Pineville came up a bit short in their quest for a district championship on Friday. But the 50-28 final score doesn’t do justice to how well the Mountain Lions played in the second half at Hazard.
In reality, the Lions were just one defensive stop short of making things very interesting late. Freshman quarterback Tucker Woolum hooked up with senior Conner Ford for a big gain down to the goal line and Woolum punched it in from a yard out. After Ford hit Dalton Ledbetter for the conversion, Pineville trailed just 36-28 with 5:33 to play.
If they could have got the ball back, the Lions would have had a chance to tie the game with another touchdown and conversion. But it just wasn’t meant to be.
Bulldog Jason Johnson took a screen pass from Tanner Morgan 58 yards for a touchdown on Hazard’s next offensive play to push their lead back out to 42-28. Kevin Eversole then came up with an interception and returned it 48 yards for another Hazard touchdown and the two-point conversion pass set the final score at 50-28.
“We were right there. We didn’t come out of the gates like they did — it was a lot like the Middlesboro game,” Pineville coach Bart Elam said. “We played well in the second half. I thought we won the second half, we just gave up too many big plays and that 60-yard screen pass just broke our back.”
Hazard got a big play right off the bat when Josh Meehan returned a punt all the way down to the 1-yard line after the Lions’ first possession. Meehan’s 1-yard TD run opened the scoring and Morgan passed to Chris Hudson for the conversion to give the Bulldogs an 8-0 lead.
It stayed 8-0 until early in the second quarter when Morgan hooked up with Hudson for a 17-yard touchdown. Trey Higgins caught the conversion pass to make it 16-0.
The Lions answered with a 29-yard touchdown run from Ford to get within 16-6.
Later in the quarter, Hazard got a 25-yard touchdown run from Brandon Jones and a 65-yard touchdown pass from Morgan to Hudson to take a 28-6 lead into the half.
“Hazard is just a tough place to play and it took our guys that first half to settle down,” Elam said. “We made some adjustments and started throwing the ball more. They’ve got a well-coached team and they took our run game away early.”
Woolum finished 14-of-31 passing for 166 yards and a touchdown. Will Adams caught eight passes for 83 yards and Ford caught four for 73, including a touchdown.
Ford’s TD catch and a sneak from Woolum along with a conversion catch by Ledbetter had the Lions within 36-20 by the end of the third quarter.
Pineville also got an interception by senior Caleb McCorkle in the game and fumble recoveries by Robbie Miller, Ryan Miller and John Robbins.
They just couldn’t make that last stop to have a chance to tie it up.
“We’ve just got to come out playing well from the get-go, we’re getting better at that. In 2010 we had a pretty darn good team that came up here and just got killed,” Elam said. “As a program we’re getting to the point where the kids know they belong when it comes to games like these. We’re not at a point where the Hazards and Beechwoods and teams like that are in Class A. But when these kids go out and perform like they did in that second half, when they lay it all out there on the line and are playing that hard, I’ve got to do a better job of getting them in position to get a win.”
Ford finished with 95 yards on 22 carries while Brad Fuson added 27 rushing yards.
Jones led Hazard with 187 yards on 17 carries and Morgan completed 12 of 18 passes for 259 yards and three touchdowns.
The Bulldogs (7-2, 3-0) wraps up another first place finish in the district. They close out the regular season at home against Sheldon Clark on Friday and will host Lynn Camp in the first round of the playoffs next week.
Pineville (6-3, 2-1) hosts Williamsburg on Friday in their regular season finale and will be at home again for the first round of the playoffs against Berea.
The Lions are likely be visiting Williamsburg for the second round of the playoffs.
“We’re playing two of the best Class A teams in the east to finish out the regular season in Hazard and Williamsburg,” Elam added. “I think it’s good for us to see them now and it helps get us ready for the playoffs.”