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The John Hardin seniors began this season with one goal — winning the program’s first state championship. That quest came up 96 seconds short.
After leading for more than 41 minutes, the Bulldogs suffered another gut-wrenching playoff loss as Bowling Green scored with 1:36 remaining to pull off a shocking 14-13 victory Friday night in the Class 5-A state semifinals at Bulldog Stadium.
The Bulldogs finished 13-1 for the third consecutive season. This senior class was 53-4 and never lost a regular-season game during its four years. The 53 victories are the most for a John Hardin class.
“This place has meant so much,” John Hardin senior Domonick Brown said. “I would not want to be any place else. The memories we’ve made over the last four years mean so much. We don’t have a state championship, but the memories are the best thing we have.”
Senior Wade Holtsclaw said losing on a hook and ladder when victory seemed to be in their grasp was much more painful than previous playoff losses.
“This sucks to go out this way,” Holtsclaw said. “I love just everything about being a Bulldog. I want to thank all the coaches and my teammates. This has been a great four years. We wanted to win a state championship, but we came up short. Those things happen in sports.”
John Hardin loses a big chunk of its starting lineup to graduation. Only junior quarterback Patrick Anderson and sophomore center Jared Givan are back. The defense outlook isn’t as bleak as junior tackles Kofax Stephens and Matt Elam, junior ends Austin Laing and Marcus Goree, junior linebacker Chris Smith and junior safety Dimitri Cooper return.
“Our defense should be pretty strong,” John Hardin coach Mark Brown said. “We have our entire front back and we have some linebackers coming up. It will be a whole new world next year for Patrick because he’s going to have so much more experience. That’s going to help him a lot. We’ve got some running backs coming up that can get the job done. We have guys like Matt Elam and Austin Laing who will have to play both ways next year.”
Gone on offense are Holtsclaw, fullback Garrett Ray, halfback Jalen Fleming, wideout Dorian Collins, tight end Marquis Kennedy and linemen Chris Doss, Trevante Fletcher, Aaron Gatlin and Anthony Hollin. Holtsclaw, Ray and Fleming accounted for more than 2,500 rushing yards, while Collins became the program’s first 1,000-yard receiver.
The defense loses linebackers Domonick Brown, Fleming and Ray, cornerbacks Dewayne Evans and William Parker and safety Eric Avant. Brown is the program’s all-time leading tackler, while Fleming and Ray were two defensive standouts the last three years.
“They’re a good bunch,” Mark Brown said of the seniors. “They took it so serious. I’ve never had a team call their own meeting and they had their own meeting on Thursday. They wanted to win. I can’t say enough good things about these seniors.”
Adding more uncertainty around the program is Mark Brown’s status. He has hinted this season was going to be his final one, but he declined to speculate on it following Friday’s loss.
Despite all that, the Bulldogs are confident they will come back just as strong next season. If anything, they’ve been through this before and have heard the chatter about their falloff.
“Just like every year, people don’t think we’ll be good next year,” Anderson said. “We’ll do the same thing next year. Not much will be expected next year, but we’re going to keep working and come back ready for next season. That doesn’t change around here.”
Elam said it’s up to the underclassmen to carry on John Hardin’s winning tradition.
“We have Pat and the whole defensive line back,” Elam said. “We have a lot of good players coming back. It’s our job to keep it going. We’ll come back and have a heckuva season next year.”
Chuck Jones can be reached at (270) 505-1759 or email@example.com.