Asked the last time Lawrence County won a game because of its passing ability, coach Alan Short jokingly responded, “1943.”
The Bulldogs, whose offensive philosophy under normal circumstances is ground-and-pound first, second and third, didn’t have a completion in their season opener two Fridays ago against Magoffin County. They didn’t have much choice but to throw it on Friday night, trailing Pike County Central by six points and facing a fourth-and-11, 62 yards from the end zone in the final minute.
“Were we out of our comfort zone on our final drive? Probably so,” Short said.
But Alex Strickland found Jake Derifield for a 35-yard gain on that fourth down, and after a defensive pass interference penalty, Lawrence County hit paydirt on Strickland’s 8-yard pass to Andrew Tackett with 12 seconds remaining. Logan Southers’s extra point lifted the Bulldogs over the Hawks, 29-28.
“Those kids went out and battled and never gave up,” Short said. “We’ve been saying for a couple years we need to keep working on throwing the ball, working on throwing the ball, and I think our practice time last week, it was evident that it helped us.”
Lawrence County’s comeback was perhaps more remarkable because it was only Strickland’s second start under center. The Bulldogs’ incumbent quarterback, Baden Gillispie, transferred to Cabell Midland late in the preseason.
And Strickland played most of the game with what Short called a “severe charley horse” after taking a helmet to the thigh on his first carry.
Strickland had never thrown a pass when he took over Lawrence County’s offense, but that didn’t concern Short, he said.
“We knew that he was something special,” Short said of Strickland, a junior. “Didn’t know that he would take to it like a duck to water, but he has. We’re in really good hands with him back there.”
Short noted that A.J. Cyrus and Grant Kiser passed effectively in the previous decade, so an aerial threat isn’t unprecedented in Louisa.
“It’ll definitely make us hard to defend,” Short said. “We’ve gotten used to nine- and 10-man boxes (from opposing defenses) over the last several years, and hopefully when other teams turn on the film and they can see us throw it a little bit, they’ll at least have to honor that.
“It’s no secret, we want to run the football because that’s what we believe wins football games here in eastern Kentucky, but to be able to throw it around a little bit, throw some play-action passes, that’s a really good thing to have in our hip pocket.”
• Fleming County scored 40 points or more in seven of its 13 games last season. On Friday night, the Panthers only scored seven points — and won.
Fleming County coach Bill Spencer’s theme to the Panthers in the lead-up to their game with district and border archrival Mason County was, “I don’t know how I’m going to win, I just know I’m not going to lose.”
“I told them it might be special teams, defense or whatever,” Spencer said, “but we had to find a way.”
Fleming County won, 7-6, by capitalizing on a takeaway deep in Royals territory. Four plays after Grayson Hurst fell on a fumble at Mason County’s 13-yard line early in the third quarter, Zeke Conn ran for a 4-yard score and Justyn Haggerty booted the extra point, as The Ledger Independent described it.
The Panthers, who hadn’t forced a turnover in their first 14 quarters of play on the season, generated two more second-half takeaways and benefited from a Royals miscue on a would-be game-tying extra point to preserve the lead.
“For us to hold them to six was a big accomplishment for our kids,” Spencer said. “This showed how much our kids have grown from our first game at East Carter.”
The win was Fleming County’s eighth consecutive in the series. Before that, Mason County had won 17 out of 20 against the Panthers.
“As far as the streak goes, as cliche as it sounds, we really just take it one game at a time,” Spencer said. “Like I told our kids this past week, winning the previous seven didn’t spot us any points in this one. We have to focus on the here and now. We have had some really good games in this series. We have just been fortunate enough to make a few more plays here and there.”
• Raceland’s rushing game, which by coach Michael Salmons’s own admission has struggled to reach the program’s smash-mouth standard the last season and a half, showed signs of life at Washington County on Saturday night.
The Rams ran for four touchdowns and picked up 170 yards on 32 carries — more than 5 yards per tote — in a 56-7 win over the Commanders.
“I think we moved forward in that area (Saturday) night,” Salmons said. “We’ve got plenty of room for growth there, but nonetheless moved forward.”
Sophomore Jules Farrow ran for 82 yards on 16 carries. That’s the Rams’ highest rushing output by one player in 19 games, since the 2018 region semifinal, except for Ethan Cox’s 103 yards against Lawrence County last year — 62 of which came on one play, less a sign of sustained rushing than sheer explosiveness.
And freshman Noah Wallace, a lifelong Ram who left the program briefly over the summer and returned in September, chipped in 90 yards of total offense and a TD each in the rushing and receiving games.
“Those are two young, inexperienced running backs that we really believe have brighter days ahead of them,” Salmons said. “We’re gonna get those guys more and more carries and keep moving forward, and we feel like those guys can make plays for us — in the pass game too, but primarily in the run game.”
Whatever the Rams can do on the ground will complement a dangerous passing game. Jake Heighton has thrown for 1,113 yards and 12 touchdowns and one interception in five games.
• East Carter’s football program is shut down for two weeks due to health department contact tracing after a positive COVID-19 case, confirmed Raiders coach Tim Champlin on Tuesday.
The Raiders cannot practice or play until Oct. 24, the school said in a post on its Facebook account on Tuesday. East Carter had been scheduled to host district games against Greenup County on Friday and Russell on Oct. 23.
And Paintsville’s district game at Betsy Layne on Friday is off, Tigers assistant coach Brian Melvin said. The Bobcats, shut down due to COVID-19, also missed last week’s contest with Raceland.
That brings the total of northeastern Kentucky games postponed or canceled for COVID-19-related reasons since the season began to 11.
Four: Dylan Preston (Johnson Central). Preston carried the ball six times Friday against Perry County Central and scored on five of them. He ran for 216 of the Golden Eagles’ 520 rushing yards.
Cole Wallace (Rowan County). The Vikings’ horse kept going against the Thorobreds of Harrison County, rushing for 209 yards and five TDs, including the game-winner with 4:24 to play.
Three: Charlie Jachimczuk (Russell).
Two: Leetavious Cline (West Carter), Austin Fannin (Rowan County), Dylan Ferguson (Lawrence County), J.T. Garrett (Ashland), Carter Hart (Bath County), Jake Heighton (Raceland), Brien Hill (Rowan County), Jake Hyden (Paintsville), Hunter McCoy (Bath County), Brett Mullins (Ashland), Ethan Oborne (Russell), Orry Perry (West Carter), Harris Phelps (Paintsville), Keontae Pittman (Ashland).
One: Jackson Bond (West Carter), Arian Brown (Rowan County), Auston Clarkson (Greenup County), Brady Clevenger (Greenup County), Zeke Conn (Fleming County), Cole Crampton (West Carter), Jules Farrow (Raceland), Austin Gibbs (Boyd County), Connor Goodall (Russell), Reece Goss (Johnson Central), Dylan Hardy (Lewis County), AJ James (Paintsville), Mason Lawson (Johnson Central), Joe Lusby (Boyd County), Hunter Martin (Russell), Ethan Melvin (Raceland), Buddy Morgan (Fleming County), Will Nichols (Raceland), Vinnie Palladino (Ashland), Jonah Porter (Paintsville), Gracin Smith (Fairview), Logan Southers (Lawrence County), Toby Spriggs (Johnson Central), Logan Staten (Boyd County), Alex Strickland (Lawrence County), Andrew Tackett (Lawrence County), Caleb Tackett (Ashland), Jacob Underwood (East Carter), Noah Wallace (Raceland), Tanner Weaver (Fleming County), Johnson Central offensive and defensive lines.
Our digital talk show ventures roll on! “Halftime Prep Talk,” which originated from Lawrence County last week, can be viewed at the show’s Facebook page or dailyindependent.com. “Eleventh Hour” comes at you live every Friday night at or about 11 p.m. from the newsroom and can be seen on the newspaper’s Facebook page.
Reach ZACK KLEMME at email@example.com or (606) 326-2658. Follow @zklemmeADI on Twitter.