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By Steve Wimmer
It was a game for the ages when the Hornets knocked off Owensboro Catholic 30-29 during a thrilling, back-and-forth contest at Hancock County High School’s Schafer–Glover Field Friday. The victory puts the team in the driver’s seat in District 2. It is the first win against the Aces since the 2009 season.
The contest was highlighted by huge plays made throughout the night, and none were more important than the goal line stop made by Xander Early that preserved a one point lead late in the game.
“It feels real good. The kids had to battle back from mistakes and the bottom line is they just kept playing hard the whole game,” HCHS coach Bobby Eubanks said. “The effort is what I’m most proud of.”
The Hornets defense set the tone right off the bat when they stopped the Aces cold on the first offensive series. On third down Logan Willis and Christian Richard got into the Catholic backfield and Richards sacked Aces’ quarterback Lincoln Clancy.
The Hornets offense took possession at their own 34 yard line and proceeded to drive the ball down the field. The triple-option attack was executed to near perfection by quarterback Cole Dixon, who recognized that the Aces were fixed on stopping the inside run. Dixon carried the ball for a first down then utilized his running backs with pitches to the outside. Noah Mize and Darian Clay both had big gains that gave the team a first down inside the Aces’ red zone.
The Catholic defense stiffened and after a penalty Hancock faced a fourth–and–eight from the 12 yard line. The Hornets showed their versatility as an offense when Dixon rolled right and threw a pass toward the back of the end zone where Kaleb Keown was waiting. The 6–foot–5 tight end leaped and made the catch over defenders for the game’s first touchdown. Clay scored the 2-point conversion and the Hornets led 8-0.
The Hornets defense again came up big when they stopped the Aces on a third down pass play deep in Hancock County territory. Luke Garrison made a hit on a receiver causing the ball to flip into the air and Sebastian Fredell dove in to make the interception.
After a Hornets three–and–out the Aces got the ball back near midfield and Clancy immediately went deep. His long pass attempt intended for Braden Mundy fell to the ground, but Clay was called for interference and the penalty gave Catholic life, but it was short-lived.
The Hancock defense held firm and on second down a hard rush resulted in a sack by Garrison and Richards. The Aces later punted the ball away as time expired on the first quarter.
The Hornets began their next series at their own 10 yard line and on second down Dixon went to the air. This time his pass attempt was picked off by Reid Clark, who returned it 22 yards for a TD. The ‘pick-6’ and subsequent 2-point conversion by Mundy tied the score at 8-8 early in the second period.
Hancock County took over at midfield after a nifty kick return by Fredell. That’s when the Hornets began to dominate the line of scrimmage. The ‘O-line’ did its job by creating running lanes that helped Willis do damage. The bruising fullback picked up a first down and Clay stepped in and did the same as the Hornets advanced the ball up the middle.
Coach Eubanks then switched things up, and when Catholic was looking inside the Hornets went outside. Clay took a pitch at the 17 yard line and raced around the left side, knocking over would-be tacklers on his way to the end zone. The spectacular TD run followed by a 2-point conversion by #7 put the Hornets ahead 16-8 with eight minuted remaining in the half.
The Aces later mounted a drive that had reached the Hornets’ nine yard line when Clancy looked right and fired a pass to Mundy, who made an eye-popping, one handed catch for a TD. Mundy then added two points and the game was tied at 16-16 with just over four minutes on the clock.
The Hornets were forced to punt the ball away after the offense was stalled by a penalty, and Catholic was on the move again. The Aces felt they had enough time to score, but a pass attempt by Clancy was intercepted by Early at the Hornets 23 yard line and the teams went to halftime with the score still knotted.
The second half
The Aces were forced to punt on fourth–and–long after Jack Duncan sacked Clancy and a holding penalty pushed them back.
Hancock County took over and Willis and Clay rolled for good yardage up the middle. The Hornets faced a third–and–eight at the Catholic 40 yard line when Clay took the handoff and broke through a big hole made by his offensive line. The play went for 25 yards and Hornets had a first down at the 15 yard line.
Willis carried to the inside the 10 and Clay did the rest. The player known by his friends as “D” showed why he’s considered to be one of the best players in the area when he fought and clawed his way across the goal line for the go-ahead TD. The conversion failed but the Hornets now led 22-16 late in the third quarter.
“Darian was running over people and willing himself into the end zone. He was phenomenal,” Eubanks said. The Aces wanted to answer quickly, but the Hornets we’re going to make them earn it. On first down Duncan blitzed through a hole and hammered a Catholic ball carrier in the Aces backfield. The drive carried over into the fourth quarter and Catholic converted on a fourth down try when Clancy threw a strike to Hunter Small at the Hornets’ 31 yard line. The Aces continued to advance the ball and eventually hit paydirt when Finley Munsey scored from one yard out to tie the score. Luke Payne kicked the extra point and Catholic led 23-22 with 10:54 remaining on the clock.
The Hornets now faced their biggest challenge of the season and they responded. Dixon ran for a first down across midfield and later converted on a fourth–and–two when he sneaked up the middle to the Aces’ 35 yard line. The team was later pushed back on a holding penalty, but it wasn’t enough to stop Clay. The Hornets faced a critical third–and–14 when “D” ran right for a first down to the Aces’ 25 yard line with under five minutes remaining.
Early got the call soon after and the speedster raced around the left side for a first down at the Catholic 12 yard line. On the next play Dixon pitched to Clay and the senior was looking to score. He out run defenders then dove into the end zone for an apparent TD. But, the officials threw water on the celebration when they marked Clay out of bounds at the two yard line. The questionable call by the refs did not deter the Hornets, as moments later Willis rambled up the middle for a 2-yard TD. Clay followed with a conversion run that put Hancock County ahead 30-23 with four minutes remaining on the clock.
The Aces got great field position when the Hornets were called for a personal foul on the kickoff after a player tackled the returner on a fair-catch situation. Willis later made a great tackle in the Aces’ backfield and on third down Aiden Weatherholt sprinted in to sack Clancy for a big loss. Yadi Ochoa got an assist on the play.
The game was on the line now as Catholic faced a fourth–and–23 at their own 47 yard line. Clancy went back to pass and the junior heaved the ball as far as he could… and his prayer was answered when Mundy went up high and pulled the ball down between two Hornet defenders. A completion to Michael Sullivan gave the Aces a first–and–goal and on the next play Clancy ran to his right and into the end zone for the TD.
Ace’s head coach Jason Morris had a decision to make– should he kick the PAT and settle for overtime or go for “2” and the win. Morris rolled the dice and the Aces line up for the conversion. Clancy handed off to Mundy, who ran off right tackle, but when he made his cut toward the goal line Early was there to stop him cold. The play was reminiscent of the goal line stand made during the final seconds of the Hornets playoff win over Catholic back in 1998.
There was still a minute left and the Aces tried for an onside kick, but Landyn Emmick made the recovery for the Hornets. Clay later rambled for a first down to seal the win as time expired on one of the greatest games ever played at Schafer–Glover.
The Hornets improved their record to 5-0 on the season and 3-0 in District 2. Catholic slipped to 4-2 and 2-1 in district play. “This win is the first step to take us to the next level, Eubanks said. “The stop on the goal line was the play of the night!”
The Hornets coaching staff celebrated on the field with the players after the win.
“This is huge for all our staff, too, because we played here and we know how much this win means,” Eubanks said.
The Hornets amassed 320 total yards of offense in the game, including 303 yards rushing. Catholic’s stats show 83 yards rushing and 157 yards through the air for a total of 240 yards of offense.
The Hornets starting offensive line of Trinity Hinton, Aaron Garrett, Jack Duncan, Christian Richards and Jake Frames, along with Kaleb Keown at tight end, gave a performance worthy of praise.
Clay ran 16 times for 132 yards, and Willis gained 100 yards on 23 carries. Dixon had 41 yards on eight carries, Early had 17 yards on eight carries, and Mize ran twice for 13 yards.
Dixon completed one pass for a 12-yard score. Keown made the TD reception.
The Hornets defense gave a terrific performance. They were led by Garrison, who had 11 tackles including two tackles for loss, one sack and one forced fumble. Duncan made nine stops, including three for loss and one sack. Clay made nine stops, and Fredell had seven tackles and one INT. Weatherholt had five tackles, including one TFL and one sack, and Richards had four stops, two TFLs and one sack. Willis had three tackles, with two TFLs and one fumble recovery, Ochoa made three stops, Keown had two stops with one TFL, Mize, Early (INT) and Austin Volocko all made two tackles each.