Late drives keep title hopes alive

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Rockets can win district with victory Friday

By Josh Cook

Going into Friday night’s Class 5A, District 4 game at Bullitt Central, Shelby County football coach Todd Shipley said his team had to “make plays at key moments.”

The Rockets did just that late in the game as they rallied from a 13-point deficit early in the game and an 11-point hole late for a 36-32 victory over the Cougars in Shepherdsville.

Senior quarterback Dalton Thompson’s 5-yard touchdown run with 46 seconds left capped Shelby County’s 15-point final period and helped the Rockets (4-3, 1-1) rebound from their district-opening loss at North Bullitt the previous Friday.

“We made a couple big plays [on offense], and our defense stepped up. When it mattered they came together,” said Thompson, who completed 12 of 22 passes for 118 yards and one touchdown in addition to running for 67 yards and the game-winning TD.

The victory gives Shelby County a chance to repeat as district champ if it can beat Bullitt East (7-1, 2-0) Friday night at Robert Doyle Stadium. That opportunity looked unlikely, though, early Friday night as the Cougars (4-4, 1-2) jumped out to a 13-0 lead 6:51 into the game.

Bullitt Central took the opening kickoff and marched downfield – converting a fourth-and-1 along the way – for a touchdown (a 28-yard pass from Cameron Dukes to D.J. Dennison). The Cougars then forced the Rockets to go three-and-out before increasing their lead to 13-0 on Dukes’ 54-yard TD pass to Trevor Carnell.

Shelby County answered, though, with an 8-play scoring drive that fullback Tanner Bryant capped with a 1-yard touchdown run.

The two teams then traded punts before Jacob Fulkerson’s 26-yard TD run early in the second quarter boosted Bullitt Central’s lead to 19-7. The Rockets, however, got a big touchdown before halftime as Thompson threw a 23-yard scoring pass to junior Breamon Harris to trim the Cougars’ lead to 19-14.

The teams twice traded touchdowns in the second half.

Carnell, who came in averaging 230 rushing yards per game (which ranked second in 5A and third in all six classes), broke free for a 42-yard touchdown run midway through the third quarter to push Bullitt Central’s lead to 12, 26-14, before the Rockets responded with an 8-play drive that was finished by Earl Stoudemire’s 2-yard TD run.

Dennison’s 38-yard kickoff return set up Carnell’s 1-yard touchdown run, before Tyus Ford’s 4-yard TD run completed a 7-play Shelby scoring drive early in the fourth quarter that pulled the Rockets to 32-29. 

Then Shelby’s defense made some big plays. First Harris forced and recovered a fumble on the Cougars’ ensuing possession, and after the Rockets went three-and-out, Shelby forced Bullitt Central to do the same.

“Our defense just caught on and did what it needed to do,” Thompson said.

The Rockets took over at its own 29-yard line and embarked on the game-winning, 9-play drive. Malik Manica started it off with a 17-yard run, and Stoudemire followed up with one for 12. Manica ran for 8 more and Stoudemire for 3 and 10 on back-to-back carries. Thompson then completed his only pass of the drive – a 12-yarder to Michael Perry – to put Shelby on the Cougars’ 14. Manica then ran for 4 and Stoudemire for 5 to set up Thompson’s TD.

Stoudemire accounted for 93 yards of total offense (78 rushing, 15 receiving), and Manica rushed for 76 yards as the Rockets rolled up 343 total yards of offense (225 on the ground, 118 through the air).

Bullitt Central, meanwhile, amassed 379 yards, 300 of which came from Carnell, who rushed for 216 yards on 29 carries and hauled in three passes for 84 yards.