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The Central Hardin Bruins have been counted out before, so they don’t give it a second thought when people wonder how they can possibly win at Scott County without their starting quarterback.
“The biggest challenge is we have to step up and play like we know how,” Central Hardin senior linebacker Ben Milligan said. “We know we can win. We’ve won this year without him (Kevin Humphrey), actually we’ve won two games. It’s the playoffs and we’re ready to go.”
Central Hardin has had an amazing season, especially by its standards. Not given much attention in the preseason, the Bruins have won a school record nine games and they challenged for the Class 6-A, District 2 championship, finishing second to Meade County.
Last week, Central Hardin won its first playoff game – a 41-21 decision over Lexington Bryan Station – since 1997 despite losing Humphrey to an injury in the first half. Now, the Bruins head to Scott County, which won the District 7 title and is 8-3 overall, tonight at 7:30.
“We have a lot of heart,” Central Hardin senior wideout/defensive back Tristan Long said. “Throughout the game, we find ways to overcome adversity. It’s about soul searching, really.”
Central Hardin isn’t ready to panic even though Humphrey won’t be under center. Senior Russ Morse, who starts at middle linebacker, will take over and the team’s just as confident with him at quarterback.
“It helps us a lot because it showed us we could do it,” Morse said. “We’ve done it before. I have experience at it now and I know what I need to do for us to win. We just want to keep going and making history here.”
The Bruins have shown a resiliency not often seen in this program. They held on for a 28-26 win over Elizabethtown early in the season. Trailing 9-7 at North Hardin on Sept. 23, the Bruins rallied for a game-winning field goal in the closing minutes.
Two weeks later, Central Hardin fell behind 21-7 at Nelson County after Humphrey, the Bruins’ starting quarterback, left on the opening drive of the game with an injury. Central Hardin came back from a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter to force overtime where the Bruins pulled out a 35-34 victory.
The next week without Humphrey, the Bruins found themselves in another hole, trailing Greenwood 20-10 in the fourth quarter. But they stormed back, scoring 10 points in the final 3 minutes to force overtime, where they won, 26-23.
“We could have easily been 5-5 if we have a break here or there go the wrong way,” Central Hardin coach Mike Lawson said. “But we’re 9-2 and it’s a credit to the kids.
“Going into it with the experience level we had, we thought we had an opportunity to be good,” he added. “But we struggled early, especially in the scrimmage against Bardstown. We looked bad and we wondered (about the season). I’m really happy for the kids. To finish second in the district and to win in the playoffs, I’m happy for them. It’s good for the school and the community.”
The turning point of the season was the win at North Hardin. Central Hardin led for most of the game until the Trojans took a 9-7 lead with 5:03 remaining. The Bruins, aided by North Hardin penalty and a long completion from Humphrey to junior Jared Cromartie, put together a game-winning drive to set up senior John Wallace for a 29-yard field goal.
“They was really big and set our season,” Long said. “We said that would make or break our season. We want to be the team remembered for good things like beating North Hardin and Nelson County and winning in the playoffs. We try hard and we want to prove its not the same old Central Hardin.”
Morse played as a sophomore, but sat out last season to focus on baseball. He returned to the team this season and immediately noticed a difference in the Bruins.
“It all starts with preparation,” Morse said. “Two years ago until now, you could tell a big difference. The mental preparation was the big difference. Before games two years ago, guys weren’t focused. Now, everyone’s focused on the game and what needs to be done. Our mental preparation has come a long way.”
The players said that never-say-die attitude can be traced back to Lawson and his coaching staff, who deserve just as much credit for Central Hardin’s surprising season.
“He’s made us more of a team,” Long said. “We play as a team now and he’s instilled in us to play with more heart. But he really brought in the team aspect.”
Chuck Jones can be reached at (270) 505-1759