By BRUCE W. SINGLETON, CJ Correspondent
The Somerset Briar Jumpers fell one point short of a trip to the Class 2A State Championship Friday night as they lost to the defending State Champion Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds 49-48.
It was a game where the lead changed 6 times.
It was a game where the last team to have the ball was almost certainly going to be the winner.
It was a game that those who care the most about the Somerset football program don’t want to relive.
It was also a career game for several of the players. It was a team game from the first snap of the ball, with the long-anticipated powerful offensive combination coming together for the first time this year.
It was always not so apparent that the Briar Jumpers would have the opportunity to play this game.
The first contest of the season against Pulaski County was a disaster. But of course, who knew then that the Maroons would end up driving one of the most potent machines in the history of the county, perhaps even the state.
The always dangerous Belfry Pirates and Hazard Bulldogs handed the Jumpers two more early losses, and by September 13, the Briar Jumpers were wearing their 1-3 season record like a noose. Many of the Briar Jumper “faithful” were ready to declare the season a lost cause.
But the kids didn’t.
They fought back from injury and a poor tournament seeding number.
And what did not destroy them made them stronger.
The game Friday night was a career performance for Sophomore Quarterback Castle Hatcher. He threw the ball 26 times, connected on 21 of them and his receivers gave him the reward of 362 yards and 6 touchdowns. Indeed, he threw 2 interceptions, but the accuracy otherwise was more than any reasonable fan could expect or ask for.
Senior Wide Receiver Cam Cheuvront caught the ball 9 times for 186 yards and danced and juked after he carried the ball enough that he was able to cross the goal line 3 times. He is still in the running for the leading touchdown receiver in Class 2A. The jury is still out on whether he will lead in the class in total yardage, but he is very, very close. He will be very high on the list in both categories on the overall state level.
Senior Alex Lange, who is listed on the roster as a running back, turned in a blistering 2-touchdown 118-yard game on only 6 receptions. When he wasn’t catching the ball, he was running and acting the decoy so others could catch it. And of course, he was blocking for his teammates.
And we must mention Senior Running back Bryson Jones, appeared out of nowhere to run into the end zone untouched as the Briar Jumpers took the lead during the last overtime. And earlier in the game, just when you thought the play was over, there was Braiden McWilliams catching the ball in the end zone.
But offense was not the only thing that was happening right. On the whole, the defensive squad was aggressive, mean, and in-your-face. The officials apparently thought so, as they handed out penalty flags 11 times for 125 yards. Always a judgment call, the aggression fouls are something that will often arrive as a by-product of good defense. And if the defense had not been so aggressive, there is no telling what the powerhouse NewCath offense would have produced.
Senior Alex McGuffey may have played the game of his career. So did Senior Haden Fox. And of course, the guys who have gotten much well-deserved attention, Bailey McEnroe and Kagen Skidmore delivered punishing blows to the Thoroughbreds all night long.
Once again, Addison Thompson kept the pass receivers honest. Indeed, the NewCath quarterback had such a hard time finding receivers for most of the night that he was forced time and again to put the ball into the hands of one of the ground pounders.
For the first time this year, most of the fans on the sidelines can truly say the Briar Jumpers worked their tails off in order to find the win.
Somerset head coach Robbie Lucas was complimentary of his team members.
“This was the toughest game I’ve ever coached in,” he said. “The kids played very very hard, and I know a lot of people will point to the missed PAT and the possibility that I could have gone for 2 and all that, but you’ve got to understand the reason we are here is that young man (Alex Franklin) made some big field goals for us, made some big PAT’s.”
Very big indeed. Franklin was the man whose kick was deflected, but he was also the man who used his toe and his intercepting fingers to advance his team’s cause all through the season.
“I want people to focus on what these things have accomplished and what they’ve done. They were one point away in a double overtime going for a state title,” he said.
“People don’t realize how difficult it is to play football at Somerset High School. It is a high pressure fish bowl. These young men come in and represent themselves and represent their families extremely well. They are some of the finest kids that I have had the opportunity to coach.
“At one point this team was 1 and 3, and they fought through it. They understood the process. They understood it is about where you finish and not where you start. And they gave us an opportunity to go to compete for a state title tonight. We just had a play or two not go our way or it would have been.”
Despite second guessing in this game and trying to guess what would have happened if things had been different, the coaching staff spent Friday night asking the players to look at how far they had come, how much they had accomplished, and how proud they should be of the growth they had made.
But the Briar Jumpers are athletes: very good athletes. Their competitive nature will make them remember---to a man---what happened on this night very much like the typical UK basketball fan remembers that game in March 1992 when Christian Laetner made that infamous basketball shot.
And all of them will certainly be thinking of the words of poet John Greenleaf Whittier. Football hadn’t even been written when Whittier wrote the words, but if he had been at the game on Friday night, he would certainly have dedicated them to the Briar Jumpers.
“For all the sad words of tongue and pen,” he said, “the saddest are these: it might have been.”
The NewCath Thoroughbreds will play the Desales Colts for the Class 2A Championship in Bowling Green on Saturday, December 7.
SHS 6 15 0 14 13– 48 2OT
NCC 7 7 7 14 14-49
SHS---Will Lange 17 pass from Castle Hatcher PAT blocked 2:55
NCC — Jacob Smith 6 run PAT John Caudill :38.7
NCC---Tommy Donnely 7 pass from Mac Franzen PAT Caudill 7:09
SHS---Lange 29 pass from Hatcher, 2-point conversion Chandler Dobbs pass from Hatcher 3:52
SHS---Cam Cheuvront 7 pass from Hatcher PAT Alex Franklin :25.4
NCC---Franzen 1 run PAT Caudill 10:14
NCC---Jack Sutcamp 5 run PAT Caudill 7:56
SHS--- Cheuvront 60 pass from Hatcher PAT Franklin 7:34
NCC — Donnely 7 pass from Franzen PAT Caudill 3:46
SHS--- Braiden McWilliams 6 pass from Hatcher PAT Franklin 1:57
NCC — Smith 6 pass from Franzen PAT Caudill
SHS---Cam Cheuvront 10 pass from Hatcher PAT Franklin
SHS---Bryson Jones 10 run PAT deflected
NCC---John Caudill 2 run PAT Caudill
TEAM RUSHING --- SHS –69, NCC--- 125
PASSING— SHS--- Hatcher 21 for 26 for 362 6TD 2INT; NCC –Franzen 11 for 21 for 179, 3TD
RUSHING— SHS, Bryson Jones 6-18 1TD, Brycen McWilliams 1-2, Castle Hatcher 12-3, Will Lange 8-25
NCC—Jacob Smith 10-49 2TD, Mac Franzen 13-33 1TD, Jack Sutcamp 7-30 1TD, Brandon Grey 2-13
RECEIVING— SHS, Cam Cheuvront 9-186, 3TD, Chandler Dobbs 2-17, Will Lange 6-118 2TD, Braiden McWilliams 3-29 1TD, Devin Griffith 2-12
NCC—Tommy Donnelly 5-32 2TD, Brandon Grey 2-57, Jacob Smith 4-90 1TD
TIME OF POSSESSION