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That the Shelby County football team had the best turnaround in the state during the regular season does not matter in the postseason. The only thing that matters are little two words:
“Survive and advance,” Rockets Coach Todd Shipley said.
Shelby County did just that Friday night by knocking off and knocking out North Hardin, 35-28, in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs at Robert Doyle Stadium.
The Rockets (9-2) led, 20-0, early in the third quarter before the Trojans (3-8) roared back to trim that lead to six (27-21) before Earl Stoudemire’s 34-yard touchdown run helped secure the Rockets’ fifth consecutive victory.
“We just kept fighting,” said Shipley, whose team overcame three first-half turnovers and quite a few questionable calls to top the Trojans. “They [his players] had so many opportunities to say, ‘OK, things aren’t going our way; we can’t win.
“But our kids have never quit. They don’t know how to quit. They just persevere.”
Shelby senior wingback Chase Manica rushed for 105 yards and one touchdown and also had a receiving TD, and senior quarterback Zach Shipley had a touchdown run and a TD pass.
“It was not the way we wanted to do it, but a win is a win, it doesn’t matter how we got it,” said Manica, whose team will host Jeffersontown (7-4) at 7:30 Friday night in the second round of the playoffs.
Manica’s 33-yard touchdown run gave the Rockets a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter.
Shelby County added to that in the second quarter, but not without some controversy.
His team driving deep in North Hardin territory, freshman fullback Malik Manica fumbled the football inside the Trojans’ 10. The play was called back, however, because of an inadvertent whistle by one of the officials.
On the very next play Shipley ran 20 yards untouched into the end zone, and Michael Barry’s extra-point kick gave the Rockets a 14-0 lead with 3:49 to play in a first half.
Shelby County dominated the first two periods, outgaining North Hardin, 265-53, on offense – including 192-12 on the ground – but turnovers (one interception and two fumbles) and penalties (four for 25 yards) kept the Trojans in the game.
Malik Manica’s 24-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter boosted the Rockets’ lead to 20-0.
The game was far from over, though.
North Hardin scored on its subsequent possession when Andrew Rugerio threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Dante Johnson with 25 seconds to play in the period. That was simply a precursor, though, to a furious fourth quarter that saw the two teams combine for 36 points.
Chase Manica’s 17-yard touchdown reception from Shipley made it 27-7 early in the fourth quarter, but the Trojans responded with Rugerio’s 52-yard touchdown pass to Kirk Oxendine.
North Hardin recovered its ensuing onside kick and drove to a score, with Trevon Johnson’s 2-yard TD run. The extra point cut Shelby County’s lead to 27-21.
On the Rockets’ ensuing possession Stoudemire took a reverse pitch from Shipley, got blocks from Chase and Malik Manica and sprinted around the left end and down the sideline to score. SCHS then recovered its own onside kick but couldn’t capitalize, although the Trojans did after a punt.
They drove down the field, aided by a couple of penalties on Shelby, and scored again, this time on Rugerio’s 7-yard touchdown pass to Oxendine, who finished with eight catches for 115 yards and two TDs.
The Rockets recovered North Hardin’s ensuing onside kick but couldn’t pick up a first down so they had to punt.
Pinned deep in their own territory the Trojans didn’t get far before the game ended on Malik Manica’s huge hit on Oxendine, the target of Rugerio’s final throw.
“We had some adversity, and we rose up. We had some adversity, and we rose up. We had some adversity again, and we conquered it,” Shipley said told his team after the game.
In addition to his two TDs, Shipley’s son, Zach, completed 5 of 9 passes for 119 yards and rushed 10 times for 51 yards.
Meanwhile senior fullback Justin Stewart, who had missed the past few games with an ankle injury rushed for 62 yards in the first half before re-injuring his ankle. His status for Friday night’s rematch against J-town is uncertain. The Rockets beat the host Chargers, 41-29, back on Sept. 7.
“Now it’s put up or shut up time,” Chase Manica said.