PREP FOOTBALL: Christian running game gives John Hardin fits (12/07)

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By Chuck Jones

By CHUCK JONES cjones@thenewsenterprise.com

RADCLIFF — Christian County coach Steve Lovelace and his Colonels have relied on their power running game all year long, and it didn’t let them down Friday night when they needed it the most.

After John Hardin came back to tie the score at 29-29, junior Vashun Banks scored on a 14-yard run with 14.6 seconds remaining to lift the Colonels to a 35-29 victory over the John Hardin Bulldogs in the Class 5-A state semifinals.

The Colonels (13-1) rushed for 338 yards. Senior quarterback James Bauer led the attack with 151 yards on 18 carries. Banks gained 113 yards on 21 attempts, while senior Rontez Manning added 73 yards on 13 tries.

The first half the Colonels rolled up 238 yards on their way to building a 15-8 lead. Christian County’s offensive line, which averaged 263 pounds per player, gave the John Hardin defense fits.

“The first half we were being swallowed up by that line,” John Hardin senior linebacker Caleb Mitchell said. “They were big. It was hard to see around those big linemen and get reads. In the second half, we got a lot better.”

After scoring on three of its first four possessions, Christian County was forced to punt on its next possession, but the Bulldogs couldn’t take advantage of the rare stop.

Christian County built a 29-15 lead, but the John Hardin defense stopped the Colonels on back-to-back possessions, forcing a punt on one possession and stopping them on downs on the other.

“We started stunting a little more and getting people in the gaps,” John Hardin junior linebacker Sammy Smith said. “Everybody was filling the holes. They couldn’t get to the outside and they couldn’t cut back either. Everybody was doing a great job.”

But John Hardin couldn’t stop the Colonels on their final drive. The Colonels drove 73 yards on 10 plays and twice converted on third down to keep the drive alive.

“I was trying to figure out how to stop them, but we couldn’t get it done,” John Hardin defensive coordinator Lance Gregory said. “We couldn’t stop the quarterback. He killed us all night.”

Gregory said the Bulldogs made several adjustments at halftime to try to slow down Christian County’s offense.

“We started to bring a little more pressure and we started to use more run stunts,” Gregory said. “In our base (defense), it was just creating too much space for them to run the ball. When that wasn’t working, we had to try something different.”

After forcing six turnovers in last week’s win over Louisville Doss, the Bulldogs couldn’t come up with a turnover. The Colonels fumbled the ball four times, but they recovered each one.

“It wasn’t bouncing our way,” Mitchell said. “It seemed like the ball was on the field a lot, but we couldn’t get on them. We didn’t get any bounces. You can’t do anything about it, but it’s still tough.”

Chuck Jones can be reached at 505-1759