LOG MOUNTAIN — Election Day has come and gone, the nights are getting colder, most of the leaves are off the trees and the Bell County Bobcats are still playing football. It’s a tradition here in the Mountains that is still going strong as Bell has advanced to at least the regional finals every year since 2006, you have to go all the way back to 2003 to find a Bobcat team that didn’t make it past the first round.
All the success the program has enjoyed, culminating in the school’s second state championship in 2008, can make it a little hard to appreciate what a fine season the team has had in 2012.
This year’s Bobcats are 9-2, went undefeated in their district and can earn the opportunity to host the regional championship game with a win over LaRue County tonight.
“When this group of seniors was in the 8th grade they went to the state finals in the middle school championship. That’s when you had to play two games in one day or they probably would have won the state championship. But they’ve been successful all the way through,” said Bell County coach Wayne Mills. “They were good as freshmen, they were good as JV — these kids know how to win ball games.
“We’ve got 16 seniors and I think what makes them good is where they’ve played together so long. They know each other’s habits and how each other is going to play and they kind of feed off that. It’s an outstanding group, probably one of the better senior classes that’s come through Bell County. We get overshadowed in some things and maybe don’t give credit where credit is due, but they’ve played some really good football.”
The Bobcats advanced to the regional semifinals with a 47-0 win over Elizabethtown while LaRue pulled away late for a 36-16 win over Corbin in their first round game.
There was a much smaller than normal playoff crowd on hand for last week’s Bell win and Mills is hoping for a big turnout for tonight’s game.
“Our people have probably been spoiled a little bit over the years. You expect to win and when you play a 1-9 football team not a lot of people are going to show up,” he said. “We’ve got a good football team coming to town, they play a good brand of football and we do too. I’m just hoping people will come out and get behind our Bobcats.”
The Hawks come in with a 6-5 record, but have won four of their last five. The only loss in that time was a hard fought 16-8 loss at defending state champion Louisville Central.
“Two of our coaches went up to watch that game. LaRue County is a lot like us, they’re a scrappy bunch of boys. They’re not real big but they play hard. We match up really well with each other so that’s what makes it a scary game. They run the ball well and we definitely feel like we’re in for a big ballgame,” Mills said.
LaRue brings a diverse running game that’s led by the senior duo of running back Caleb Canter and fullback Matt Hornback. Canter ran for 647 yards and nine touchdowns on 83 carries during the regular season while Hornback added 612 yards and seven scores on 116 carries. Senior running back/receiver Kelton Ford also had 42 carries for 289 yards and six TDs on the ground and senior quarterback Gabe Shirley added another 72 yards and three scores running the ball.
Shirley completed just 22 of 53 passes but they were good for 373 yards and two touchdowns. Ford is the leading receiver with 12 catches for 219 yards.
Mills said after last week’s win that the Hawks are similar to Whitley County with the way they use their fullback, but said they rely less on misdirection plays than the Colonels.
“It’s more that they set you up with the outside runs and super sweeps and then try to hit you back up inside with a trap. You have to play assignment football because they’ll hit you in all areas of the running lanes,” he said. “That happens and then you can get sucked up into that run and they’ll play-action that thing and a lot of times their receivers are running wide open. Each player has got to read his keys and stay in his position because you never know when the ball is coming your way.”
Senior inside linebackers Corey Lee and D.J. Warwick lead the Bobcats with 94 and 80 tackles, respectively. They’ll have the primary job of slowing down the LaRue running game along with disruptive linemen William Elliott, Jonathan Burnett and Joe Jackson.
The Bobcats have given up just 1252 yards on the ground this season while running for 3171 themselves.
That smashmouth mentality should serve them well tonight as the offensive line of Burnett, Tyler Mills, Hunter Marcum, Cody Griffen and Tan Hudson enjoys a significant size advantage on the Hawks.
Senior Jonathan Polly leads the Bell ground attack with 1623 yards and 16 touchdowns on 178 carries. Senior fullback/running back Ryan Collett isn’t far behind with 987 yards and 22 TDs on 122 carries. Austin Caldwell also sees time at both the tailback and fullback positions while Warwick and Shane Lawson are the primary blocking backs when the Bobcats go into a full house backfield.
Freshman quarterback Peyton Collett is also a threat in the run game while completing 37-of-88 passes for 661 yards and seven touchdowns with seven interceptions. Senior Tyler Green is Bell’s leading receiver with 24 catches for 345 yards and two touchdowns. Tight end Dylan Cox has six catches for 168 yards and three TDs.
Defensivley, Larue County is led by an active pair of tackles in Terrell Paysen with 55 stops and B.J. Carman with 47. Linebacker Cole Hughes has been in on 48 tackles as well.
“Our offensive line has got to stay on their blocks. They’re not real big up front but they move quick so when you may think you have a guy blocked they can spin off and make the tackle,” Mills said. “Our line has to do a good job sustaining blocks and our back just have to run hard, block for each other and protect the football. We just have to do what we do, line up and try to overpower people.”
Tonight’s game kicks off at 7:30 p.m. on Log Mountain. With a victory Bell County would reach ten wins for the eighth time in the last nine years and would also advance to host the regional championship game against either Louisville Central or Wayne County next week.