It was an unfamiliar scenario for Ashland, particularly during this charmed and dominant season: a running clock for the final moments of Friday’s game.
Now, under Kentucky rules, the 35-0 margin Spring Valley gained on the Tomcats with 2:12 remaining would not have given the timekeeper the rest of the night off, but in West Virginia, a 35-point edge in the fourth quarter does just that. Spring Valley was the site, so Mountain State procedures prevailed.
No sense in quibbling over minor rule differences, though — the Timberwolves asserted themselves from the opening drive, and by the time it was over, there was no doubt which team deserved victory.
However, should that score, positioned a week before win-or-go-home time, have given Tomcats fans a sense of foreboding?
Hardly. If anything, according to coach Tony Love, testing itself against an exceptionally talented and physical opponent in Spring Valley gave Ashland feedback it can incorporate in the postseason.
“The reason why you’re playing good teams is because you want to find out what you need to work on when you get to the playoffs,” Love said after the game Friday night, “and I think (Spring Valley) gave us a good blueprint of some things that we really need to show the kids and develop offensively and defensively to make ourselves better.”
Color Timberwolves coach Brad Dingess convinced that Ashland will be fine.
“We felt like (Ashland) was one of the best teams on our schedule coming in,” Dingess said. “As good a football team as they are, and well-coached and ranked highly in the state of Kentucky, our kids took it as a challenge and played with a chip on their shoulder all night.”
And it showed. But no one should confuse a loss to one of the top programs in the Tri-State and beyond — resounding though it may have been — with a distress signal.
The same could be said for Paintsville, which absorbed a 35-7 loss to Lexington Christian (9-1), and for Russell, which trailed West Carter until midway through the fourth quarter before pulling out a 22-14 win in Olive Hill. The Comets are good, folks.
• While Ashland encountered a roadblock in its regular-season finale, the Tomcats’ first-round playoff opponent found some forward momentum.
Greenup County ended a three-game skid Friday night by winning at Mason County in double overtime, 35-34.
The Musketeers, beset by injuries and having parted ways with some players in recent weeks, dressed 34 players from what was once a 50-plus-person roster, coach Scott Grizzle said.
“I told our kids after the game Friday night that group of 34, 35 kids that we dressed out Friday night, I’ll take that group every night,” Grizzle said, “because I know they’ll play hard, and I know the Greenup County football program means a lot to those kids.”
The Musketeers sealed it with a defensive stand in the second extra session. Greenup County got the ball first in that frame; Eli Sammons and Austin Evans hooked up for a TD on fourth-and-goal and Carson Wireman booted the extra point to put the Musketeers up seven.
The Royals responded with a touchdown on Carson Brammer’s pass to Jayden Riggs and elected to go for two and the victory. Greenup County’s defense diagnosed the play and forced a pass away from the primary receiver, Grizzle said, which was dropped.
“We looked at that as a must-win game,” Grizzle said. “Obviously, going back to Putnam Stadium in a tough environment against a great football team in Ashland, you want to have some positive momentum going into that game because you know it’s gonna be a battle. You know it’s a tall task to have a chance to beat them on their home field. You need all the help you can get, so just having our kids in good spirits and motivated to come to practice (today) was huge for our team.”
• Johnson Central rushed for a whopping 451 yards on Friday night to whip Belfry, 53-16, and cap a 10-0 regular season. The 37-point final margin was the widest in a Golden Eagles win in a series long dominated by the Pirates.
Belfry didn’t lose to the Golden Eagles on the field from their first meeting in 1971 to 2008, though the Pirates later forfeited a 1988 victory over Johnson Central. But since 2009, when the Golden Eagles knocked off Belfry for the first time, 25-19, Johnson Central leads the series between mountain powers, 7-4.
The Golden Eagles have only played one game decided by fewer than 26 points this season.
• Northeastern Kentucky teams’ first-round playoff destinations were already set in stone entering Friday (some of them two Fridays ago). The OHSAA finalized its brackets, set by computer rankings, on Sunday afternoon.
Ironton clinched the top seed in Division V, Region 19 with a 48-7 bushwhacking of longstanding rival Portsmouth on Friday night. The Fighting Tigers (9-1) will host eighth-seeded Wellston (7-3) on Saturday night at 7 at Tanks Memorial Stadium. The Golden Rockets are making their first playoff appearance since 2006, while Ironton collected its 35th postseason berth, tied for second all-time in state history.
The Ironton-Wellston victor gets the winner of Amanda-Clearcreek and Gahanna Columbus Academy on Nov. 16 in the region semifinal at a neutral site to be determined by the OHSAA. Portsmouth and Wheelersburg, both of whom the Fighting Tigers have beaten soundly this season, are potential region final opponents.
Four: Jonathan Maher (Fleming County). Maher completed 20 of 25 passes for 361 yards and six touchdowns and rushed 13 times for 84 yards as the Panthers lit up Harrison County, 62-21.
Three: Austin Evans (Greenup County), Jake Heighton (Raceland), Kaleb Flanery (Fleming County), Gunnur Lewis (Raceland), Eli Sammons (Greenup County), Gracin Smith (Fairview).
Two: Malakai Anderson (Russell), Bryce Burgess (Greenup County), Nathan Conley (Russell), Ethan Cox (Raceland), James Fraley (Bath County), Jeremy Harper (Fairview), Braden Hicks (East Carter), Moses Jackson (Lewis County), Devin Johnson (Johnson Central), Ryan Leach (Bath County), Cody Rice (Johnson Central), Jacob Underwood (East Carter), Cole Wallace (Rowan County).
One: Ashton Block (East Carter), Jackson Bond (West Carter), Gage Crooks (Fairview), Jay Ferguson (Fairview), Blue Fletcher (Lawrence County), Baden Gillispie (Lawrence County), Carsen Gulley (Fleming County), Blake Hester (Ashland), Andrew Jackson (Fleming County), Nick Johnson (Rowan County), Ethan Jordan (West Carter), Antwon Moore (Fairview), Dalton Nelson (Bath County), Orry Perry (West Carter), Logan Pinkley (Fleming County), Jack Roy (Fairview), Ethan Sizemore (Lewis County), Conner Stone (East Carter), Andrew Tackett (Lawrence County), Bryce Tackett (Johnson Central).
Didn’t report statistics: Boyd County, East Carter, Morgan County, Paintsville.
Klemme’s NEKY Super Seven
1. J. Central (10-0)
2. Ashland (8-2)
3. Russell (8-2)
4. Paintsville (7-3)
5. Raceland (6-4)
6. East Carter (7-3)
7. West Carter (7-3)
Next two in: Fleming County, Rowan County.
Miss it? Here are scores from Friday’s games involving local teams: Nicholas County 46, Bath County 34; Johnson Central 53, Belfry 16; East Carter 46, Boyd County 7; Fairview 38, Lewis County 28; Fleming County 62, Harrison County 21; Ironton 48, Portsmouth 7; Magoffin County 48, Morgan County 22; Greenup County 35, Mason County 34; Lexington Christian 35, Paintsville 7; Raceland 50, Lawrence County 21; Rowan County 27, Montgomery County 12; Spring Valley 35, Ashland 0; Russell 22, West Carter 14.
Which northeastern Kentucky team secured its first winning season since 2011 with a victory on Friday night?
The first to answer the question correctly via email, tweet or phone call will pick games with The Daily Independent panel in the first week of the playoffs. A word of warning to potential pickers: avoid the pitfalls of the dreaded “trap games,” what with the inclination of human nature to look ahead to a series of anticipated rivalry games in Week 2 of the postseason.
Halftime Prep Talk
Watch HTPT each week on the “Halftime Prep Talk” Facebook page or visit dailyindependent.com. Last week’s episode emanated from Olive Hill, home of regular-season district champion West Carter.
Reach ZACK KLEMME at email@example.com or (606) 326-2658. Follow @zklemmeADI on Twitter.