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In their best defensive effort of the season, the Central Hardin Bruins got a big contribution from an unlikely source.
Sophomore linebacker Aaron Chandler came off the bench for injured senior linebacker Ryan Kelly and made sure the drop off was minimal as the Bruins defense pitched a shutout after the first quarter.
Kelly limped off the field with an ankle injury with less than 2 minutes left in the first half and did not return. In his absence, however, Chandler made his presence felt.
On two occasions, he combined with sophomore linebacker Dalton Parr to stop McCracken County running back Jordan Troutman for a loss. After McCracken County safety Morgan Alexander’s third interception, Chandler stanched the bleeding. He tackled Rasheed Jones for a 3-yard loss to open the drive and two plays later, he picked off quarterback Zyaire Hughes and returned it 15 yards to the Mustang 13.
The Mustangs entered the game averaging 45.6 points and 450.5 yards per game. The Bruins held them to 288 yards, 51 of which came on the final three plays with the outcome already decided.
“Our defense came up and played scrappy, scrappy football,” Central Hardin coach Mark Perry said. “They clawed and they made play after play. As a coach, you just watch. Our defensive staff did a phenomenal job with the game plan.
“We gave up a play here or a play there, and (our defense) just got back out and got them off the field.”
Senior defensive lineman Josh Krupinski, meanwhile, showed little fear in his first game playing with a hyper-extended right elbow. He had a blocked punt which resulted in a safety, a sack and a tackle for loss.
“Every play I felt it, but you have to suck it up and play for the team,” Krupinski said.
SPECIAL TEAMS ESPECIALLY GOOD. The Bruins may not have won without several important plays on special teams.
In addition to Krupinski’s blocked punt, Central Hardin capitalized on a solid kick return, an onside kick and timely punting.
After the Mustangs tied the game at 8, junior Stephen Lindsey returned the ensuing kickoff 33 yards to the Mustang 39. A personal foul penalty at the end of the play moved the ball up to the 24, and the Bruins needed just three plays to score.
On the next kickoff, sophomore Seth Bryan recovered sophomore Garrett Kasey’s onside kick as Central Hardin scored 15 points without McCracken County touching the ball.
With the offense struggling after the first quarter, sophomore Justin Rouse became a weapon for the Bruins with his rugby-style punts. His 58-yarder in the third quarter was one of several to flip the field, and it led to Krupinski’s blocked punt.
“It’s the kind of stuff that’s won us games all year,” Perry said.
MISLEADING NUMBERS. Junior Chase Hicks, who played the entire game at safety, took over in the offensive backfield for injured sophomore running back Xavier Arnette in the third quarter. While his numbers weren’t impressive (18 yards on eight carries), Hicks made an impact at an opportune time.
His 13-yard run at the start of the fourth quarter got the Bruins into Mustang territory and set up junior quarterback Koree Krupinski’s 31-yard touchdown pass to Rouse, which made it a two-score game. Considering Central Hardin had just 19 yards on six second-half possessions to that point, Hicks’ run was a much-needed spark.
Ryan O’Gara can be reached at 270-505-1754 or firstname.lastname@example.org.