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JEFFERSONTOWN – The Jeffersontown football team delivered the first punch, but Shelby County delivered the knockout blow Friday night.
The Rockets rallied from early deficits of 7-0 and 14-7 to blast the host Chargers, 41-29 – a drastic turnaround from J-town’s 41-7 victory at Robert Doyle Stadium last year.
Senior quarterback Zach Shipley passed for 295 yards and four touchdowns, senior wide receiver Michael Barry had six catches for 123 yards and three TDs, and senior fullback Chase Manica ran for one touchdown and had a tide-turning 95-yard kickoff return for another.
“We were real happy about it,” Shelby County Coach Todd Shipley said. “It was a very physical ballgame. We took our lumps early.”
Most of those lumps came early in the first and second quarters.
The Chargers (2-1) took the opening kickoff and needed just three plays to score. Richard Deloney ran 36 yards on the first play from scrimmage and, two plays later, Kendrick Gardner completed a 33-yard touchdown pass to JaWayne Rose.
“In pregame we were kind of quiet. We weren’t really hyped up like we had been the first two games,” Shipley said. “Then it was one of those things where you get punched in the nose and say, ‘Oh, I’ve got to play.’”
J-town forced Shelby County to punt on its first possession, but Shipley’s 42-yard kick pinned the Chargers deep in their own territory. Then back-to-back sacks, by Justin Stewart and Devin Ashton, pinned J-town on its 2. A short run and a 22-yard punt followed, giving the Rockets great field position (at the Chargers’ 27).
Four plays later the Rockets scored when, on third-and-goal, Shipley scrambled then connected with Barry on a 9-yard pass.
On J-town’s next possession the Chargers drove deep into Shelby territory, but on fourth-and-4 from the Rockets’ 20, Barry intercepted Gardner’s pass at his own 1.
After the Rockets moved the ball on a couple of pass completions, a Shotgun snap hit Shipley in the facemask and J-town Devin Watson’s snared the football out of the air and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown.
“After that it was like, ‘Holy cow we can’t get anything done,’” Shipley said.
But the Rockets responded with a “holy cow” moment of their own. On the ensuing kickoff Manica made an over-the-shoulder catch at his own 5, turned and ran 95 yards for the tying touchdown.
Shelby took possession after a punt and used two big plays to move downfield.
The first was Shipley’s 34-yard screen pass to Justin Stewart on third-and-20 from the Rockets’ 35. On the play Stewart got a big block from senior offensive lineman Zach Lingle, who knocked off the helmet of J-town defensive back Dondre Busby.
The second big play came with Shelby facing a fourth-and-8 from the Chargers’ 29, when Shipley threw a “jump ball” pass to the 6-foot-1 Barry, who out-leaped two defenders for the ball and ran untouched into the end zone. It gave the Rockets a 21-14 lead heading into halftime.
“Zach threw an ugly pass, but it was in the right spot,” Shipley said. “That was big.”
The two teams traded possessions and field position in the third quarter before the Rockets reached the end zone again, and again it was on a pass from Shipley to Barry. This one covered 34 yards and increased Shelby’s lead to 27-14 with 2 seconds left in the period.
The Chargers quickly answered, though, when Rose and Gardner hooked up for a 41-yard touchdown pass.
“They hit 10 [Rose] across the middle, and I think we had seventy-five missed tackles,” Shipley said.
With their lead cut to 27-21, the Rockets responded with another scoring drive. This one ended with a short TD toss from Shipley to Deric Hyman.
“Zach rolled to his left. Deric was really the third choice [on that play],” Shipley said. “But the line did a good job and Zach said, ‘I usually don’t hear anything, but I heard Deric screaming my name.’ He was wide open.”
The touchdown gave Shelby some breathing room.
“That’s been the biggest difference [between this year and the past two],” Shipley said. “This year we’ve been able to go down and score after someone else has scored.”
The Rockets stopped J-town on its ensuing possession and then went to their ground attack.
“We actually got to use the ground game in the second half,” Shipley said. “I think they got tired.”
Manica capped that drive with an 8-yard touchdown run that pushed Shelby’s lead to 41-21 before the Chargers added a late TD and 2-point conversion.
Shelby County hosts Henry County at 7:30 p.m. Friday in its Homecoming game.