Elizabethtown was 12 yards and a PAT away from a 32-6 lead late in the second quarter.
“We were almost clocked,” LaRue County senior Dailliss Cox said.
Senior Hayden Waddle stepped in front of an offering by Panthers sophomore quarterback Clay Games on second-and-9 at the goal line to stop the bleeding, so to speak.
“That was massive. The whole game got switched right there. Then we go score,” Coach Josh Jaggers said.
“I just broke on that ball really well. It was a pretty exciting moment,” Waddle said. “They were really close for a touchdown. I’ve been at free safety all week, switching to corner when needed to. It was a great game.”
Exciting and, quite literally, game-saving.
“The game changed a lot right there,” senior Anthony Adkins said. “We were saying that we needed to get a stop there somehow. Instead of us getting a turnover on downs, Hayden got a pick and that’s even better.”
Adkins went on a 67-yard run, and one play play later, went in from the 3 to make it 25-12 (after the second two-point conversion run failed) with 1:42 left before halftime.
“One play makes a difference in any sport,” Hawks senior center Chase Baker said. “One play is everything. It all comes down to who wants it more on that play.”
“This game was on the edge and Hayden made a helluva play,” Jaggers said.
Elizabethtown junior Joseph Becherer scored on a 4-yard run with 2:08 left in the third period — set up after LaRue County’s fifth turnover — and the hosts held a 32-12 lead.
Life looked really good for the Panthers.
“We knew they were gonna score (during the game),” LaRue County senior linebacker Zach Duvall said. “We realized it was now or never.”
The defense changed looks and personnel and Elizabethtown had little success in the fourth period — 11 rushing yards on nine plays.
“We put people where we needed people,” Duvall said. “We adjusted the fronts. We put pressure on him (Games) and did our thing.”
Senior Russell Young dove in from the 1 just 29 seconds into the fourth quarter to make it 32-18.
The defense then held Elizabethtown senior Trayjan Bradley — who had 76 yards on 16 carries — short of the first down on fourth-and-1 from the LaRue County 39 and the Hawks took over with 9:02 left in the game.
The Panthers’ next possession came with 31 seconds left in the game after Adkins scored on a 13-yard run on a fourth-and-3 from the 13 — and they were trailing 40-32.
The Hawks had back-to-back-to-back possessions without Elizabethtown taking the field on offense thanks to recovering two onside kicks — the first after Jeremiah Belton’s 43-yard touchdown run with 7:59 left in the game and the second after Adkins’ 5-yard run with 4:39 showing.
“We have to keep our heads up the whole time and when something good like that (interception) happens, it blows the crowd up, blows us up and momentum rolls and rolls and this happens,” Duvall said.
Elizabethtown finished with 349 yards of offense, but had 211 of that (60.4 percent) in the first 12 minutes.
“I didn’t know what was going on,” Cox said. “In practice I felt like we were prepared, and I guess we weren’t. But the defense just kept at it and kept getting after it. We pulled it out somehow, someway. You can’t ask for a 20-point swing, but that’s what we got.”
LaRue County scored 28 points in the fourth quarter to advance to next week’s Class 3-A state semifinals at Louisville Central, a 26-0 winner over Russell.
The Panthers totaled 58 yards in the second period and 69 in the third.