Casey falls from ranks of unbeatens with loss to Corbin

Published 1:14 am Saturday, October 22, 2016

LIBERTY — It’s been nearly a year since the heads of Casey County football player hung as low as they did Friday.

In one fell swoop, the Rebels lost their chance for an undefeated season, stopped a school-record winning streak and missed out on their first district title in school history as No. 2 Corbin marched to a 35-7 win at Rebel Field.

So, of course it hurt.

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“You see some tears in kid’s eyes and some kids are grabbing the face mask of their helmet a little tighter than normal, and it should hurt,” Casey coach Steve Stonebraker said. “They see how close they are, we went toe-to-toe with them in the first half and things got away from us in the second, but the kids kept fighting.”

But that doesn’t mean all is lost for Casey, which now stands at 7-1 and entered the week two spots behind Corbin in the Class 3A state rankings. The Rebels have a date with rival Adair County next week in Liberty, and after that is the playoffs, where Stonebraker told his players they’ll still be the favorites on their side of the bracket.

“We’ve got a good bunch of kids, and kids are resilient, they’ll bounce back from this,” Stonebraker said.

To put it in perspective, the Rebels hadn’t won more than five games in a season over the last five years while Corbin had rolled up 41 wins during that span.

And the Redhounds familiarity with big games showed on their first drive, taking the ball 42 yards in six plays to the end zone for a quick 7-0 lead.

Casey’s first two drives didn’t cross midfield and both ended in punts, but the Rebels looked like serious contenders on their third drive. The first two plays were both six-yard completions by Breece Hayes, but the next nine were runs as Casey drove to the Corbin 36-yard line.

Two more completions by Hayes got the ball to the 24, but a holding penalty backed them up and Hayes tossed an interception in the end zone.

The Rebels forced a punt on the next Corbin drive, but after hitting Preston Tucker for a 21-yard gain on the first play of their drive, Hayes was intercepted again with 53.4 seconds remaining in the half.

Corbin cashed in this time, covering 49 yards in 45 seconds for a 14-0 lead entering halftime.

“We had two really good drives in the first half that we shot ourselves in the foot with penalties on,” Stonebraker said. “It could have been a totally different game if we end up scoring on those. We moved the ball on the ground, but we couldn’t do it once we got past the 50; we would typically stall.”

After Casey turned the ball over on downs on the first possession of the third quarter, Corbin tallied its first of two third quarter TDs on its first drive. Quarterback Cameron Sizemore hit completions of 23, 25 and 15 yards on the drive, and Jonah French scored from five yards away.

Casey again found itself in Corbin territory on its next drive, but Hayes threw his third interception, and the Redhounds again made the Rebels pay. They used 10 plays to travel 37 yards, and facing fourth down-and-12 from Casey’s 44, they rolled out some trickery — Cameron Barton took a reverse handoff and rolled left for a pass, hitting a wide-open French for a score and 28-0 lead.

Casey’s next drive stalled deep in the red zone, but the defense held the Redhounds to negative four yards and forced a punt. Collin Miller returned it to the 12 and a personal foul on Corbin pushed it even closer, to the 6-yard line. It took all four downs, but Gary Propes put the Rebels on the board with a 3-yard rush.

“We’d gotten down there before and not been able to stick it in,” Stonebraker said, “so it was good to get down on the goal line, inside the 5 the second time and be able to execute and come away with six (points).”

However, any ideas of a miraculous comeback hit the road when Hayes was intercepted for a fourth time, and this time Cameron Gilbert did all the damage on the return, going 60 yards to the end zone and a 35-7 lead with 24.3 seconds left.

Hayes finished with his worst night of the season, going 13-of-27 for 89 yards, far below his season average of 251 yards per game. And heading into Friday’s game, he had been intercepted just once.

“This was by far the best defense we’ve played all year,” Stonebraker said. “They’ve got excellent speed at all 11 positions. They’re the No. 2 team in the state for a reason. … Their offense gets a lot of attention, but their defense is really what they win with.”

In the postgame huddle, Stonebraker laid out the plan for his players — focus this week on Adair and then get ready for the playoffs. If they make it far enough, it could set up a rematch with the Redhounds with even more chips on the table — a region title.

So while Friday was rough, Stonebraker knows there’s still plenty to play for in Casey County.

Follow Jeremy Schneider on Twitter @jschneideramn