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No team has seemed to have an answer for slowing down the Bowling Green offense the last two years until Friday night.
The John Hardin Bulldogs found a way to do that, but unfortunately, it wasn’t enough as the Purples made enough plays – three to be exact – to pull out a 14-13 victory in the Class 5-A state semifinals at a packed Bulldog Stadium.
“We played a heckuva defensive game,” John Hardin junior Matt Elam said. “We thought we had it. We let up on just that one play. It was a silly mistake and it cost us big.”
The Bulldogs limited Bowling Green to 270 yards of total offense. It was the Purples’ lowest output of the season, not counting the Henderson County game which was called in the second quarter because of weather.
Bowling Green was held to its lowest output during its 29-game winning streak. The Purples had scored 20 or more points during that span. This was their lowest total since a 14-10 loss to Christian County in 2010.
“We came together at the right time,” said John Hardin senior Domonick Brown, who came up with an interception which led to a touchdown in the second quarter. “We pretty much shut them down. We put a lot of time in watching film and going over the scouting report. We knew what we had to do and we executed it. I couldn’t be much more proud of this defense.”
Trailing 7-0, Bowling Green scored on its opening possession when junior Devin Hayes lofted a perfect pass between two defenders and hit junior Nacarius Fant in stride for a 53-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 7-6 after Elam blocked the extra point.
The Purples couldn’t get anything going on their next eight drives – two ended with interceptions and six with punts.
“We’ve got a pretty good defense to start with,” John Hardin coach Mark Brown said. “We knew they wanted to throw the ball first and run the ball second. Our three down linemen did a heckuva job getting pressure. Our linebackers did a great job. We had a pretty good defensive game plan.”
The Purples, though, did just enough to escape with the win. With 2:49 remaining, they took over on their own 25. On first down, Hayes was sacked for a 6-yard loss. He completed a 7-yard pass and then had an incompletion on third down.
On fourth-and-9, Hayes connected with Fant in the right flat for a 5-yard gain. With senior Jalen Fleming ready to make the tackle, Fant never turned to make a move, but flipped the ball to junior Blake Pillow who raced 69 yards for a touchdown.
“When he ran that hitch, I saw everyone run up to tackle him,” Fleming said. “When I saw him pitch it, I had a bad feeling because the corner was close to me and I saw Eric (Avant). No. 15 was fast and so is Eric, but he had a bad angle.”
Bowling Green coach Kevin Wallace elected to go for the win, and after a timeout, Hayes hit Fant in the right flat just across the goal line to give the Purples their only lead at 14-13 with 1:36 left.
“Roll the dice baby,” Wallace said. “Everybody in the building probably knew we were going to throw it to Nacarius. Who cares? We were playing with a backup snapper, who happens to be my son. There was no way I was going to let him snap an extra point that we had to have to tie it. I’d rather have the ball in the hands of Nacarius than Cameron Wallace. I love him ... but it’s true.”
This was all too familiar for the Bulldogs. In 2007, Bowling Green scored a touchdown with 2 minutes left to pull out a 27-23 win and the following year Christian County’s touchdown with 14.6 seconds remaining for a 36-29 victory. Both touchdowns came in the same end zone as Pillow’s.
“To lose in the last 2 minutes like that, it’s indescribable,” Domonick Brown said. “All that effort we put in. We tried our hardest, then one dinky play and they fall into a win. It’s unrealistic and indescribable.”
Chuck Jones can be reached at (270) 505-1759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.