By DOUG EADS, CJ Correspondent
My how things can change in 35 short years.
It’s a game that Johnny Hines still remembers vividly to this day.
On November 29, 1978, Hines played the final game of his high school career as a member of the Somerset Briar Jumper football team, losing to Mayfield at Eastern Kentucky University in the state championship game by a 22-7 margin.
On Friday night November 29, 2013, Hines notched the biggest win of his coaching career, and will be a game that he will never forget as well.
On Friday night for the first time in school history, the Pulaski County Maroons punched their ticket to the championship game of the state Class 5 A playoffs.
Maroon quarterback Riley Hall threw a pair of touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, capping off a furious fourth quarter rally, as Pulaski County — down 17-7 to homestanding Anderson County early in the fourth quarter — came back from the dead in the final 10:06 to post an improbable, heart-pounding, 20-17 victory over the Bearcats.
With the win, Pulaski County moved to 14-0 on the season and will face undefeated and two-time defending Class 5 A state champion Bowling Green next Saturday night at Western Kentucky University in the Class 5 A state championship game.
So coach Hines, what about the comeback and what about the 2013 version of the Pulaski County Maroons?
“This team — they just don’t flinch and they’ve got a tremendous will to win,” stated a very emotional, jubilant, and exhausted, (take your pick) coach Hines after another comeback win by his Maroons on Friday night.
“When things go bad and certain breaks in the game seem to go against them, they just simply don’t give up,” continued the Pulaski County head coach. “Even when tonight’s game was not progressing the way they wanted it to, they just seem to find ways to make plays that are just incredible. Caleb Cox just made an incredible play in the first half that set up our first touchdown, and Riley Hall just made incredible plays all night long.”
Indeed, Hall’s stature and his legend grew by leaps and bounds on Friday night, based on what the sophomore quarterback was able to do in that furious fourth quarter rally — especially on the game’s final drive.
However, early on it was Anderson County that methodically began to take control of this contest on its home field.
After a scoreless first quarter, the Bearcats Joe Rose booted a 31-yard field goal with 11:51 remaining in the first half go give Mark Peach’s club a 3-0 lead.
That lead would be short-lived, as Hall and crew — as has been the case for the entire season — came right back with an emphatic answer.
Hall led PC on a 75-yard drive in just 1:35, and it culminated as he threw the first of his three TD passes on the night to Aaron Smith.
That six-yard toss gave the Maroons a 7-3 lead at that juncture — a lead Pulaski would hold until very late in the opening half of play.
Anderson County took the lead into the intermission, thanks to Zach Carmichael’s 3-yard scoring pass to Brayden Russell with just :27 left in the first half.
With the Rose PAT, the Bearcats went into the break clinging to a 10-7 lead over the Maroons.
Even though his club gave up its first touchdown of the night just before the end of the first half, Hines talked afterwards about what a special effort his ‘D’ gave his club against the Bearcats.
“Our defense was just tremendous tonight,” pointed out the PC coach. “If we don’t give up a bad punt return in the first half, who knows, because that return set them up at about our 30-yard line.
And while his was extremely pleased with the play of his own defense in Friday’s win, Hines was just as complimentary in describing an Anderson County defense that held the Maroons to a season-low 20 points in a game. The previous low came during the regular season at Madison Southern — a 21-18 win by Pulaski County.
“Anderson County came into tonight’s game as the number one team in Class 5 A against the rush, and they played like it today,” stated the Maroon coach.
“They were very, very good up front — they’re just a very good football team period, but their defensive line was outstanding,” Hines added. “They pressured the quarterback all night long and really gave us some problems with our pass protection. And, we simply weren’t able to run the football with any kind of success with the way they played up front.”
Leading Pulaski by that slim, 10-7 margin at halftime, Anderson County seemingly had this one well in hand early in the third period.
After holding the Maroons to a three and out to begin the second half, another outstanding punt return by the Bearcats set Anderson County up inside the red zone.
A few plays later, running back Ross Cox scored on a 1-yard run with 9:34 left in the third stanza, and the Bearcats had a 17-7 lead.
At that point, if folks thought this one was over, somebody forgot to tell Riley Hall and company.
Running for his life on more than one occasion, the PC quarterback played in the fourth quarter as cool and calm as a coach could ask for.
In short, all Hall did — along with his offensive teammates — was make play after play after play when his club needed him the most.
With 10:06 remaining in the contest, Hall hit a streaking Christian Coots down the right sideline for a 45-yard touchdown pass, and just like that Pulaski County had a little life, trailing Anderson County by only a 17-14 margin.
Later in the fourth stanza, the Maroons attempted a fake punt to Aaron Smith with just over four minutes left on the clock, but the Bearcats were waiting and dropped Smith well short of the first down.
PC was in trouble, but as has been the case all year, it was time for somebody to make a play and they did.
After the unsuccessful fake punt, on the very next play from scrimmage, Anderson County fumbled the football and Pulaski’s Austin Cornett recovered it.
That play allowed the legend of Riley Hall to grow even bigger.
Hall and the PC offense began a final drive in hopes of tying or going ahead and trying to live to play another day.
Hall — on that drive — was pressured almost every time he dropped back to pass, but he made just enough plays to keep PC’s hopes alive.
However, at the Anderson County 29-yard line, Hall and the Maroons faced a fourth down and 13.
Hall went back to pass, but couldn’t find anyone so he took off.
Thanks to a 20-yard run on the game’s biggest play at that moment, Hall set up PC for a first and goal from the Anderson County 9-yard line with just over two minutes remaining in the contest.
After a 6-yard pass to Caleb Cox on first and goal, and a shovel pass to Smith for no gain on second and goal, PC faced a third and goal from the 3-yard line with the clock ticking on the Maroons season on the line.
A give to Smith up the gut gained two yards on third and goal, forcing a fourth down and goal from the Bearcats 1-yard line.
With ice water in his veins, standing in the shotgun, Hall threw an absolute laser to Jake Johnson about a yard into the corner of the end zone, and Johnson snagged it for a touchdown.
That score made it 20-17 in favor of the Maroons with :46 left and the hundreds of PC fans that had made the trip north was simply going crazy in the visitors grandstands.
“I told the guys at halftime that we would have to have two scoring drives in the second half to win this game,” stated a very candid Hines.
So coach Hines, tell me about the call on fourth and goal from the 1-yard line with your season on the line?
“We actually called two plays before the third and goal play without huddling and we thought we would be able to score on the first one, because we thought Aaron (Smith) would be able to get in,” said Hines.
“We came right back with a hitch, and we had George (Gregory) in the slot, and Jake (Johnson) on the outside with both of them basically running hitches,” continued the PC coach. “Basically at that short of a distance, you just simply get into the end zone on your hitch and then move to get open. Riley scrambled out of there and found Jake. Riley and Jake just have a special combination and they have for many years growing up together. What more can you say? I’m glad they’re on my team.”
Lost in all the euphoria of that go-ahead touchdown was the fact that Anderson County blocked the extra point, keeping this one at a three-point margin, 20-17 in favor of the Maroons.
The Bearcats took the ensuing kickoff and after a few short passes by Carmichael, the Bearcats set up for a 41-yard field goal by Rose on the game’s final play, but it was about two yards short, and a wild celebration began.
Pulaski County was on its way to a state championship game for the first time in school history.
“It’s always a dream of every coach and every team back in the summer to be able to go to that Super Bowl,” pointed out coach Hines.
“That’s always been in the back of our minds as a football team, but we don’t think about it on a consistent basis, because our focus has always been take things one game and one day at a time,” continued the PC coach. “I don’t think our kids really ever had it on their mind to be undefeated at this point. Our focus was one game at a time — one opponent at a time. By doing that, I felt like our kids didn’t feel the pressure that you get in an undefeated season.”
The 14-0 undefeated Pulaski County Maroons will face two-time defending state champion Bowling Green next Saturday night at Western Kentucky University’s Houchens/LT Smith Stadium at 8 p.m.
PC — 0 7 0 13 — 20
AC — 0 10 7 0 — 17
AC — Rose 31 FG
PC — Smith 6 pass from Hall (Burgett kick)
AC — Russell 3 pass from Carmichael (Rose kick)
AC — Cox 1 run (Rose kick)
PC — Coots 45 pass from Hall (Burgett kick)
PC — Johnson 1 pass from Hall (Kick failed)
RUSHING — (PC) Hall 9-87, Cox 13-26, Smith 8-19. (AC) Carmichael 10-43, Cox 10-24 TD.
PASSING — (PC) Hall 18-32 236 3 TD. (AC) Carmichael 17-29 199 TD INT
RECEIVING — (PC) Johnson 9-59 TD, Gregory 5-82, Smith 2-7 TD, Cox 1-43, Coots 1-45 TD. (AC) Cox 6-91, Russell 5-55 TD, Puckett 3-24.