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FOOTBALL: Casey holds on, breaks losing streak to Lincoln

STANFORD — The streak is dead.

The Casey County football team entered Friday’s contest against Lincoln County with a 2-0 record but riding a 15-game losing skid in the series between the two schools. But with a 49-42 victory at Death Valley Stadium, the Rebels laid the streak to rest and scored their first ever win over the Patriots.

Casey (3-0) scored on seven of its first eight possessions to open up a 49-21 lead in the third quarter then held off a late comeback bid by Lincoln.

Rebels quarterback Breece Hayes connected with seven different receivers for 328 yards and four touchdowns on a 16-for-22 effort and ran for 59 yards and a score as Casey racked up 502 yards offense.

“There’s no such thing as a bad win,” Casey coach Steve Stonebreaker said after watching the Rebels’ 28-point lead trimmed to one score. “After being in this business for 22 years we’ll definitely take it. I always come with the mentality that I want to win by at least one point. I’ll take a win as I can get it. There’s a lot of lessons to be learned, and they are better learned with a win. That’s what I tell my guys.”

Lincoln coach Travis Leffew was quick to compliment Stonebreaker and the Rebels on their win.

“Credit to Casey County. They had a heckuva game plan and it worked very well,” he said. “Congratulations on their first win over us. Steven Stonebreaker and his staff have done a tremendous job over there. Their kids are playing hard.”

Despite a strong start and a 28-point third-quarter lead, Stonebreaker found himself just hoping to hold on for the win as Lincoln rallied.

“The first seven possessions they couldn’t stop us at all. And then they just kept the ball from us,” he said.

After an 11-yard touchdown by Tanner McAninch late in the third, Lincoln regained possession on an onsides kick then scored again when Noah Horton pulled in a 22-yard TD pass from McAninch. The Patriots forced the Rebels to punt then, six plays later, McAninch hit David Brock for a 9-yard scoring pass to get Lincoln within 49-42 with 7:46 to play.

Lincoln was marching to the end zone again two minutes later when Hayes knocked the ball out of McAninch’s hands as he drove inside the Rebel 25-yard line. Dalton Summers grabbed up the loose ball and ran 50 yards to the Lincoln 10. But Hayes later fumbled the ball and Lincoln’s Emmanuel Beasley got the recovery at the Patriots’ 9 and ran it back to the 41.

“You’ve got to tip your hat to Lincoln County. They never quit. They did a good job with a couple onsides kicks, going after those and keeping the ball away from us,” Stonebreaker said. “The first series we had the ball in the fourth quarter, we got a hold that backed us up and we had to punt. Then had our first turnover of the season on the second one and then ended up having to punt again. We shot ourselves in the foot the fourth quarter.”

It was on Casey’s “punt again” where Lincoln looked to be on the verge of possibly snapping its own skid — an 0-3 start to the season — with less than two minutes to play. As everyone watched to see where the ball would roll dead after an Alex Mendez punt, McAninch swooped in, picked up the ball and took it 65 yards to the end zone to set the Patriots up for at least a tie if not the lead off a two-point conversion. But there would be no point after attempt, with the score negated on a block in the back call against the Patriots.

“He’s a tremendous leader and that was a tremendous play,” Leffew said. “He attacked it. He really went at it. I didn’t see any penalty on the field and we just looked at it on film and didn’t see anything, but that’s the officials’ call. We can’t say anything about that. We’ve just got to be able to go ahead and take the ball down the field from there.’

With 1:41 left in the game and the ball on the Casey 45, Lincoln still had time to score again. However, the Rebels put an end to the Patriot scoring threat just four plays later when Collin Miller intercepted a McAninch pass. Hayes then took a knee on two snaps to run out the clock.

“You don’t win a game like that unless your kids believe. The great thing about being in a situation like this where your backs are against the wall and everything has gone against you for so long, is you find out how much your kids believe. And our kids believe and kept fighting to make those plays in the end to hold on,” Stonebreaker said.

“We were able once again, the third game in a row, to be really stealth offensively and put up a lot of points.”

Those points started coming early, with Casey needing just three plays to take the game’s first possession over the goal line. After a double reverse, Britt Pendleton, who had six receptions for 136 yards and two touchdowns, pulled in a 46-yard pass from Hayes. Miller, who led the Rebels rush with 73 yards and a score on six carries, moved the ball down to the four then Hayes capped off the drive with a 1-yard touchdown.

The teams would trade scores over the rest of the first quarter and early in the second.

Fifteen seconds after Hayes’ score, Tra Carey, who led the Lincoln offense with 198 yards and three touchdowns on 27 carries, took the first play of the Patriots’ first possession 74 yards to the end zone to tie the game 7-all. Then Brock recovered a fumble on the kickoff to set Lincoln up at the Casey 29. Four plays later, Carey was in for his second score, a 22-yard touchdown run and a 14-7 lead.

With 5:35 left in the first quarter, Hayes hit Miller for a 32-yard touchdown pass for another tie. After a Lincoln punt, Casey tacked on a go-ahead touchdown, with Miller going in from the 1-yard line to cap off a four-play, 67-yard drive and make it 21-14, Rebels. Hayes hit Alex Mendez and Preston Tucker for first-down passes of 27 and 13 yards, respectively, on the drive and ran over defenders for a 26-yard pickup to set Miller up for the short run.

Lincoln’s longest sustained drive of the first half, 70 yards in 10 plays, culminated in a 5-yard Carey score. Emma Kaiser’s point after kick, one of six, deadlocked the game again, 21-21, 48 seconds into the second quarter. Sawyer Carrier, who had three catches for 38 yards, pulled in a 25-yard pass on the scoring drive.

The tie lasted until the 8:32 mark of the second when Hayes connected with Pendleton for a 19-yard touchdown to push Casey back on top, 29-21, and ignite a 28-point scoring run.

The Rebels would go into the break up 35-21, as Hayes hit Tucker for a 17-yard touchdown pass with 4:20 left in the first half. Hayes connected for a touchdown pass with Tucker again on Casey’s third play of the second half, with Tucker taking the throw 62 yards to the end zone. They scored on their following possession as well. Miller pulled in a 24-yard pass to get the Rebels to the Patriot 29 then Hayes hit Pendleton on the next play for the six.

Nick Wilkerson’s seventh PAT of the game made it 49-21 before Lincoln’s late rally effort.

“Tremendous late-game effort by us,” said Leffew. “Once again we can’t put four quarters together. We’ve got to be able to put four quarters together. We’re still a good football team, we’ve just got to put four quarters together.”

Leffew commended Lincoln for doing “a lot of good things tonight.” One thing Leffew felt wasn’t good in the game was his ejection midway through the third quarter. The ejection came after the officials signaled Lincoln had been whistled for a personal foul penalty and an unsportsmanlike conduct call on a Casey kickoff return. Leffew called a timeout and as he went out on the field to question the calls another flag was thrown as a sideline warning. Leffew later tossed his hat and then he was ejected. As it turned out, there had been no penalty assessed to Lincoln, the call was against Casey.

“Very big misunderstanding,” said Leffew. “And I told him out here on the field exactly how the play went down is he signaled two penalties on us. I called timeout and walked out on the field. As I walked out on the field, another flag went for a sideline warning. So that’s three fouls that I think are against us. So I get out there and start talking to him and he says, ‘Coach, I called it wrong.’ So of course I lost my mind a little bit. Nothing said to him. I turned around with my hat and said ‘Well, we might as well throw one more.’ And they threw me out of the game. That wasn’t very professional by me.”