Friday, November 9, 2018

Rockets hold off Bethlehem for regional berth

Coach Thompson celebrates with senior Gavin
Dickerson after one of his touchdowns.
MARION. Ky. – In the face of adversity, gazing down the barrel of heightened pressure yet armed with high expectations, Crittenden County’s sixth-ranked football team fended off a bit of misfortune and a measure of distress at times to pull out a 33-27 victory over Bardstown Bethlehem Friday, earning a trip to the Class A First Region championship next week at Campbellsville.

It will be the Rockets eighth time in school history to advance this far in the post-season playoffs. Twice they have won regional titles.

This week’s victory came much tougher than most expected and it was the first time the boys had faced much tribulation since losing to Caldwell County nine weeks ago – its only setback of the now 12-week long season.

A pyramid of penalties, three turnovers and some downright luckless bounces put Crittenden’s back against the wall more than once in the regional semifinal against a team that had dealt previous knockout blows to the Rockets – including one a couple of years of ago that still sticks in the craw of those who were there. Among them were this year’s seniors whose perseverance claimed the laurels this go-round.

That so-called meltdown at Bardstwon two Novembers ago was no doubt lingering the minds of many as the Eagles scored three times in the fourth period Friday and closed within six points after Crittenden had led 33-7 to start the final quarter.

Crittenden had eliminated Bethlehem 41-20 in this same round last postseason.

“We responded well,” said first-year coach Sean Thompson. “We needed a game like this and it’s good that it happened when it did, and that we ended up on top.”

Bethlehem has beaten Crittenden three of the five times they’ve met in postseason, and the nightmare of 2016 when the Eagles scored 29 unanswered points in the final frame to beat the Rockets wasn’t far from anyone’s memory as they scored 20 in the final quarter this time.

“We didn’t expect it to be like this,” said senior Gavin Dickerson, who scored two touchdowns on pass receptions in the second half when the Rockets first took command of the game after tailing 7-6 at the break. 

Dickerson credited the coaches' game plan for holding the ship together when seas became rough. 

“We took it for granted and they came out and played with a lot of heart,” he said.

Crittenden scored 27 points in the third period and was ahead by 26 with 10 minutes to go, but an onside kick by the Eagles after they’d scored on a sustained drive gave them a short field that led to a 20-yard touchdown pass by quarterback Ryan Mattingly. It was a two-possession game at that point. Crittenden responded, though, with a nice offensive series of its own, but fumbled in the end zone and Bethlehem recovered for a touchback. Mattingly worked his team down field then threw another TD strike. All of a sudden it was a new ballgame.

Another onside attempt failed, however, when Rocket senior Payton Riley covered the kickoff and the Rockets held it the rest of the way.

“They’re big but they didn’t have the most heart,” said Rocket senior lineman Devin Porter. “We just stayed focused and tried to get first downs and run the clock out.”

Crittenden was flagged for 120 yards in penalties. Two negated would-be touchdowns. Physical the game was indeed and tensions were high. There were a half dozen unsportsmanlike infractions during the contest. Both teams shared in the strained relations. Bethlehem backed up 80 yards for penalties. 

The Rockets struggled to get going offensively in the first half while Bethlehem controlled the ball, largely on the ground. Crittenden had just four possessions in the first two periods and turned the ball over twice on interceptions. 

CCHS quarterback Hunter Boone got on track in the third period, however, and completed 5-of-8 attempts that quarter, including the two touchdowns to Dickerson. Senior running back Devon Nesbitt rushed for 170 yards and two touchdowns, finding a new gear on a blazing burst for a 55-yard score in the second period.

Sophomore Caden McCalister intercepted a pass for the Rockets and senior end Sean O’Leary recovered a fumble after he and a couple of teammates sacked the Bethlehem quarterback in the third quarter. 

Crittenden will travel about three hours next week to Campellsville to face the state’s fifth-ranked Eagles, who beat Russellville 52-13 Friday, opening that game up after a close first half.

This will be Crittenden’s second straight trip to the regional title game. Campbellsville stopped them last year 44-8 at Marion. The Rockets have won the regional crown twice – once in 1985 en route to a state title and again in 2008 before losing to Beechwood in the state semifinal round.

Bethlehem 0 7 0 20
Crittenden 0 6 27  0

B-Ezra Dillard 33 run (Bryce Zielke kick) 7:40, 2nd
C-Devon Nesbitt 55 run (kick failed) 6:44, 2nd
C-Gavin Dickerson 6 pass from Hunter Boone (run failed) 9:10, 3rd
C-Dickerson 13 pass from Boone (Parker Johnson kick) 6:40, 3rd
C-Nesbitt 7 run (Johnson kick) 4:46, 3rd
C-Xander Tabor 26 run (Johnson kick) 1:00, 3rd
B-Ryan Mattingly 1 run (pass failed) 9:49, 4th
B-Lane Peake 20 pass from Mattingly (Zielke kick) 8:13, 4th
B-Dillard 19 pass from Mattingly (Zielke kick) 2:03, 4th

First Downs: Crittenden 16, Bethlehem 18
Penalties: Crittenden 11-120, Bethlehem 10-80
Rushing: Crittenden 34-279, Bethlehem 30-107
Passing: Crittenden 10-23-2, 118 yds., Bethlehem 18-33-1, 170 yds.
Total Yards: Crittenden 397, Bethlehem 277
Fumbles/Lost: Crittenden 1-1, Bethlehem 1-1

Crittenden: Nesbitt 22-170, Tabor 6-64, Dickerson 2-3, H.Boone 4-42. Bethlehem: Dillard 19-114, Buddy Ullrich 1-(-4), Ryan Mattingly 1-(-3).
Crittenden: Boone 9-22-2, 96 yds., Ethan Dossett 1-1-0, 22 yds. Bethlehem: Mattingly 18-33-1, 170 yds.
Crittenden: Dossett 4-47, Dickerson 3-33, Nesbitt 2-31, Payton Riley 1-7. Bethlehem: Lane Peake 6-68, Dillard 4-39, Xaiver Cheek 1-15, Ulrich 1-7, Clay Trusley 4-19, Mason Tucker 2-22.
Dickerson 3 solos, 4 assists; Johnson solo; Joyce 2 solos, 3 assists; Lamey solos; Langston 4 solos, assist; O’Leary 5 solos, 5 assists, fumble recovery; Riley solo, 2 assists; Gobin 2 solos, assist, sack, caused fumble; Jones 3 solos; Phillips assist; Easley 4 solos, sack; McCalister 5 solos, 3 assists, sack, interception; Tabor 3 solos, TFL; Winders 5 solos, 2 assists, TFL.
Players of the Game 
Offense Devon Nesbitt, Defense Caden McCalister, Linemen Ian Ellington and Jake Gibson.
Records: Crittenden 11-1, Bethlehem 4-8