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The John Hardin Bulldogs had no problem moving the ball Friday night. Getting into the end zone was a much different story.
The Bulldogs rolled up 325 yards of total offense against an aggressive Bowling Green defense, but missed opportunities and a failed 2-point conversion ended up the difference in a 14-13 loss in the Class 5-A state semifinals.
“I can’t really describe what I’m feeling right now,” John Hardin senior Dorian Collins said. “Everything was going our way and that one play changed everything. There are things we could have done better. There are things we could have improved on. It’s just heartbreaking.”
John Hardin came out with a perfect game plan against the Purples. The offense would show one formation, and then shift the tight end to the other side. The strategy confused the Purples, who base their formation on the strong side, which is the tight end side.
The Bulldogs moved the ball with ease on their opening possession. They had four plays of 10 or more yards, including senior halfback Wade Holtsclaw’s 13-yard scoring run. This came after a holding penalty negated a scoring run by senior halfback Jalen Fleming.
“We saw they line up to the strong side, so we would line up one way and then shift,” John Hardin coach Mark Brown said. “We could run the ball to the side we shift because those players weren’t used to playing on the tight end side. They may have adjusted but we thought that would be easier for us.”
After Bowling Green cut the lead to 7-6, John Hardin put together another long drive, getting into the red zone. On third-and-8 from the Purple 19, senior safety Allen Gonsalves came in untouched and dropped junior quarterback Patrick Anderson for a 5-yard loss. Anderson hooked up with Fleming for a 9-yard gain to stop the drive.
John Hardin used a seven-play, 53-yard scoring march in the second quarter to build a 13-6 lead with 5:43 remaining. Once again, the Bulldogs had big plays with Fleming ripping off 14 yards, senior fullback Garrett Ray 12 and Holtsclaw 13. Anderson also hit Fleming in the right flat and he turned it into a 23-yard gain. Anderson capped the drive with a 5-yard run on an option.
“We knew they were a good defense going in and they did a good job of stunting their linebackers,” Fleming said. “We did a good job of picking them up. We got into the end zone and executed our offense, but we could have done more.”
After two offside penalties on Bowling Green, Brown elected to go for two, sending in the heavy package, which included junior defensive tackle Matt Elam lining up in the backfield. Junior fullback Chris Smith, lined up behind Elam, took the handoff and plowed his way forward, appearing to get into the end zone.
“We’ve watched the film and it’s not even close,” Mark Brown said. “You can put this is the newspaper. Chris was in. There’s no question about it. I don’t care what people think. They can call it sour grapes or whatever. He was in and they cost us. It’s a whole different game if that’s good.”
The Bulldogs rushed for 231 yards led by Holtsclaw’s 109-yard performance. Ray added 56 on 10 carries and Fleming 49 on nine attempts.
“Our offensive line stepped up this week,” Holtsclaw said. “That helped out a lot. They slowed their defense and that allowed us room to run.”
In the second half, the Bulldogs moved the ball into Bowling Green territory on four of their five drives, but didn’t have anything to show for it. On fourth-and-2 on the Purple 27, they were stopped a yard short. They punted three times and their final drive ended on downs.
“We had a couple of chances here and there,” Brown said. “We came up short. We didn’t want to take too many chances because our defense was playing so well. We didn’t want to give them the ball at midfield. We wanted to pin them deep. They just beat us in the last minute.”
Chuck Jones can be reached at (270) 505-1759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.