The first 12 minutes and 52 seconds belonged to Elizabethtown.

The rest of the evening belonged to Central Hardin.

The Bruins scored 37 straight points to erase an 18-3 deficit and eventually defeated the Panthers, 57-40 Friday evening at the Elizabethtown Athletic Complex.

“We made some bad mistakes early and they made us pay for them, which is what good teams do,” Central Hardin coach Tim Mattingly said. “We gave them great field positions a couple times and they capitalized. I felt that if we ever got our offense on the field, you saw what happened. Once we got clicking, we got clicking.”

The Panthers jumped out to a quick 12-0 lead.

They took the opening kickoff 80 yards in 11 plays and Joe Becherer went the final 4. After the PAT was missed, the ensuing kickoff bounced off a Bruins player and was recovered by Elizabethtown’s Robert Hope, who eventually caught a 6-yard scoring pass from quarterback Clay Games with 4:15 left in the first period. It was 12-0 after a two-point pass failed.

The Bruins scored with 11 seconds left in the period when Evan Jones connected on a 23-yard field goal.

The Panthers’ TJ Allen went 59-yards on the kickoff return and Becherer scored from the 3 five plays later. It was 18-3 at 11:08 after the PAT was not attempted due to the snap being mishandled.

After that touchdown, Central Hardin safety Chase Elmore barked to his defense, “If we don’t fix this, it’s gonna be a long night.”

“They were just running the ball down our throat,” Elmore said. “Everybody saw that. I was just trying to motivate my guys. Nobody wants to lose to E’town. Nobody over there was OK with the score. Just trying to pick them up a little bit, get a little energy.

“I think we came out and we were so amped. Everybody was over-running stuff. I think the issue was we were too amped up. That’s what we talked about at halftime. We were missing assignments because we were playing so fast we just needed to slow down. Once we slowed down, you saw what happened.”

It was an offensive blitz.

“We started good and we played hard the whole game,” Panthers veteran coach Mark Brown said. “Defensively, we got out of position in the secondary. We knew who they were gonna throw to. We went over it all week long with the scouting report and we still made mistakes. It was third-and-21 and we let a guy get behind us and score and you just can’t do that.

“We had some breakdowns tonight that we usually don’t have.”

Central Hardin scored on its next eight possessions with Deonco Wilkerson and Gavin George scoring the first four of those touchdowns.

“When we throw the ball with the success that we have been throwing the ball — it’s been a lot of reps, a lot of hard work in the summer — our offense can do a lot of things really well and we did that tonight,” Elmore said.

Wilkerson caught a 14-yard pass from Elmore on fourth-and-6 to make it 18-11 at 8:11 of the second period.

It was Elmore-to-George at 2:58 from 29-yards out and the pair hooked up again at 1:08 on third-and-goal from the 21 for a 25-18 halftime lead.

“That’s a big team with a lot of numbers and a lot of experience,” Brown said. “They’re a good ball club.”

The Bruins took the second-half kickoff and went 66 yards on five plays with Wilkerson going the final 46 yards. Kyler Lee’s second two-point run made it 33-18 at 9:43 of the third quarter.

“We finally started playing better defense about midway through the second quarter and I thought at the beginning of the second half our defense stepped up and got them off the field a couple times,” Mattingly said.

“They’re a good football team and I knew they were. They’re very explosive and have some playmakers.”

Central Hardin’s defense held the Panthers to 21 offensive snaps on their next five possessions,

Tre’Jean Sanders went 22 yards for the fifth straight touchdown at 1:34 and it was 40-18.

Becherer scored 31 seconds later on a 52-yard run to stop Central Hardin’s spurt.

“He’s just a tough, hard-nosed player and a good athlete on top of that,” Mattingly said. “They’re well-coached and they do things well. I knew we would have our work cut out for us. I just didn’t think we’d be down 18-3 to get a wake-up call. But we were and our kids responded.

“They didn’t hang their heads, they were more mad at themselves for digging a hole.”

Becherer finished with 171 yards and three touchdowns on 17 carries.

“And he’s not 100 percent,” Brown said.

Central Hardin finished with 284 yards on the ground, 251 of which came in the second half.

“Because of our size, we thought they’d run it on us more than they did,” Brown said of the Bruins’ 13 rushing attempts in the first half. “We didn’t think they’d have that much success throwing the ball on us, but they did. We got out of position.

“We got tired and we couldn’t put any pressure on their quarterback. He had all day to stand back there and throw. When you give a kid all day, he’s gonna pick you apart. He’s a competitor.”

Elmore was 15-for-18 for 306 yards and three scores. He completed six straight passes at one point in time for 162 yards and two touchdowns.

“We were taking what they gave us and that’s what we need to do,” Mattingly said. “And that eventually opened up our running game.”

Wilkerson scored from the 3 and Gabe Ramirez from the 17 on the next two possessions and it was 54-25 with 5:28 left in the contest.

Games found Love Grimes on a 17-yard scoring strike at 4:14 and then hooked up with Josh Martin with 44 seconds left in the contest for the final tally.

George caught six passes for 124 yards and two scores. Wilkerson had four catches for 111 yards and a touchdown — giving him three on the evening — and Shaun Hay had three receptions for 57 yards.

“Gavin goes up and gets stuff. He’s hard to cover because he’s so big and is such an athlete,” Mattingly said.

Central Hardin kicker Evan Jones was 7-for-7 with five extra points and field goals of 23 and 30 yards.

The Panthers’ Camran McNeil had 70 yards on nine carries and Grimes 72 yards on four attempts. Games was 9-for-16 for 69 yards and three touchdowns.

“Clay’s getting better each game,” Brown said.

The Panthers lost senior lineman Zion Gee to a knee injury in the first quarter.

“We’re doing the best we can to patch it together and hold it together,” said Brown, who commented that it was the fourth straight game Elizabethtown has had a player go down to a knee injury. “I’m proud as can be for the kids. They hustled. They played hard and our kids will never quit.”

The Bruins — No. 5 in Class 6-A — moved to 4-0 and have their bye week in preparation for Henry Clay on Sept. 27.

“We’re gonna go back to work and spend two weeks getting ready for them,” Mattingly said.

Elizabethtown — No. 8 in Class 3-A — slipped to 2-2 and visits District 3 foe Thomas Nelson next week.

Mike Mathison can be reached at 270-505-1758 or mmathison@thenewsenterprise.com.

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