarter choice was the pass – a wise choice because Lanter had 2,977 yards and 39 touchdowns going into Saturday. He was 8-for-8 for 94 yards and a 6-yard score to Colwick.
Most of the time, Lanter's throws were short and outside the hash marks because Johnson County defensive backs were too loose in coverage.
“We had a lotta young guys in the secondary,” Preece said. “It's hard for them to step up in a big game like this, but I think they did a really good job coverin' these guys. Boyle County has some of the best receivers I've ever seen.”
Johnson Central's running game was the same it's always been – the triple option, 1950s-era Wishbone made you think of Barry Switzer's Oklahoma juggernauts in the '70s and '80s. Johnson tied the score at 7-7 with 6:46 left in the second.
“It's so old, nobody knows how to defend it,” Matney said.
The Rebels and Golden Eagles traded touchdowns the rest of the game: Boyle County's Will McDaniel from a yard away with 2:47 left in the second; Preston's 2-yard plunge with 25 seconds before halftime; Rice from 12 yards away with 3:58 remaining in the third; and Lanter-to-Smith from 3 yards out with 15 seconds left in the third.
A miscue was the victory margin. Boyle County's Jackson Smith missed the point-after kick after Smith's score.
Boyle County mounted its last drive with 2:53 left in the game; the Rebels moved from their own 23-yard line to the Johnson Central 28. Rice dislodged a pass intended for Smith clinch the win.
Preece credited his team's fans as much as anything for what happened.
“I think this is the most tickets we've ever sold for a state championship game,” Preece said. “You couldn't ask for anything better from your fans.”
J. CENTRAL 0 14 7 0 – 21
BOYLE CO. 7 7 6 0 – 20
BC-Reiley Colwick 6 pass from Reed Lanter (Jackson Smith kick), 0:57
JC-Devin Johnson 22 run (Jake Headly kick), 6:46
BC-Will McDaniel 1 run (Smith kick), 2:47
JC-Dylan Preston 2 run (Headly kick), 0:25
JC-Cody Rice 12 run (Headly kick), 3:58
BC-Reese Smith 3 pass from Lanter (kick failed), 0:15
First downs 20 21
Rushes-yards 53-270 21-102
Passes 2-5-0 INT 31-48-2 INT
Passing yards 51 300
Punting 4-29.8 2-44.0
Fumbles-lost 0-0 3-3
Penalties-yards 1-5 4-45
Johnson Central rushing: Preston 15-97, Preece 8-69, Johnson 11-49, Rice 16-46, Lawson 2-9.
Boyle Co. rushing: McDaniel 15-62, Sacco 4-41, Lanter 1-1, Bartleson 1-(minus-2).
Johnson Central passing: Preece 2-5-51.
Boyle Co. passing: Lanter 31-48-300.
Johnson Central receiving: Dalton 1-46, Russell 1-5.
Boyle Co. receiving: Colwick 14-133, Smith 11-150, Yates 3-12, Sheperson 3-5.