Friday, November 22, 2019

Rockets strike out in quarterfinal round

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – On a covetous night in Louisville, Crittenden County came up short on its mission, but junior running back Xander Tabor set a single-season rushing record that had stood for 56 years.

The seventh-ranked Rockets lost 36-22 to undefeated and second-ranked Kentucky Country Day in the quarterfinal round of the Class A state tournament, leaving the CCHS coach and players envious of an elusive piece of hardware.

Rocket senior Riley Gobin consoles sophomore
lineman Dylan Yates after the loss.
Yes, Tabor got his record, rushing for 139 yards – and accounting for 79 percent of Crittenden’s offense – but there was no joy in Mudville for the Mighty Rockets had struck out – again.

For Crittenden, it was a third straight disappointing berth in the state’s Final Eight. The Rockets have played in nine regional championship games in its 62-year football history, including three in a row. Longing for a taste of at least one more week of high school football, second-year Rocket head coach Sean Thompson made a confession to his team after losing at Louisville.

“My mindset has changed,” he revealed. “It’s been about district championships, bringing that district championship home. But the district championship is really meaningless when you continue to get to This Game and don’t finish.”

“This Game” may well become the battle cry for a Rocket football program – and a young coach – that longs for higher esteem in Class A football. Sure, Crittenden has gained a measure of respect by winning three straight district titles and getting to This Game in 2017, 2018 and 2019, but that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow remains evasive. Thompson is armed with a junior class which is truly the heartbeat of this team. Behind them, Crittenden finished 10-3 this season, and Thompson knows they should be back – and should indeed be equipped for greater laurels in 2020.


“This has got to be our new goal. We want to bring this trophy home,” he said watching over his shoulder as the Bearcats jubilantly carried the regional hardware off the muddy morass of its home field Friday night.

Tabor has rushed for 1,616 yards this season, breaking the longstanding record of 1,581 yards set in 1963 by Jimmy Hopper, who also played on a team that fell short in the regional championship. For Tabor, the record was certainly a nice feather in his cap, but he, too, covets more.

“Records are nice, but we wanted this win,” he said. “I didn’t come out here to break this record, I wanted us to win the regional championship.”

Xander Tabor rushed for 139 yards and broke the
single-season rushing record.
Crittenden’s hopes of that crown appeared fleeting as early as the first play from scrimmage when KCD’s Dorian Heard busted through the center of the Rocket defense and went 55 yards for a touchdown. He scored again six minutes later and the hosts were ahead 15-0 in the top of the first.

Thompson praised his team for clawing back in it. Tabor scored on an 18-yard run in the second period and a 52-yarder in the third. After three quarters, it was a one-touchdown game, but the field conditions worsened and Crittenden (10-3) became absolutely one dimensional. The Rockets were down 22-15 and forced the Bearcats into a quick three-and-out for the only time in the game. But Crittenden fumbled the ball away two plays later and KCD scored early in the fourth period for a 29-15 edge.

If Crittenden had not needed an effective arial assault to that point, the passing game was an absolute must by then. With the clock working against them, the Rockets needed to score twice, and in a hurry. Sophomore quarterback Luke Crider, who had earned his wings the past few games after becoming the starter in Week 8 of the regular season, couldn’t find his mojo at Country Day. The upstart QB, whose efficiency had been impeccable in the first two rounds of the playoffs, was grounded.

“Look at these conditions,” Thompson said searching for an answer, if not an excuse. “The footing is so bad, our receivers couldn’t even cut to get on their routes.”

Snow and heavy rains at the KCD field over the last couple of weeks had left it a mushy mess.

Crittenden had zero net yards passing as Crider was 2-for-12.

On the ground, KCD’s throw-back offense that resembles the-now-ancient single-wing was unhampered by the muck. Heard, one of two seniors in the backfield, rushed for 221 yards and his classmate Nick Smith added 101. The Bearcats slugged 348 yards and five rushing touchdowns against a Rocket defense that hadn’t yielded a single touchdown on the ground in the previous three games, and only nine all season before KCD.

Kentucky Country Day (13-0) kept the chains moving, picking up 18 first downs to Crittenden’s seven. That type of ball-control offense was exactly what the Rockets had feared. And the manifestation of those fears was precisely what put the regional championship trophy in the hands of the enemy and left the Rocket coach hankering for another shot.

“We’re going to be a very old, mature team next year. This has got to be our goal. We’ve got to figure out a way to get back here (To ‘This Game’) and we have to figure out a way to get this trophy. And that becomes the goal every day, starting tonight.”

The coach doesn't appear as patient as Rocket running backs had been chasing the single-season rushing record. After all, this was strike three – in a row. Next year, will mean a new at bat.

Crittenden County 0 7 8 7
KY Country Day 15 7 0 14

KCD-Dorian Heard 55 run (Jalen Todd run) 11:45, 1st
KCD-Heard 2 run (Zach Shonwetter) 6:08, 1st
CC-Xander Tabor 18 run (Noah Perkins kick) 11:22, 2nd
KCD-Heard 5 run (Shonwetter kick) 3:25, 2nd
CC-Tabor 52 run (McCalister pass from Luke Crider) 10:05, 3rd
KCD-Nick Smith 32 run (Shonwetter kick) 10:10, 4th
KCD-Heard 16 run (Shonwetter kick) 5:29, 4th
CC-Hunter Jones 9 run (Perkins kick) 2:31, 4th

First Downs: CC 7, KCD 18
Penalties: CC 5-35, KCD 9-95
Rushing: CC 31-177, KCD 49-348
Passing: CC 2-13-0, 0 yds., KCD 5-9-0, 54 yds.
Total Yards: CC 177, KCD 348
Fumbles/Lost: CC 3-1, KCD 3-1

Crittenden: Tabor 18-139, Braxton Winders 8-26, Jones 2-14, Caden McCalister 2-3, Crider 1-(-5). KCD: Heard 25-221, Drew Russell 1-5, Aidan Yerasimides 1-(-1), Jalen Todd 1-3, Nick Smith 14-101, Nathan Caldwell 5-25, Luke Russo 2-(-6).
Crittenden: Crider 2-12-0, 0 yds., Winders 0-1-0. KCD: Smith 1-1-0, 5 yds., Russo 1-2-0, 5 yds., Heard 3-6-0, 44 yds.
Crittenden: Preston Turley 1-(-2), McCalister 1-2. KCD: Smith 3-30, Heard 1-5, Russell 1-19.
Jones 3 solos, 3 assists; Phillips 2 assists; Easley 4 solos, 2 assists; Ellington 3 solos, 3 assists; McCalister 11 solos, 5 assist, 2 TFLs; McGowan 6 solos, 9 assists; Tabor 5 solos, 2 assists, TFL; Turley assist; Winders 3 solos, 5 assists, fumble recovery; Bailey 2 solos, 5 assist; Carlson solo; Derrington solo; Sharp assist; Yates 6 solos, 3 assists, 2 TFLs; Morgeson 7 solos, TFL.