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Rockets roar to district title

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They clinch home field throughout playoffs

By Josh Cook

MOUNT WASHINGTON – When the Shelby County football team had to have some big plays Friday night, it got them.

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The Rockets scored two touchdowns in an 8-second span of the fourth quarter to put away host Bullitt East and put the Class 5A, District 4 title on ice with a 42-21 victory. 

“When we had to do something, we did. That’s the sign of a good program and a championship team,” said Shelby County Coach Todd Shipley, whose squad captured the program’s first district title since 2007.

The Rockets (7-2, 3-0) earned home-field advantage throughout the playoffs (the only time they would have to leave the friendly confines of Robert Doyle Stadium is for the 5A state championship game at Western Kentucky University).

“It means we’re home through the playoffs as long as we win. That’s the great thing,” Shipley said.

Shelby County earned that right – as well as the district title outright – by holding off the stubborn Chargers (4-5, 1-2), who could’ve created a 3-way tie (a tiebreaker would’ve been used to determine postseason seedings).

The Rockets, though, didn’t want it to come down to a tiebreaker (the total number of victories by the non-district foes they defeated during the regular season). They wanted to take care of business on their own.

Shelby County was all-business early, racing out to a 21-0 lead on their first three possessions.

Their first drive, which was kept alive by Zach Shipley’s 28-yard run on a fake punt, ended with Shipley’s 14-yard touchdown pass to Michael Barry. 

After forcing the Chargers to punt on their first possession, Shelby County needed only four plays to score. The first was a 40-yard pass from Shipley and Barry, the second a 19-yard run by Shipley, the third a 4-yard run by Earl Stoudemire and finally sophomore fullback Tanner Bryant (his second consecutive game subbing for Justin Stewart) going the last 2 yards.

Then on their next possession, with a first down from the 50, Shipley threw a backward pass to junior wide receiver Dalton Thompson on the left sideline, and Thompson then threw to a wide, wide open Chase Manica, who sprinted into the end zone.

It was the same play, Shipley said, that Central Hardin had run against Bullitt East on Sept. 21. Manica’s TD and Barry’s third PAT made it 21-0 with 2:39 to play in the first quarter.

But just when it looked like the game was over, it wasn’t.

The Chargers responded with two touchdowns in a span of 1:24, the first was a 1-yard sneak by quarterback Anthony Doran, and  the second, a 1-yard run by Brandon Samuels, came just six plays after the Rockets fumbled a kickoff.

Suddenly it was a ball game.

Shelby County answered with a drive deep into Bullitt East territory before Bryant fumbled the ball after he was bent backwards on a tackle.

Bryant, who received a stinger the week before, stayed down after the play. He eventually would be taken off the field by ambulance, but Shipley reported Saturday that Bryant was fine but “very sore.

However the Chargers, who took over at the Rockets’ 4, quickly went three-and-out, and a poor punt then gave Shelby County first-rate field position at Bullitt East’s 34.

After Manica’s 24-yard run gave the Rockets’ a first-and-goal at the 10, Shelby scored two touchdowns, both of which were called back by penalty, before Barry attempted a 31-yard field goal with time running out in the first half.

He missed, however, the Chargers were flagged for roughing the kicker, giving the Rockets a first-and-goal at the 9.

Shelby County took advantage. Shipley scrambled to his right and threw into the end zone, where Barry made a leaping grab with 6.5 seconds to play in the second quarter. It was the pair’s 13th TD connection but maybe the biggest of the season.

“It was ginormous,” Zach Shipley said.

Neither squad scored in the third quarter before Bullitt East began the fourth period with a bang – a 56-yard TD run by Doran.

Later, after Shipley’s rugby punt pinned Bullitt East back on its own 13, the Chargers’ first play was a botched handoff that resulted in a fumble, which defensive end Devin Ashton recovered at the 12.

On the Rockets’ first play Shipley scrambled left and threw to Manica, who made a leaping grab in the end zone with 7:48 to play.

“I had to jump to catch it because there were three people around me, then I had to get one foot down,” Manica said.

Shelby then turned to trickery once again, converting an onside kick when Barry recovered his own pooch at the Chargers’ 25.

“We had seen that all night, and they were telling me, ‘It’s there. It’s there,’” Todd Shipley said.

On the very next play Shipley threw another “jump ball” to Barry, who made a leaping grab over two defenders for the final touchdown with 7:40 left.

The Rockets, who close out their regular season Friday night at South Oldham (7-2), will host North Hardin (3-6) on Nov. 2 in the first round of the playoffs.