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John Hardin’s ground attack didn’t have success against Oldham County like it had in previous weeks, but junior quarterback Eli Mitchell and the Bulldogs proved they are capable of beating teams through the air.
Mitchell threw for 256 yards and three touchdowns to lead John Hardin to a 41-17 victory over the Colonels in the second round of the Class 5-A playoffs Friday night at Bulldog Stadium.
John Hardin (12-0) advances to meet Anderson County (9-3) in the Region 2 championship next Friday. The Bearcats, who will host John Hardin, routed Bullitt Central, 42-7 in the second round.
Mitchell’s 256 yards were the third-best in the program’s history and second only behind Jerren Morning’s 262 yards for a playoff game. Mitchell completed 8-of-14 passes and was intercepted once.
The big beneficiary was senior Paul Pickerrell, who caught three passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns. His 92-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter set a school record for the longest scoring completion.
Pickerrell wasn’t the only Bulldog to have a big night. Junior halfback Jeremy Harness caught three passes for 93 yards and one touchdown. He also rushed for 95 yards and one score on eight carries.
John Hardin’s rushing attack produced 235 yards, nearly 100 yards below its average. The Bulldogs didn’t have 100-yard rusher for the first time this season. Junior fullback Quensie Brown gained 66 yards on 11 attempts, while senior halfback Landon Savoy was held to 48 yards.
Oldham County, which has lost to John Hardin three consecutive years in the playoffs, took a 3-0 lead on Jake Weigel’s 38-yard field with 5:43 remaining in the first quarter.
After sputtering on their first possession, the Bulldogs put together a 10-play, 67-yard drive with Harness capping the drive with a 5-yard run. A key play was a third down conversion when Mitchell hooked up with Pickerrell for 19 yards to jump start the drive.
John Hardin stopped the Colonels on fourth-and-11 from Bulldog 31 and the Bulldogs pounced. After runs of 24 and 11 yards by Harness and Savoy, Mitchell connected with a wide-open Pickerrell for a 34-yard touchdown to stretch the lead to 14-3 with 9:03 left before halftime.
The Bulldogs extended the lead to 28-3 at halftime by scoring on their next two possessions. Savoy scored from 5 yards out to finish off another three-play drive and Mitchell tossed a 92-yard touchdown to Pickerrell, who had slipped behind the defense.
It didn’t get much better in the second half for the Colonels as John Hardin capped off its first two possessions of the second half with touchdowns to build a 41-3 lead. Mitchell had a 41-yard scoring strike to Harness and Brown had a 3-yard touchdown run.
Oldham County scored twice in the final quarter, but by that time, the Bulldogs had the win firmly in hand.
There was a scary moment in the second quarter when Oldham County junior Garrett Wilder evidently lay motionless on the ground and had to be taken to Hardin Memorial Hospital. There was no update on Wilder’s condition.
Chuck Jones can be reached at (270) 505-1759