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The John Hardin football program lost some of its luster after last season’s embarrassing 62-20 loss to Bowling Green in the Class 5-A state semifinals. Everything it had accomplished in recent years was wiped away with one loss.
Yes, it was humiliating. Yes, it was probably the worst game the program had had since its first few years. But don’t take anything away from that Bowling Green team, which was one of the best in recent memory. The Purples were the second-best team in the state to highly regarded Louisville Trinity. There was no question they were the better team.
So when the two teams met again Friday night at Bulldog Stadium in the same round of the playoffs, many assumed another Bowling Green rout was coming. John Hardin couldn’t slow down the Purples, much less stop them. The Bulldogs wouldn’t be able to move the ball against Bowling Green’s vaunted defense. Another blowout was imminent.
Or was it?
The Bulldogs restored the program’s image even though they walked off the field with a 14-13 loss. For 46 minutes, they went toe-to-toe with the defending state champions. John Hardin was the better team, although the scoreboard didn’t reflect it.
It took a trick play – a hook and ladder – and a clutch 2-point conversion with 1:36 left to propel the Purples to a hard-fought victory, one that looked in doubt for much of the night. For nearly 365 days, the Bulldogs have heard how they aren’t one of the state’s elite programs. They proved those doubters wrong despite losing.
“I feel sorry for them, because they deserved to win this game,” Bowling Green coach Kevin Wallace said.
Even Wallace realizes how fortunate his team was to pull one of the greatest magic tricks of all time out to snare a victory from the jaws of defeat. John Hardin’s defense never allowed the Purples to gain any momentum outside of two long plays which accounted for 127 of their 270 yards. John Hardin’s offense ran the ball effectively with 231 of its 325 yards coming on the ground.
The Bulldogs won this game in every facet but the only one that mattered – the scoreboard. That’s why this loss was such a bitter pill to swallow. It was another heartbreaking and gut-wrenching playoff loss.
Much like in 2005 when a failed 2-point conversion pass allowed Louisville St. Xavier to dodge the upset-minded Bulldogs. Or 2007 when Bowling Green scored with 2 minutes left to get out of Radcliff with a 27-23 victory. Or the following year when Christian County broke John Hardin’s hearts with a touchdown with 14.6 seconds left for a 36-29 victory.
“It’s one of those things that happen in sports,” John Hardin senior Wade Holtsclaw said. “You see it all the time where the better team doesn’t win. We were the better team. We just all have to get over it and move on.”
The Bulldogs were exactly that — a team. John Hardin has had more talented teams. The program has had more skilled individuals. But this might have been the program’s best team.
Every individual bought into the team concept, especially in the playoffs. There were gifted players like senior linebacker Domonick Brown, senior fullback/linebacker Garrett Ray, senior halfback/linebacker Jalen Fleming, junior defensive tackle Matt Elam, junior quarterback Patrick Anderson, Holtsclaw and others. But they placed the team before themselves and it showed, never more so than Friday’s loss.
“They started playing like a team for the first time in a long time,” John Hardin coach Mark Brown said. “About midway through this season, they really became a team and I think you really saw that in the playoffs. They didn’t care about anything but winning. This was a great team. They didn’t win, but those are the breaks. Sometimes in life things don’t go your way. You just have to pick yourself up and keep going.”
That certainly applies to John Hardin.
After last year when things were at their lowest and things looked the bleakest, the Bulldogs kept going and recaptured creditability despite losing.
The Bulldogs showed they are one of the state’s elite programs despite what the scoreboard said.
Chuck Jones is the sports editor for The News-Enterprise. He can be reached at (270) 505-1759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.