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In his 12 seasons as John Hardin head coach, Mark Brown has seen his share of tough losses, but Friday night’s loss to Bowling Green might rank at the top of the list.
The Bulldogs have experienced nothing but heartbreak and heartache in the playoffs, and the Purples added another chapter. The Purples used a trick play — a hook and ladder — and then made the conversion with less than 2 minutes to pull out a 14-13 victory and shock John Hardin in the Class 5-A state semifinals.
“It’s a bad loss,” Brown said. “It’s a real sickening feeling.”
John Hardin finished with a 13-1 record for the third consecutive season. Two years ago, the Bulldogs lost to Christian County, 45-20 after leading 20-19 late in the third quarter. Last season, they turned the ball over five times and Bowling Green built a 34-0 lead on its way to a 62-20 rout.
It doesn’t stop there. The Bulldogs lost a heartbreaker to Louisville St. Xavier, 21-20 in the Class 4-A quarterfinals when a conversion pass fell incomplete. In the 2007 Class 5-A quarterfinals, Bowling Green scored with 2 minutes remaining to pull out a 27-23 win and the following season, Christian County scored with 14.6 seconds left to down the Bulldogs, 36-29.
This one was more stinging because it was fresh in their minds.
“I felt like we had it,” said John Hardin junior Patrick Anderson. “We played as hard as we could play. We had them on the ropes the whole game. We were the better team. But you live and learn.”
Bowling Green coach Kevin Wallace couldn’t argue with Anderson’s assessment, but he was also proud of his team’s effort to find a way to win.
“They dominated the football game,” Wallace said. “There is no way in the world we should have won that football game. We got turned away at every angle. John Hardin had every answer the whole night, until the last minute of the game.
“It says something about the resilience of our kids that we are still playing,” he added. “We’re not going to give it back.”
Bowling Green, winner of 29 straight games, advances to the state championship for the second consecutive season. The Purples play Cooper at 3 p.m. Saturday at Houchens-Smith Stadium.
Bowling Green (14-0) trailed nearly the entire game, but came up with a big play to save its season. On fourth-and-9 from its own 26, junior quarterback Devin Hayes completed a 5-yard pass to junior Nacarius Fant, who flipped the ball to junior Blake Pillow. With the Bulldogs flying up to tackle Fant, Pillow raced 69 yards for the touchdown.
The Bowling Green extra point team raced onto the field, but the Purples called a timeout. Following the timeout, Hayes hooked up with Fant on the conversion to give the Purples their first lead at 14-13 with 1:36 remaining.
“We had them beat the whole game,” said John Hardin senior Jalen Fleming. “It was just one of those one-in-a-million plays. I kept thinking, ‘We can’t let this happen again.’ All the emotion just came out of the stadium. It was just a buzzkill.”
John Hardin picked up a first down on the ensuing possession after Anderson completed a 17-yard pass to senior Dorian Collins. After Anderson spiked the ball to stop the clock, he was sacked for a 5-yard loss on second down and his third down pass hit off Collins’ hands to set up fourth-and-15. The Bulldogs failed to convert, which sealed the Purples’ win.
“I thought we were going to win until the final buzzer,” John Hardin senior Wade Holtsclaw said. “It’s one of those freakish plays. They had to pull something out of their butt and we weren’t ready for it. It was just one of those things you see in sports. It was a freak play; that’s all it was.”
It looked like it was going to be a shootout early.
The Bulldogs marched 65 yards on eight plays on their opening possession with Holtsclaw scoring from 13 yards out to give them a 7-0 lead with 7:39 remaining.
Bowling Green answered quickly as Hayes hit Fant in stride for a 53-yard touchdown 38 seconds later. John Hardin junior defensive tackle Matt Elam blocked the extra point.
The teams settled in as the game turned into a defensive slugfest.
After Domonick Brown picked off a Hayes’ pass in the second quarter, the Bulldogs used a seven-play, 53-yard drive to stretch the lead. Anderson scored on a 5-yard option run. The Purples jumped offsides twice on the point after, so John Hardin went for the conversion. Junior fullback Chris Smith appeared to be in the end zone, but the officials ruled otherwise.
The play proved critical because it would have given the Bulldogs a 15-6 lead and probably a date in the state championship.
“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.”
Chuck Jonescan be reached at (270) 505-1759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.