ASHLAND Ashland spent the first quarter and a half on Friday night pounding the ground game and mixing in short passes. Then it was time to take advantage.
“We felt like we could move the ball,” Tomcats coach Tony Love said. “We just needed to get in the end zone.”
Already up 10-0 against a game Rowan County, Ashland struck for two long touchdowns through the air in a span of 93 seconds late in the second quarter to gain separation in a 46-0 victory at Putnam Stadium.
The Tomcats consumed most of the first quarter with an opening drive of nearly eight minutes that culminated in SJ Lycans’s 25-yard field goal. And Keontae Pittman ran for a 5-yard score early in the second frame, one play after a bad snap on a Vikings punt set Ashland up with great field position.
The Tomcats have traded on the athleticism and production of Pittman and JT Garrett all year. They did so again to build up their lead Friday.
One play after throwing a screen to Garrett, Ashland lined up in the same formation and quarterback Brett Mullins pump-faked another screen in Garrett’s direction. A Vikings defensive back bit and Ashland’s Paul Humphrey got behind him for a 54-yard TD pitch-and-catch with 4:08 reminaing in the second quarter.
And on the next drive, Mullins mimicked a jet-sweep handoff to Garrett before finding Jack Alley open and waiting behind the Rowan County secondary. Alley broke two tackles en route to a 41-yard score with 2:35 to go in the half.
“They were loading the box and blitzing pretty heavy and playing tight coverage,” Love said of Rowan County. “And that’s when you see that you can get behind them. We felt like we could get behind them with some play-action passes or manipulation in the pass game. We did that.”
The well-designed attack was a result of everyone doing their job, Mullins said.
“With my other guys, they have to do what they gotta do in order for me to do what I gotta do to get them on plays like that,” he said of his scoring tosses. “It’s all a team effort thing, and that’s what I like about it.”
Mullins threw for 135 yards, all in the second quarter, and two touchdowns and a pick. Four Tomcats backs found paydirt — Pittman, Caleb Tackett, Garrett and Vinnie Palladino, whose 28-yard TD on the final play from scrimmage capped the scoring.
Tackett’s 87 yards on four carries, including a 53-yard score, led Ashland’s ground total.
The Tomcats (6-0) rushed for 305 yards behind an offensive line missing three starters. Nine backs registered at least one tote.
“It’s incredible,” Mullins said of the depth of Ashland’s backfield. “You never know what you’re gonna get back there. One person’s power, one person’s speed, some are both. You just never know.”
Rowan County was just happy to be on the field after a two-week hiatus due to its regularly scheduled bye and then a COVID-19-related postponement last week, coach Kelly Ford said, “but it could’ve been a better outcome if we didn’t have a bad snap and then two busts that kinda got (Ashland) rolling. ... You teach them all the time to keep their eyes out of the backfield. The one time they (don’t), you get the bust.”
Love also touted Ashland’s defense, which pitched its second straight shutout. The Tomcats have allowed 5.8 points per game in six resounding victories and limited the Vikings to 93 yards of offense, 69 rushing yards and six first downs. They added a safety in the third quarter.
“They’ve been playing outstanding all year long,” Love said of the defense. “It was just an all-around offense, defense, special teams (effort).”
Rowan County’s Cole Wallace came into the game second in the state in rushing yards per outing with 215. He ran for 101 yards Friday but needed 28 carries to do it, and Ashland’s defense dropped quarterback Austin Fannin for a loss on five occasions.
That, along with the loss of 11 yards on the second-quarter bad long snap, sent the Vikings’ rushing total well back into double digits.
Rowan County (3-3) has already clinched a playoff spot heading into its rescheduled Class 4A, District 6 finale against Boyd County.
“This is a great playoff atmosphere game,” Ford said of Friday night, adding that Ashland’s speed helps the Vikings simulate the speed of Holmes in their district. “It’s a good game for us to keep moving on in the playoffs.”
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ROWAN CO. 0 0 0 0 — 0
ASHLAND 3 21 16 6 — 46
A — SJ Lycans 25 FG, 4:03
A — Keontae Pittman 5 run (Lycans kick), 8:13
A — Paul Humphrey 54 pass from Brett Mullins (Lycans kick), 4:08
A — Jack Alley 41 pass from Mullins (Lycans kick), 2:35
A — Caleb Tackett 53 run (Lycans kick), 8:27
A — Safety, 6:24
A — JT Garrett 2 run (Lycans kick), 3:00
A — Vinnie Palladino 28 run (kick fails), :04
First Downs 6 20
Rushes-Yards 34-69 43-305
Comp-Att-Int 6-11-0 5-9-1
Passing Yards 24 135
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 0-0
Punts-Avg. 4-22.8 0-0
Penalties-Yards 3-27 3-30
Rowan County rushing: Wallace 28-101, Team 1-(-11), Fannin 5-(-21).
Ashland rushing: Tackett 4-87, Pittman 12-58, Palladino 7-57, Clutters 2-27, Garrett 5-26, Gillum 3-26, Billips 3-17, Highley 1-6, Mullins 5-1, Team 1-0.
Rowan County passing: Fannin 6 of 11 for 24 yards.
Ashland passing: Mullins 5 of 9 for 135 yards, 1 interception.
Rowan County receiving: Miller 3-21, Wallace 2-7, Hill 1-(-4).
Ashland receiving: Humphrey 3-92, J. Alley 1-41, Garrett 1-2.