By BRUCE W. SINGLETON, CJ Correspondent
Songwriter Bob Dylan once asked the musical question, “How many roads must a man walk down, before you call him a man.”
It’s a question the Somerset Briar Jumpers have been trying to answer all season, but Friday night’s win over the Prestonsburg Blackcats should begin to give us an answer.
As a result of their third seed ranking in tournament play, the team had to travel an additional 1051 miles, mostly on the Hal Rogers Parkway this year in order to claim their fifth regional title in a row. Reminiscent of the 1999 miracle four seed team, this group of Briar Jumpers has shown that the easy road is not always the road to success.
The road this season has been fraught with back biting internet Monday morning quarterbacks who second guess the players, the coaches, and whoever else they could blame for the four losses the Briar Jumpers suffered. Of course, the team has been more susceptible to injury than any Briar Jumper squad since the 2003 season.
But playing every playoff game away from home this season has shown the Briar Jumper faithful a squad that has learned from its mistakes, risen to the occasion, and, perhaps more importantly, has healed one wounded limb at a time in order to come back and put the wins on the board when they count the most.
In Friday night’s win, the Briar Jumpers recognized the key was the containment of two players: Quarterback Jarredd Jarrell and Running Back Dalton Frasure. Frasure, who had carried the team on his back for most of the season, was the only Blackcat who scored points on Friday night. He ran for touchdowns of 2 and 4 and took a pass for 5 yards. But it was the elimination of the second half of the double threat quarterback that marked the difference between a win and a loss for the Blackcats. Jarredd Jarrell has been throwing the ball for 167 yards per game this year. Friday, he only threw for 69.
It was the fiery defense that accounts for this difference in the Blackcats’ fortune. Bailey McEnroe was practically inside the quarterback’s shoulder pads all night long, and earned game MVP honors for his performance. Time and again, Jarrell was stopped for losses, time and again, the Briar Jumpers’ secondary prevented the pass from being thrown, and once, in averting a critical would-be-touchdown strike, Cam Cheuvront showed he can deflect the ball as well as he can catch it. Once again, Braiden McWilliams forced a fumble: the only turnover either team made. Once again, that fumble was what it took for the Briar Jumpers to take control of the game and deliver the coup de grace.
But it wasn’t just defense. Castle Hatcher and Bryson Jones each scored scampering touchdowns and Will Lange scored on two long runs after catching the ball. All four touchdowns were reminiscent of the blitzkrieg Jumpers of the past.
“It’s the playoffs,” the Jumpers seemed to say, “and it’s about time.”
Somerset Head Coach Robbie Lucas was happy with the win.
“We certainly won’t disparage a win,” he said, “but it was one of the toughest and ugliest wins we have had this season. I am very proud of how our kids fought back. I thought we were the better team versus Prestonsburg, and we showed it the first couple or three drives. I think it became too easy for us.”
Easy, to be sure.
Somerset scored easily the first two times it had the ball, with one of those scores being on an exciting Wildcat snap to Bryson Jones on his way to the end zone. Meanwhile, the Blackcats were going three and out and giving Somerset easy field position.
At the end of the first quarter, the Briar Jumpers led by fourteen, but the wind was about to change very quickly. The Blackcats scored three times in the second quarter, spending a lot of time on a short field using a quarterback who was deceptive in his moves and brilliant in his execution.
“Our kids got complacent,” Lucas said, “they stopped attacking, and stopped doing the things we had to do. And give Prestonsburg credit: they simply ran the ball right down our throat. They became physical, started pushing us around and we didn’t respond until late in the third quarter.”
True enough, but the Black cats did all the damage they would do during that 21-0 second quarter run. The rest of the game belonged to the Briar Jumpers despite a very very home town clock.
“You could say that,” Lucas said. “There was a play with 1:49 to go that they did not start the clock at all. I guess that’s why you call it home field advantage.”
At least three times, the officials had to take control of the clock and dictate what numbers should be on it. This game gave yet another argument to the notion that playoff clock keepers should be brought in just like officials.
But The Jumpers got out with the win and it is an important one
“The name of the game right now is survive and advance,” Lucas said. “We have to be so much better next week. I can’t even give you a percentage of how much better we have to be. We have to be more disciplined. I know this NCC will be a very disciplined football team. They will not make mistakes. They will not let you come back from 14 down or 7. They won’t miss tackles. They do everything correctly, so we’ve got to up our game a great deal.”
The win gives the Briar Jumpers the opportunity to travel back to Northern Kentucky next week as they take on the private school Newport Central Catholic. Although NCC is not a geographically-limited school like Danville, Somerset, Middlesboro, and most of the rest of the class, they are allowed to compete in the class. This fact has been a bone of contention for years, and the rules aren’t going to change this year, so the Jumpers will have to play the hand they have been dealt.
After all, they have the gift of another 48 minutes and 300 miles on the road.
SHS 14 0 0 14– 28
PHS 0 21 0 0-21
SHS---Castle Hatcher 18 run PAT Alex Franklin 6:32
SHS---Bryson Jones 5 run PAT Franklin 4:19
PHS — Dalton Frasure 4 run PAT Tate Green 10:57
PHS — Frazure 5 pass from Jarred Jarrell PAT Green 1:11
PHS —Frasure 2 run PAT Green 16:3
SHS--- Will Lange 5 pass from Hatcher PAT Franklin 9:05
SHS--- Lange 84 pass from Hatcher PAT Franklin 2:01
TEAM RUSHING --- SHS –108, PHS--- 184
PASSING— SHS--- Hatcher 10 for 19 for 183, 2 TD
PHS – Jarredd Jarrell 8 for 19 for 69, 1TD
RUSHING— SHS, Bryson Jones 8-21 1TD, Castle Hatcher 7-27, 1TD, Will Lange 14-60
PHS—Jarredd Jarrell 27-98, Dalton Frasure 16-84 1TD
RECEIVING— SHS, Cam Cheuvront 2-20, 2TD, Brycen McWilliams 1-27, Will Lange 4-125 2TD, Tanner Gadberry 1-5, Braiden McWilliams1-20, Alex Franklin 1-6
PHS—Chase Ousley 2-29, Chaitlin Jarrell 3-16, Evan Jarrell 1-12, Frasure 2-12 1TD