By BRUCE W. SINGLETON, CJ Correspondent
The Somerset Briar Jumpers completed their 2012 District schedule by defeating the Middlesboro Yellow Jackets 26-18 Friday night.
It was the second time in two weeks that the Yellow Jackets faced a statistically superior opponent and lost in the waning moments of the game.
It was also the fourth time in as many years Somerset Head Coach Robbie Lucas has led his team to an undefeated district record.
The win will assure home field advantage as long as Somerset is able to remain in the playoffs. The next time the Jumpers travel---if they get that opportunity---will be to Bowling Green for the State Finals.
It is almost a cliche' that the score doesn't tell the story of the game. An eight point Jumper win was certainly not what the fans saw at Middlesboro for most of the night. In fact, Middlesboro spent most of the night in the lead. It was only after a touchdown pass from Castle Hatcher to Tyson Williams that Somerset was able to regain a lead that it had given up with just under 7 minutes to go in the 3rd quarter. The 47 yard run late in the game by Will Lange was just icing on the cake as Somerset escaped with the win. Castle Hatcher threw 2 TD passes, Will Lange ran for 2 touchdowns, but the win represented the second time in two weeks that Somerset had to make a big comeback late in the game.
Middlesboro won the toss and elected to have the ball first, had to give it up after 3 to Somerset, which promptly returned the favor. It was during these first series of downs that the officiating crew began to make the major calls which would plague both teams all night.
It was the last one that put the ball down to inside the 15 and set up the 29 yard field goal by which Middlesboro went ahead for its first lead of the night. The Yellow Jackets extended that lead by another touchdown as it showed good defense, albeit aided by major penalties, and crafty play design.
They faked a lot.
They even faked the kickoff, the ploy only failing because the sideways kick didn’t go 10 yards before it was caught by the Middlesboro player. Somerset was unable to capitalize on excellent field position, but they began to play with more and more confidence. Bryson Jones’s punt sailed 47 yards into the end zone---he would put another into the end zone from 53 yards out later in the night---and Somerset dealt with Middlesboro at the 20.
It took just two plays after Freshman Quarterback Castle Hatcher entered the game before the game changing passing game began. First a 60-yard pass to Braiden McWilliams, who got it to the 9. Two plays later, it was McWilliams again and the Somerset touchdown.
Somerset then kicked off, the Yellow Jacket receiver muffed the kick, and Somerset’s Jalen Jones recovered the ball on the 39.
It looked like Somerset had finally taken control: conceivably they could score, come back after the half time break and score a third time, all without Middlesboro having the ball.
Those hopes ended when Middlesboro intercepted the Hatcher pass. The half ended with Middlesboro leading 9-7.
That changed just 14 seconds into the 3rd quarter as Will Lange first muffed, then picked the ball up off the ground and scrambled for 80 yards and his first touchdown of the day. With the Dobbs kick, Somerset led by 14-9.
That would have been a good place for the game to have ended.
It did not.
The officials ruled Middlesboro fumbled and that Somerset recovered the ball. No wait, let me change that. Middlesboro ball on the 4, but they can’t score.
Not on their own, anyway.
Somerset held the Middlesboro drive only to give up the safety seconds after taking the initial snap of the set of downs. The free kick to the Middlesboro 47, the unencumbered run by Uhl, and in less time than it takes to get a can out of a vending machine, Middlesboro had doubled its own score to 18.
That 18-14 lead would be the last of the night for the Yellow Jackets, but they held it for a very long time. It was not until late in the game that Somerset was able to break free and score what turned out to be the winning margin touchdown.
Middlesboro coach Randy Frazier was disappointed with the outcome, but pleased with his players. "This is 2 weeks in a row that 2 very good teams have been here and we have lost the lead in the fourth quarter,” he said. “We should have won both these games. But if we continue to improve the way we have the last 2 games, we are really looking good as we go into the playoffs.”
Somerset head coach Robby Lucas was pleased to come away with the win, but realizes he and his Jumpers have their work cut out for them.
"This was a very good team that came to play tonight,” Lucas said. “Early in the game, we didn’t play well at all.”
“ I feel like we have gotten worse over the last two weeks,” he continued, “and it's my job to figure out why. We need to get this thing run back in the direction we were going three weeks ago."
We can expect a great deal of commentary and criticism from both sides on the issue of officiating in Friday night’s game.
High school officials are teams of regular guys who love the game of football and spend most of their lives doing something else like working in the factory, practicing law in a court room, or driving a school bus. They don’t get paid a lot of money, and they often travel hundreds of miles to the venue so the teams can compete.
Without them, we can’t have the game.
But we expect a certain level of competence in game control, anger management, and knowledge of the rules.
There will be many who saw the game Friday night who criticize the actions of the officials on the field. It is hard to imagine a single fan on either side who was pleased with the calls. Those critics will say this officiating crew lacked in all three of those vital characteristics.
Only the most rabid fans will call the crew partisan. The more moderate will admit the officials dispensed their incompetence with equal opportunity toward both sides.
Kind of like the NFL replacement referees.
And Candy Crowley at the Presidential debate.
And that incompetence influenced the play of the game, they will say.
Thankfully, I don’t have to weigh in on the debate: I’m just here to give you the facts as I saw them.
There will also inevitably be controversy over the choice of quarterback. Some will side with Junior Tanner Gadberry, whose flashes of brilliance in team leadership have been instrumental factors in Somerset’s winning record. Others will insist Gadberry has become too predictable and that the other teams are beginning to anticipate his play calling. Those partisans will insist it is time to change to Freshman Quarterback Castle Hatcher, whose lightning wit, lasar cannon arm, and willingness to take a hit for the team have been instrumental in the most recent two games.
The wise approach is what some call the toolbox approach.
Every engineering student begins the study process by learning that a tool can be perfectly suited to one task, and totally unsuited to any other.
To a hammer, all the world looks like a nail.
Robbie Lucas has demonstrated over and over again that he is the master builder of this program. He spends countless hours with his players, studying their abilities and honing their strengths. The fans who know the game will trust his judgment and let him use the tools and personnel as he sees fit.
SHS 0 7 7 12—26
MHS 3 6 9 0---18
MHS—Cole Frazier 29 yard FG 1:40
MHS---Parker Uhl 7 run kick failed 9:33
SHS — Braiden McWilliams 5 pass from Castle Hatcher, Chandler Dobbs Kick 2:28
SHS—Will Lange 80 kickoff return Dobbs kick 11:46
MMS--- Safety 7:03
MMS---Uhl 47 run Frazier kick 6:43
SHS—Tyson Williams 16 pass from Hatcher (kick failed) 4:16
SHS—Lange 47 run (kick failed.)
RUSHING—SHS—Lange 9-62 (1 TD), Bryson Jones 6-44, Hatcher 4-12, Tanner Gadberry 4-4, Tevin Slaughter 1-2; MMS---Uhl 12-106 (2 TD) Major Edwards 9-62, Seth Barton 8-2, Jake Brock 3- minus 2, Gabe Fuson 1-6, Cole Frazier 1-2, Ryan Pittman 1-1
PASSING—SHS Gadberry 1-11-5 (1 INT); Hatcher 7-12-122 (2 TD, 1 INT), MMS—Edwards 5-10-181
RECEIVING—SHS Braiden McWilliams 4-92 (1 TD), Tyson Williams 1-16 (1 TD) Cam Cheuvront 3-19 MMS---Seth Barton 1-46, Jake Brock 2-9, Austin Poindexter 1-12, Tyshon Kincaide 1- minus 1
SHS Lange 2-115 (1TD)