Jumpers win at Middlesboro in Class 2A playoffs to reach regional title tilt at Prestonsburg
By BRUCE W. SINGLETON, CJ Correspondent Commonwealth Journal
Middlesboro, Ky. —
The Somerset Briar Jumpers Beat the Middlesboro Yellowjackets Friday night for a chance to compete for their fifth straight regional title.
The three seed Jumpers had to travel to the Middlesboro home field to compete against the one seed on a rainy night when the ball was wet, the air was cold, and the competition was tough.
It is a role Somerset hasn’t played in recent years.
For the entire span of Robbie Lucas’s career as Somerset head coach, the team had never lost a district game. Such a record created a perennial one seed, stay-at-home playoff schedule, and the theoretically easiest road to the final four.
But a home loss to Danville on October 11 broke that record and forced the Jumpers into a cruel tie breaker with Middlesboro and Danville. Even though they got to share a piece of the District title, the Somerset players would have to travel for the opportunity to put on their helmets for just 48 more minutes.
This time, it took more than 48 minutes of regulation play to get the job done. An Alex Franklin field goal with 34 seconds left in the game led to a sudden victory tie breaker overtime. When the Middlesboro fumbled the ball, Somerset was able to recover and take home the victory.
There is an old, and often misused saying which is attributed to legendary Alabama football coach, Paul “Bear” Bryant.
“Offense wins games,” the saying goes, “but defense wins championships.”
With its collective back to the wall, the Briar Jumper team came out onto the field and played a game of hard knocks defense featuring no turnovers, forced errors on the other side, and smash mouth but fair football.
That defense was carried by what is known as the “Interior 7” : Senior Haden Fox, Bailey McEnroe, Kagen Skidmore, Devin Griffith, Tanner Gadberry, Bryson Jones and junior Jacobi Gilmore make up the corps that, time and time again stopped the potent Middlesboro offense.
There were two extremely important times when these young men were called upon to play football.
On the clock, 3:20 remained in the fourth quarter. Middlesboro, leading by 3, had it on their own 39 with 4th and 1. The Yellowjackets wanted desperately to hold onto the ball. The clock could be their very best friend and Somerset’s very worst enemy. Somerset had tried, and failed to put the tying field goal on the scoreboard, and the Jackets were determined to keep the score where it was to take home the victory.
Middlesboro called a time out and set its play: they were going to go for it.
But first they were going to try the hard count and get the first down the easy way.
Somerset’s line didn’t flinch. They knew there wasn’t a chance that the ball would be snapped, but even so, the impulse to jump had to be nearly uncontrollable. Fortunately, a season of near misses left the Jumpers primed to do the things necessary to win the ball game, and if that meant they had to stand still, they showed the crowd they were willing to do so.
Middlesboro took another time out, and this time they put the ball in the hands their powerful back and charged the line.
The Interior 7 slammed the door shut.
Acting as one man, the Somerset defense stopped the run nearly the length of a football from its intended target.
And the next time Alex Franklin had the chance to score the field goal, he was ready, willing, and able.
The score tied, and the right to advance at stake, the Yellowjackets used their coin toss win to take the first shot at scoring in overtime. Middlesboro’s Barton, who had been running for yardage all night took it to the 8. Major Edwards tried the coup de grace, but Somerset’s Bailey McEnroe replied with a helmet to the ball, a fumble to the ground and a game ball fumble recovery gift to Devin Griffith.
It was Somerset’s turn to try to score. Will Lange, who has been out for virtually all season took the ball to the 1, then took it to the house.
It was his first touchdown of the season.
It is arguably the most important touchdown any of the Jumpers have scored all season, and propelled the team to the 19-13 win.
“It was what you would expect between two teams,” Robbie Lucas said. “Middlesboro played a heckuvva game. I think it was two teams that didn’t want to go home, and it took the overtime to get everything done. Hats off to Middlesboro. Those kids played their hearts out and they played as hard as they possibly could. They made plays when they had to make plays. We were just fortunate enough to make one more.”
The win gave the Briar Jumpers the right to play in the Regional championship next Friday night at Prestonsburg.
“We don’t know a lot about Prestonsburg right now,” Lucas said. “I know we’ll get a look at them, but I know they’ve got to be a quality team.”
But getting ready for the next game has to take back seat for a little rest and relaxation. The Jumpers and their following faithful have earned the right to take stock of where they are and the adversity it has taken to get here.
And maybe next week, they will get the opportunity to play one more ball game.
“The opportunity to coach these young men for another 48 minutes means a heckuvva lot to me,” Lucas said.
The Briar Jumpers have lost 4 games this season. That’s a lot by Briar Jumper standards, but it seems the guys on the field have gotten the gist of another of those quotes attributed to the Bear:
“Losing doesn’t make me want to quit. It makes me want to fight that much harder.”
From what we saw Friday night, the Briar Jumper football team is finally getting the right idea.
SHS 7 0 3 3 6– 19 OT
MHS 7 0 6 0 0-13
SHS---Bryson Jones 35 run PAT Franklin 8:00
MHS — Jake Brock 11 pass from Donnie Foister PAT Jessie Hoskins 2:24
SHS--- 20 FG Alex Franklin 9:34
MHS — Austin Poindexter 14 pass from Foister PAT 2-point try failed 4:52
SHS--- 20 FG Alex Franklin :34
SHS---Will Lange 1 run
TEAM RUSHING ---
SHS--- Hatcher 8 for 21 for 94 yards
MHS – Donnie Foister 10 for 20 for 167, 2TD
RUSHING— SHS, Bryson Jones 10-60 1TD, Brycen McWilliams 2-2, Braiden McWilliams 1-0, Castle Hatcher 3-3, Will Lange 14-65 1TD
MHS—Donnie Foister 6-7, Seth Barton 19-99, Major Edwards 12-27, Team (-)12
SHS, Cam Cheuvront 4-15, 2TD, Chandler Dobbs 1-23, Will Lange 3-57