LOG MOUNTAIN — Bell County survived a spirited effort from LaRue County Friday night and pulled away in the second half for a 35-14 win in the second round of the Class 3A playoffs. Senior running back Jonathan Polly ran for 172 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Bobcat comeback.
The Hawks led 7-0 until the Bobcats scored with less than a minute to play in the first half and went up 14-7 on the opening drive of the second half. Bell didn’t lead in the game until the final minute of the third quarter.
“I’ve been worried all week just from watching them on film and watching them play Louisville Central to a 16-8 score. I guess it shows that was no fluke. Coach (Joshua) Jaggers does a great job, he’s an up and coming coach and knows a lot about the game. They were senior dominated and those guys have been in some battles over the years,” said Bell coach Wayne Mills.
A fourth down stop followed by an interception by the Bobcats late in the third quarter swung the momentum and Polly did the rest as Bell County scored the final 28 points of the game.
“Our kids never quit though. Like we talked about last night, we kind of take these games for granted sometimes,” Mills added. “If our kids will respond like they did on that fourth down, they can keep on playing. That was huge.”
LaRue County opened the third quarter with a 7-play, 71-yard drive using the sweep to their left for several big gainers along the way. Caleb Canter scored from 28-yards out on a pitch around the left end, broke a tackle and stayed in bounds on his way to the end zone. Curtis Milby’s kick put the Hawks up 14-7 with 8:39 on the third quarter clock.
Polly returned the following kick 21 yards out to the 49-yard line and the Bobcats answered by going 51-yard on just four plays. Peyton Collett started the drive by picking up 17 yards on quarterback keeper and Polly capped it with a 27-yard touchdown run up the middle. He found an opening in the heart of the Hawk front, then broke a tackle in the secondary on his way to the score. It was 14-14 with 6:55 remaining in the quarter.
LaRue picked up one first down as the moved out to midfield on their next drive, but on another 4th and short play the Hawks were stopped. Bell end Jeffrey Saylor pinched in to block off the hole Canter was heading toward. When Canter cut to turn inside, Saylor punched the ball out with his shoulder. LaRue recovered the ball, but was still short of the first down and turned the ball over at their own 49.
“They just got mad at their selves and said we’ve got to make a stop right here. We made a few adjustments with our ends because they weren’t getting off their blocks,” Mills said. “Jeffrey Saylor made a huge play on that fourth down and blew it up and I think Joe Jackson and the rest of the line came in and finished it off.”
Two plays later, Polly made a sensational run for a 39-yard touchdown. He found room along the left side at the line of scrimmage and once he got into the secondary came to nearly a complete stop to juke one defender then muscled through a Gabe Shirley tackle attempt at around the 20. Back up to full speed, Polly dived into the right pylon of the end zone to cover the final two yards with a man draped on his back. Gilbert’s kick put the Bobcats up 21-14 with 1:04 to play in the third quarter. That was Bell’s first lead of the night.
“That one run might have been the best run I’ve seen up here. You know there have a been a lot of good running backs here through the years, but that kid put us on his back right there,” Mills said of Polly’s go-ahead touchdown. “He was determined and that’s what good character is. I thought all of our backs ran hard once they got going. They stuffed us early but I was really proud of the way we responded.”
On the next Hawk series Dylan Cox tipped a pass once up in the air, tipped it again toward the sideline and made a diving catch just before the ball hit the ground for an interception at the LaRue 16. An unsportsmanlike conduct call pushed the ball to the 8. Ryan Collett ran for five yards on the final play of the third quarter and Polly ran for a three-yard touchdown on the first play of the fourth for a 27-14 lead.
Kyle Lee recovered a fumble on the following kickoff and the Bobcats put the game away with a 34-yard, 6-play march. Ryan Collett capped it with a 9-yard touchdown run and Polly added the conversion to set the final at 35-14.
“They key tonight was just perseverance by a group of young men. They willed their selves to win it,” said Mills.
The Hawks stopped Bell County cold on their opening possession and then drove 76 yards on 12 running plays to take the lead. Quarterback Gabe Shirley finished the drive with a 13-yard run and Milby’s kick made it 7-0 with 3:24 to play in the opening quarter.
Bell County lost a fumble and threw an interception on their next two drives, but the defense held. The Bobcats forced a turnover on downs at their own nine. Justin Warwick came in from his cornerback position to finish off the tackle to stop Kelton Ford short on a 4th and two play.
Polly flipped the field position with a 32-yard run and a pass interference penalty drawn by Tyler Green gave Bell a first down at the LaRue 38. Bell was driving but lost another fumble and the Hawks took over at their own six.
The Bobcats got the ball back with about two minutes left in the half after a punt to the 34. A facemask penalty moved the ball to the 16 and two plays later Polly broke a 10-yard run to the 1. He scored on the very next play, diving over the pile for a 1-yard touchdown with 25 seconds left in the half. Hayden Gilbert’s kick made it 7-7 at halftime.
“(At halftime) I just said guys whatever our attitude and expectations were when we walked out here has got to change. It’s 7-7, it’s a new ballgame and we’ve 24 minutes left to play,” Mills said. “Then we come out and let them march down and score and I was thinking, shoot are we going to respond. But you’ve got to win those tough games somewhere along the line in the playoffs. I hope this has got us prepared for those.”
Ford led the Hawks with 64 rushing yards on ten carries while Canter finished with 56 yards on ten runs and Shirley added 45 yards on five carries. Fullback Matt Hornback added 14 rushes for 48 yards. Shirley was 2-of-10 passing for 16 yards with that interception.
Polly led Bell County with those 172 rushing yards on 21 carries. Ryan Collett finished with 53 yards on 12 runs while Peyton Collett added five runs for 24 yards and Austin Caldwell five runs for 15 yards.
Collett was 2-of-5 passing for 14 yards and an interception with both completions going to Green.
LaRue County ends the season with a record of 6-6. Bell County (10-2) advances to the regional championship game where they’ll host Louisville Central next Friday at 7:30 p.m. The Yellowjackets scored late to pull out a 21-18 win over Wayne County in Friday’s other regional semifinal.
“We’re at home, we fought hard tonight and this will help our kids,” Mills said looking ahead to next week’s game before he was sure of the opponent. “I like our chances.”
— — —
LaRue Co.70 7 0 — 14
Bell County 071414 — 35
LC- Gabe Shirley 13 run (Curtis Milby kick) 1st Q (3:24)
BC- Jonathan Polly 1 run (Hayden Gilbert kick) 2nd Q (0:25)
LC- Caleb Canter 28 run (Milby kick) 3rd Q (8:39)
BC- Polly 27 run (Gilbert kick) 3rd Q (6:59)
BC- Polly 39 run (Gilbert kick) 3rd Q (1:04)
BC- Polly 3 run (kick fail) 4th Q (11:55)
BC- Ryan Collett 9 run (Polly run) 4th Q (9:07)
— — —
First Downs: LC- 13, BC-14
Rushes-Yards: LC- 40-215, BC- 43-264
Passing: LC- 2-11-1, BC- 2-5-1
Pass Yards: LC- 16, BC- 14
Punts-Avg.: LC-2-30.5, BC-2-38.5
Fumbles-Lost: LC- 4-3, BC- 3-3
Penalties-Yards: LC- 9-100, BC- 2-20
— — —
LaRue: Kelton Ford 10-64, Caleb Canter 10-56, Matt Hornback 14-48, Gabe Shirley 4-45, Dalton Lawson 1-2; Bell: Jonathan Polly 21-172, Ryan Collett 12-53, Peyton Collett 5-24, Austin Caldwell 5-15.
LaRue: Shirley 2-10-1-16, Ford 0-1-0-0; Bell: PCollett 2-5-1-14.
LaRue: Ford 1-12, Hornback 1-4; Bell: Tyler Green 2-14.