SOMERSET — The Briar Jumpers hurt Middlesboro with their passing game early, but when the game got tight in the fourth quarter it was Somerset put together two drives on the ground to pull out a 35-19 win on Friday.
“They came out and smacked us in the mouth and we didn’t react the way we’ve reacted all year,” Middlesboro coach Randy Frazier said. “Bell County smacked us in the mouth and we got tough. Other teams have smacked us in the mouth and we got tough. This team smacks us in the mouth and we want to complain and do other things. We’ve got to learn from it and we’ve got to play better.”
In spite of the loss the Jackets still claim their first district championship since 2006. They finish in three-way tie with Danville and Somerset but win the tie-breaker, which is based on the number of wins by beaten opponents.
Second and third place in the district won’t be determined until next week’s games are finished. Danville can claim the number two seed with a win over Frankfort, but if they lose the results of six other games will decide which team is second.
“I don’t know that we really understood what we could accomplish here tonight by being the outright champion,” said Frazier. “I know we’re still the champs, but we’ve got something to prove if we make it to play them again.”
Friday, Middlesboro just never found an offensive rhythm as Somerset was able to get quite a bit of penetration from their defensive line. The Jackets were held to 125 total yards of offense and were flagged eleven times for 99 yards in the game.
They were still in the game until late. Hayden Burnside came down with an interception off a pass tipped by Jake Brock and returned it 17 yards to the Jumper 14. On the first play of the fourth quarter Donnie Foister found an opening around the right side and went eight yards for a touchdown to bring Middlesboro within 21-19. Ryan Pittman was stopped just inches short on the two-point conversion that would have tied the game.
Somerset answered with their most impressive drive of the night. Middlesboro’s kick went out of bounds so the Jumpers started at the 35. From there they went 65 yards on nine plays and eight of them were runs. Brycen McWilliams ran the ball five times for 45 yards on the drive and capped it with a 5-yard touchdown run. Alex Franklin added the extra point to make it a 28-19 game.
Pittman took a lateral from Burnside on the following squib kick and returned it 18 yards to the 47. On the first play of the drive, Pittman caught a screen pass from Major Edwards and cut back behind the line of scrimmage for a long gain. But the play was wiped out by a block in the back. Edwards’ next pass was intercepted by Franklin.
The Jacket defense forced a three-and-out but their next drive stalled near midfield and they turned the ball over on downs after two incomplete passes.
McWilliams ran the ball three times for 27 yards and also drew a 15-yard facemask penalty as the Jumpers capped the win. He completed the scoring on a 16-yard touchdown run with 2:33 to play that set the final at 35-19.
“You win football games up front and I think they had a great defensive plan. Their offense, at the end of the game they just put it down and said we’re going to run the football. We just didn’t stop them,” Frazier said.
The first half was all about Somerset’s Cam Cheuvront and penalties.
Cheuvront got behind the Jacket secondary on a play-action pass from Castle Hatcher that went for a 66-yard touchdown and the Jumpers led 7-0 with 9:35 to go in the first quarter.
After an exchange of possessions Middlesboro got on the board late in the quarter as Seth Barton went up in the end zone haul in a 24-yard touchdown pass from Foister on a fourth-and-five play. Tanner Hoskins kick tied the game at 7.
The Jacket defense held, but Foister was intercepted by Franklin at the MHS 29.
Hatcher hit Cheuvront down the sideline for a 29-yard touchdown on the very next play and it was 14-7. The senior receiver finished the game with five catches for 199 yards and two touchdowns.
“He’s got a lot of speed but it’s not like we couldn’t cover him. We covered him pretty good most of the second half,” Frazier said.
A squib kick went right to Pittman in the middle of the field and the junior went about ten yards backwards before heading to the right sideline and picking up blocks. He made a couple of tacklers miss and wound up with a 67-yard return for a touchdown. The Jackets went for two as their swinging gate stayed open, but the pass fell incomplete so Somerset still led 14-13.
Penalties became a factor on the following drive. On a third-down play the Jackets were called for a questionable pass interference when a defensive back got his legs tangled up with a receiver while both were looking up for the ball. The 15-yard penalty gave Somerset a first down at the MHS 39.
Hatcher scrambled for ten yards, then had a snap get past him for a loss of eleven. Middlesboro’s Tyler Prater was called for a helmet-to-helmet hit when he dived for the ball just after Hatcher got back to it. That 15-yard penalty gave the Jumpers another first down. Later in the drive, the Jackets jumped off sides to turn a fourth-and-six into a fourth-and-two from the 4-yard line. Bryson Jones ran it in from there to push the lead to 21-13.
On Middlesboro’s next possession, Foister scrambled away from pressure and bought himself enough time to find Pittman for gain of nine to convert a third down. Flags flew after the play and after a lengthy discussion the officials apparently decided their were offsetting unsportsmanlike conduct calls. The one on Middlesboro went against Austin Poindexter and he was called for a second one for saying something to an official and was ejected from the game.
“We lost our composure and that’s the big thing that you can’t have, especially going into the playoffs,” Frazier said.
At that point the Jackets had been flagged eight times with Somerset just called for the one penalty that was offset.
Later in the half Edwards was sacked for a loss of 13 yards on a third-and-five play. The Jumpers were called for defensive holding on the play, but the ten yards were marked off from where Edwards was sacked instead of the line of scrimmage and Middlesboro had to punt after an incompletion.
“It doesn’t matter what happens on the football field, you’ve got to put it behind you and you’ve got to play the next play 110 miles an hour. We didn’t do that,” Frazier added. “You’re not going to change anything the referees call. You’ve got to work harder, take it and put it behind you and move on. I don’t think (those calls) had anything to do with it, we just got hit in the mouth and we didn’t respond.”
Cheuvront got loose again for a 69-yard gain on a pass from Hatcher but was tackled at the Jacket 1-yard line with 14 seconds left in the second quarter. Brock intercepted Hatcher’s roll out pass on the next play and the score stayed 21-13 until the start of the fourth quarter.
Cole Frazier also had an interception in the game.
Middlesboro (7-2, 2-1) closes out the regular season at home on Friday against Lynn Camp and will host Leslie County in the first round of the playoffs the followng week. Somerset (5-4, 2-1) has completed their regular season and will learn their playoff fate after next week’s games.
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S- Cam Cheuvront 66 pass from Castle Hatcher (Alex Franklin kick)
M- Seth Barton 24 pass from Donnie Foister (Tanner Hoskins kick)
S- Cheuvront 29 pass from Hatcher (Frankin kick)
M- Ryan Pittman 67 kick return (pass fail)
S- Bryson Jones 4 run (Franklin kick)
M- Foister 8 run (run fail)
S- Brycen McWilliams 5 run (Franklin kick)
S- McWilliams 16 run (Franklin kick)
RUSHING — MHS, Ryan Pittman 18-59, Seth Barton 10-18, Donnie Foister 5-0, Major Edwards 5-(-19); SHS, Brycen McWilliams 11-80, Bryson Jones 13-37, Tanner Gadberry 2-1, Devin Griffith 1-(-2), Castle Hatcher 5-(-8).
PASSING — MHS, Foister 5-9-1-58, Edwards 1-8-1-9; SHS, Hatcher 9-23-3-227.
RECEIVING — MHS, Barton 2-24, Pittman 2-16, Tanner Hoskins 1-18, Foister 1-9; SHS, Cam Cheuvront 5-199, Brayden McWilliams 1-14, Chandler Dobbs 1-7, BrycenMcWilliams 1-6, Jones 1-1.