LOG MOUNTAIN — A pair of one-play drives, touchdown runs of 43 and 17 yards by Deris Cox, gave Louisville Central all the offense they needed to escape with a 14-10 win over Bell County in Friday’s Class 3A regional championship game.
Hayden Gilbert’s 21-yard field goal put the Bobcats up 10-7 just before halftime and both defenses held the other team at bay until early in the fourth quarter.
Central’s Jajuan Hailey brought pressure on a Bell punt and either tipped it or forced Gilbert into hitting a pop up. Demontre Boyd scooped up the bouncing ball just five yards past the line of scrimmage and returned it nine yards to the Bobcat 17. Cox scored from there on the very next play and the Yellow Jackets made the 14-10 lead hold up over the final 10:24.
“I think it was more of a shanked punt, I don’t think we blocked it,” said Jacket coach Tyrann Scroggins. “Demontre Boyd just made a heads up play. He’s a senior and he didn’t want to lose so he saw that ball in front of him and tried to make a play. That was a big turnaround for us.”
Bobcat coach Wayne Mills agreed.
“You can’t give a good team like that a short field and opportunities like that. One play will hurt you in this business,” he said. “I’m so proud of our kids. I’m hurt for them right now because they’ve worked so hard. They wanted this thing, but sometimes in life you come up short. We just have to go back to work again.”
Bell County got off to a great start in the game. They forced a quick three-and-out and then marched 65 yards on ten plays to take a 7-0 lead.
Senior running back Jonathan Polly ran it six times for 43 yards on the drive and junior Austin Caldwell capped it with a six-yard touchdown run. Gilbert’s kick made it 7-0 with 5:30 to play in the opening quarter.
Following an exchange of possessions, Central got the ball at the Bell 43 and Cox found a seam on a trap play off left guard and went 43 yards for a touchdown. Idriss Kera’s kick tied the score at seven at the 1:31 mark of the first quarter.
The Bobcats were driving and picked up a first down on a 3-yard run from D.J. Warwick on the final play of the period. But on the first play of the second, the Jackets sent the house on an A-gap blitz and forced a fumble on the snap. Dominique Howard recovered at the Bell 32.
Central got as far as the five yard line, but on 3rd and two they were called for holding plus an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that pushed the ball all the way back to the 34. Polly broke up the third down pass and the Bobcats took over after a punt to the 12.
Bell ate up much of the rest of the quarter and flipped the field position with another 10-play drive out to the 44. Gilbert’s punt along with terrific coverage from Dylan Cox pinned the Jackets back at their 22 with 1:50 remaining in the half.
William Elliott sacked Sydney Tedford for a loss of nine and a false start pushed Central back to their own 9-yard line.
Polly returned a punt 12 yards to the Jacket 37 as the clocked ticked under a minute. Peyton Collett scrambled for nine yards, then spiked the ball. Polly ran for four and then 12 yards for a pair of first downs. He took the next hand off for five yards and was tackled by his facemask at the eight-yard line. The penalty moved the ball to the four with 6.1 seconds on the clock and Gilbert came on and hit his 21-yard field goal for a 10-7 Bobcat lead.
“We went in at halftime and they had the ball almost 18 minutes and we had it maybe seven. They doubled the amount of time we had the football. We shot ourselves down at the goal line with a holding penalty and then a stupid unsportsmanlike conduct,” Scroggins said. “Bell County’s a heck of a team. They run the ball, they’re big, they block well, they do the right things.”
Both defenses held up well in the second half. The Bobcats went three-and-out on the opening drive of the third quarter and then stopped Central on 4th and short near midfield. Bell was driving later in the quarter but lost a fumble again thanks to that blitz right up the gut. This time Mashile Dozier came away with the lose ball.
“They’ve won four state championships in five years and our kids played toe-to-toe with them,” Mills said. “Coming out of halftime I really thought our kids believed and we were going to win. But again if you make mistakes in big ballgames it’s going to cost you and it did tonight.”
Central picked up a first down and then went to the air. Tedford hit Cox for an 11-yard gain, but Gilbert was there and just took the ball away from him as he came down with it. It was officially called a fumble recovery, but could have easily been an interception and the Bobcats took over at the 32.
Neither team was able to breakthrough until the Jackets got that 17-yard touchdown run from Cox. Cox finished with 150 yards on 21 carries. Along with that 11-yard reception he accounted for 161 of the Jackets 165 total yards. Cox was also instrumental in helping Central keep the clock rolling as he ran it six straight times on their one possession after they took the lead.
“Our offensive line coach is always in my ear: Feed him, feed him, feed him. He really wants the offensive line to get all that glory,” Scroggins said. “He said just keep turning around and give Deris the ball and good things will happen when he runs right and we make the correct blocks.”
Bell got the ball at their own 20 with 4:11 to play and Polly blasted through the line for four big yards on a 4th and one play. But the next play Dozier came in and sacked Collett for a loss of ten. On 3rd and 20, Collett hooked up with Dylan Cox for a 16-yard gain but the Bobcats final run was stopped short of the first down and Central ran out the clock.
Polly led the Bobcats with 134 yards on 31 carries. Caldwell added six runs for 25 yards and Ryan Collett nine for 26. In all Bell County gained 192 rushing yards on 52 carries.
“(Polly) is a great runner. On our scouting report is says we’ve got to know where 5 is at all times. He did some things that was uncharacteristic of us because we couldn’t tackle him. It wasn’t that he was outrunning us, he was just a hard-nosed running back,” Scroggins added.
Bell County ends the season with a record of 10-3. It was the final game for their 18 seniors.
“In my 18 years of coaching this has been the best group I’ve seen as far as just togetherness and family, playing hard for each other and going to class. They’re character kids and they’re definitely a mentor for the younger kids and we can use them as an example for a long time,” Mills said. “I’m proud of our fans. They came out in droves and got behind our team. We came up short, it’s the worst feeling and it hits you right in the gut. This one will hurt for a while.”
Central (11-2) advances to host Monroe County in next week’s state semifinals.
“I said at the beginning of the year this is the best team I’ve had in six years. We’ve won four state championships so that says a whole lot for these guys,” Scroggins said. “We don’t have a superstar on this team, we don’t have an Anthony Wales, Ridge Wilson or Tim Patterson — those guys are in college and doing some things. We just have 107 kids that want to go out and and play and do the right things for the team. They believe in the system and good things happen.”
— — —
Lou. Central7007 — 14
Bell County7300 — 10
BC- Austin Caldwell 6 run (Hayden Gilbert kick) 5:30 1st Q
LC- Deris Cox 43 run (Idriss Kera kick) 1:31 1st Q
BC- Gilbert 21 FG :05 2nd Q
LC- Cox 17 run (Kera kick) 10:24 4th Q
— — —
RUSHING — LC (30-154): Deris Cox 23-150, Darren Powell 2-8, Sydney Tedford 5-(-4); BELL (52-192): Jonathan Polly 31-134, Ryan Collett 9-26, Austin Caldwell 6-25, Peyton Collett 5-4, D.J. Warwick 1-3
PASSING — LC: Tedford 1-6-0-11; BELL: PCollett 1-3-0-16
RECEIVING — LC: Cox 1-11; BELL: Dylan Cox 1-16
First Downs- LC: 4, BC: 10
Penalties-Yards — LC: 10-69, BELL: 3-20
Fumbles-Lost — LC: 2-1, BELL 2-2