For the second straight week the Middlesboro Yellow Jackets had a top five Class 2A team on the ropes in the fourth quarter and for the second straight week fell victim to a late comeback. Somerset scored two touchdowns in the final 4:16 Friday night to pull out a 26-18 win over the Jackets.
“This is two weeks in a row to lose the lead in the fourth quarter against one of the best teams in 2A. It’s disappointing,” said MHS coach Randy Frazier. “(Somerset) is a very good football team, but we’re getting better each week. It’s a building process, but I hate it for our kids and I hate it for our community because we’ve played well enough to win both of these last two games.”
On a night when the Middlesboro defense forced the Briarjumpers into 8-of-22 passing and three interceptions, freshman Castle Williams completed three of his final five attempts for 41 yards on the go-ahead drive. Tyson Williams capped the drive with a leaping catch in the end zone despite strong coverage by Jacket senior defensive back Zach Riddle. The 17-yard TD pass put Somerset up 20-18 with 4:16 to play.
Sophomore quarterback Major Edwards scrambled for 11 yards and took a late hit out of bounds for a personal foul to give Middlesboro a first down at the Jumper 40. He was sacked on a third and long play, but a late helmet-to-helmet hit cost Somerset another 15 yards and left the Jackets with a manageable 3rd and 7. Edwards appeared to hit Riddle for the first down along the Middlesboro sideline, but the official ruled he was out of bounds. On fourth down Edwards was pressured out of the pocket and his scramble was stopped well short with 1:26 to play.
Somerset’s Will Lange ran the ball once for 14 yards, then was stopped in the backfield for a loss of two. On second and long he broke through the Jacket defense and went 47 yards for a touchdown with 18 seconds left. They weren’t trying to run the score up on the dive play, but taking a knee could have ensured the Jumpers of the win as Middlesboro only had one timeout left. Instead Jumper full back Bryson Jones hurt his ankle on the touchdown run and then they missed the extra point.
That left the Jackets an opportunity to tie the game with a score and two-point conversion. Ryan Pittman took a lateral on the squib kick and returned it out to the 47. On Middlesboro’s final play Edwards hit Austin Poindexter over the middle. Poindexter flipped the ball to Jake Brock on the hook-and-lateral but Brock was stopped after cutting back across the field as Somerset held on.
“I hate it for our seniors on their last home game. What an upset it would have been,” Frazier said. “We’re going to miss those guys, but we’re not done. Who knows what can happen in the playoffs, we might see some of these guys again.”
Sophomore Parker Uhl had an outstanding game for the Jackets against a very good Briarjumper defense. Uhl ran for 111 yards on 15 carries, including touchdowns of eight and 47 yards.
The Middlesboro defense also turned in very strong performance, limiting Somerset to 244 total yards (109 until the final two drives). Seth Barton had a pair of interceptions, Brock had one and Pittman recorded a safety and forced a fumble that was recovered by the Jackets.
“We’ve talked all year about playing the best teams and I feel like we have played some of the best teams in the state throughout our schedule. That’s helped our young team to grow up and they are getting better every week,” said Frazier.
It was a defensive struggle early on as neither team picked up a first down on their first two possessions. That changed when Edwards hit Brock streaking down the right sideline for a 44-yard gain down to the Somerset 26. A three-yard run from Edwards plus a facemask moved the ball to the 12. Three runs netted six yards and Cole Frazier booted a 23-yard field goal with 1:48 to play in the quarter for a 3-0 Jacket lead.
Barton intercepted a Tanner Gadberry pass and returned it 23 yards out to the Somerset 46. Edwards ran for 14 yards to convert a 3rd & 8 and Uhl took it from there. He ran once for 22 yards and again for an 8-yard touchdown. The extra point was blocked and the Middlesboro lead was 9-0 with 9:33 to play in the half.
The Jackets were called for illegal touching on the following on-side kick. It was a high floater that Donnie Foister caught in the air near the sideline, but only 9-1/2 yards down field. Somerset took over at the Jacket 44 but Tyler Prater threw Jones for a loss of three then Barton and Pittman both knocked away Gadberry passes for another 3-and-out.
Castle Williams took over at quarterback for Somerset late in the half and, after getting sacked by Prater on his first play, hooked up with Braden McWilliams for a 61-yard gain down to the MHS nine. Three plays later it was Williams to McWilliams again for a 5-yard touchdown. Chandler Dobbs’ kick made it 9-7 with 2:28 left in the half.
Somerset recovered a muffed squib kick, but Brock had an interception and the score stayed 9-7 at halftime.
It was Senior Night and Homecoming at MHS and after an extra-long halftime the Jackets weren’t quite ready to go at the start of the third quarter. Lange returned the second half kickoff 73 yards for a touchdown and Somerset all of a sudden held a 14-9 lead.
Later in the quarter, Barton put the Jackets back in business with his second interception of the night and returned it 20 yards to the Jumper 5-yard line.
Four runs gained just four yards as Edwards was stopped on fourth down at the 1 and a half. On Somerset’s first play Pittman blasted through the line and tackled Jones in the end zone just as he took the hand-off from Gadberry for a safety. It was 14-11 at the 7:03 mark of the third quarter.
Pittman returned the kick 18 yards to to the Somerset 47 and Uhl scored from there on the very next play. Frazier’s kick put Middlesboro back on top 18-14.
It was still 18-14 entering the fourth quarter with the Jumpers driving. But Poindexter read an option play beautifully and chopped Lange down for a 9-yard loss. Then on 3rd down Williams passed to Cam Cheuvront for a 17-yard gain, but Pittman stripped the ball away and the Jackets recovered in front of the Somerset bench at the 48. The Briarjumpers were flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct on the play and Middlesboro had a first down at the 43.
A pair of holding calls pushed the Jackets back and their drive ended quickly. Somerset took over at their own 27 with about nine minutes to play and drove 73 yards on 12 plays to take the lead for good.
Castle Williams finished 7-of-13 passing for 128 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Gadberry was just 1-of-9 for five yards and two picks. Lange led Somerset with 56 yards on nine carries while Jones added 41 yards on seven runs. McWilliams had three catches for 77 yards while Cheuvront had three for 26.
For Middlesboro Edwards completed six of ten passes for 64 yards and ran for a net of 32 yards on 16 attempts. Brock had 47 yards on four catches and Poindexter caught two passes for 17 yards.
The Jackets had eight first downs to go along with 218 total yards on offense while Somerset had ten first downs and gained 244 yards. Middlesboro was flagged ten times for 49 yards (four of them were defensive offsides calls on PATs) while the Briarjumpers had 12 penalties for 122 yards including five personal fouls.
Somerset (7-2, 3-0) closes out the regular season Friday at home against Perry Central and will host Shelby Valley in the first round of the playoffs. Middlesboro (3-6, 0-3) visits Lynn Camp Friday and will open the playoffs the following week at Prestonsburg.
“People are going to have to watch out for the Jackets here at the end of the season. If we continue to improve like we have the last two weeks, we feel good about the playoffs,” Frazier said. “We’re going into our last game with the same record we had last year but I think we’re much, much better. These kids aren’t young anymore, they’ve proved it these last two weeks and we can’t say that anymore.”