There’s no such thing as a good way to lose in the playoffs, but Friday’s 19-13 overtime loss to Somerset was especially gut-wrenching for the Middlesboro Yellow Jackets.
Despite being without Ryan Pittman — their leading rusher and one of their top playmakers on defense — and with several others playing through various injuries, the Jackets out-gained and out-hit the Briar Jumpers for most of the night. They led 13-10 after a sensational one-handed grab in the end zone by senior Austin Poindexter with 4:52 to play in the third quarter and maintained that lead until Alex Franklin booted a tying field goal with just 34 seconds left in regulation.
The game went to overtime and Middlesboro had the ball first. But on their second play, Somerset’s Bailey McEnroe came free on a blitz and forced a fumble that the Jumpers recovered. Will Lange fought through a pair of Jackets as he made his way around the left side and into the end zone for the game-winning 3-yard touchdown run on third down.
“We had an opportunity to win the football game and it just didn’t happen. But I’m very proud of these kids. They never gave up, they never got down and they fought to the very end,” Jacket coach Randy Frazier said. “It’s hard to lose, especially for these seniors. But look at what they have accomplished. Somerset was picked to win the region and they handed it to us up there. A lot of people didn’t give us a chance, but our kids knew that we could win and they came out and played hard enough to win the ball game.”
Middlesboro outgained Somerset 298-210 and managed 14 first downs to the Jumpers’ 10. The Jackets did lose two fumbles and gave Somerset a short field on two other occasions that turned out to be the difference.
“We didn’t get any turnovers from them. I think may have been the difference, but I’m so proud of the kids,” Frazier added.
It was a rough start for the Jackets as they were flagged for illegal procedure on their very first offensive play. On third and long, Donnie Foister scrambled to his left and hit a wide open Seth Barton for a 69-yard touchdown, but the play was called back because Foister had crossed the line of scrimmage before releasing the pass and Middlesboro had to punt.
Somerset went 78-yards on seven plays. Lange ran for 29 yards on a pitch out and then fullback Bryson Jones found a seam right up the middle as he rumbled 35 yards for a touchdown. Alex Franklin’s kick made it 7-0 with 8:00 to play in the first quarter.
But from there the Brian Jumpers could manage just 39 yards of offense the rest of the first half.
“Up front changed it. Our linemen controlled the line of scrimmage for a lot of the game that was the big change from when we played up there,” said Frazier.
Middlesboro answered that score with a 12-play, 63-yard march. Major Edwards, Foister and Barton combined for 25 rushing yards on the drive and Somerset helped the Jacket cause with a 15-yard personal foul. Poindexter took a screen pass for a 13-yard gain and Jake Brock capped the drive with a 10-yard touchdown pass from Foister. Tanner Hoskins added the PAT to tie the game at 7 with 2:24 to go in the first.
In the second quarter Brock delivered a 40-yard punt that Tyler Prater downed inside the Somerset 1-yard line. While the Jumper offense was stalling, Middlesboro drove into Somerset territory three times. They finally got as close as the 19 when they turned the ball over on downs just before halftime as the score remained 7-7.
Somerset’s first break came on the opening kick of the third quarter. Hoskins attempted an onside kick, but the ball took a funky hop and went backwards and out of bounds at the Jacket 36. Their drive stalled at the MHS 3-yard line and Franklin kicked a 20-yard field goal at the 9:34 mark to put the Jumpers up 10-7.
Once again Middlesboro answered. This time with a 10-play, 74-yard drive. Barton started it with an 8-yard run and then broke free for a 44-yard gain to the Jumper 23. Edwards ran the ball three times for nine yards, including two big ones to convert a fourth-and-short at the 11. After a penalty pushed the Jackets back, Foister lofted a pass for Poindexter in the corner of the end zone. With Cam Cheuvront draped all over him, Poindexter went up with one hand and came down with the ball for the 13-yard touchdown.
Middlesboro’s senior receiver finished with seven catches for 104 yards and the touchdown. He was also strong on the defensive side with a sack, several other tackles and a couple of pass breakups.
“I’ve told people from the word go that Austin Poindexter could possibly play in the SEC. He really could, he’s that caliber of player,” Frazier said. “There are a lot of kids on this team that can play and they all played hard tonight.”
When they lined up for the PAT, the Jackets saw an opportunity to go for two with how Somerset’s defense was lined up. But Barton was stopped short on the run and not getting the extra point would prove costly as the lead was just 13-10.
“They didn’t have anybody on our line and that’s my call. We missed a block or he could have walked in, but that’s neither here nor there,” Frazier said. “If we don’t go for two there, then they would have gone for the touchdown when they got down it down to the four (late in the fourth quarter).”
On the very next play from scrimmage Poindexter came on a blitz and threw Hatcher for a 12-yard loss. After the teams traded possessions, Jones pinned Middlesboro back at their own 9 with a 44-yard punt on the final play of the third quarter.
Poindexter got the Jackets out of that hole with a spectacular 31-yard gain on a screen pass. He caught the ball behind the line of scrimmage with a couple of blockers, then accelerated through a tackle as he cut all the way across the field and picked up more blocks before getting pushed out of bounds at the 43.
Somerset got another break when they recovered a Middlesboro fumble at the Jacket 40 one play later. They weren’t able to take advantage, though, as Franklin came up short on a 34-yard field goal with 6:00 left in the fourth quarter.
Middlesboro got one first down as Foister hit Brock for a 10-yard gain. On third-and-ten, Poindexter picked up almost nine yards on a pass as he was forced out of bounds. The spot left the Jackets needing a yard and a half to pick up the first down at their own 39. They went for it and Barton did not get a favorable spot as the officials marked him down right at the 40-yard line.
“That spot was terrible and I don’t care to say that. I’m not saying we made it, but I know we went farther than what they gave us,” Frazier said.
While some could question the decision to go for it there, Brock was pressured heavily on his last punt attempt and it only went 13 yards. Plus, Cheuvront is one of the most dangerous return men around and getting that one long yard would have just about sealed the win.
Instead, Somerset took over at the Middlesboro 40 with 3:11 on the clock. Poindexter nearly intercepted a deep ball intended for Cheuvront on first down. Matthew Schneider batted down a pass at the line of scrimmage on second down. But on third down, Lange got open on a corner route and hauled in a 31-yard pass from Hatcher to set up a first-and-goal at the nine.
After a Somerset penalty pushed them back five yards, Poindexter stopped Cheuvront for no gain on a little out route. Prater then batted down a pass at the line of scrimmage. On third down, Austin Bubnick took a Hatcher pass 9-yards but was stopped at the four to set up Franklin’s tying field goal.
“We had them on third down and that kid (Lange) made a great play to come up with that catch,” Frazier said. “But we held them to a field goal and then it goes to overtime and it’s zero-zero from there.”
On Middlesboro’s second offensive play of the extra period, McEnroe timed the snap perfectly and slammed into Edwards just as he was getting the handoff from Foister and the ball came free.
“The linebacker came through the gap and hit them right at the mesh-point. Nobody did anything wrong, it was just a great play by the defense,” Frazier said.
Middlesboro ends the season with record of 9-3.
Somerset (7-4) will visit Prestonsburg next week for the Class 2A, Region 4 championship. Prestonsburg advanced with a 20-13 win over Danville.
— — —
S- Bryson Jones 35 run (Alex Franklin kick)
M- Jake Brock 10 pass from Donnie Foister (Tanner Hoskins kick)
S- Franklin 20 field goal
M- Austin Poindexter 13 pass from Foister (run fail)
S- Franklin 21 field goal
S- Will Lange 3 run
RUSHING — Somerset, Will Lange 14-64, Bryson Jones 12-63, Brycen McWilliams 1-3, Castle Hatcher 5-(-12); Middlesboro, Seth Barton 19-98, Major Edwards 12-29, Jake Brock 1-19, Donnie Foister 10-2.
PASSING — Somerset, Hatcher 8-20-0-93; Middlesboro, Foister 12-19-0-150.
RECEIVING — Somerset, Cam Cheuvront 4-12, Lange 2-48, Chandler Dobbs 1-24, Austin Bubnick 1-9; Middlesboro, Austin Poindexter 7-104, Brock 5-46.