Rebels end regular season with tough win

Published 12:35 am Saturday, October 29, 2016

LEXINGTON — Boyle County coach Chuck Smith summed up his football team’s performance Friday night perfectly in the postgame huddle.

“This was an ugly win, but I’ve yet to meet a win I didn’t like,” he told his players.

The Rebels closed out their regular season and turned to the postseason with a 14-7 win at Class 6A Paul Laurence Dunbar on Friday night, giving them a sixth win in their last seven games.

Yes, it wasn’t pretty. But a win is a win, and that’s what is important at this time of the year, especially with playoff brackets already set, Smith said.

“It was an ugly win, but at this time of the year, it’s really a meaningless game,” Smith said. “It’s hard to get everybody motivated. They probably struggled with the same issue.”

There will be plenty to learn when film is broken down this weekend, and there are areas which will be focused on during the coming week of practice. The Rebels gained only 68 yards on five pass completions, were whistled for 10 penalties and gave up a 54-yard scoring run on the third play of the second half.

But facing a 6A team in the final week of the regular season can only help Boyle prepare for the upcoming 3A postseason, according to junior lineman Will Bramel.

“Oh yeah, especially offensively because their linebackers were really good, probably some of the best linebackers we’ve played all year,” he said. “They were on their third-string quarterback, but we manned up at the end, got the win and that’s all that matters.”

Much has changed with the Rebels since they started the season with three straight losses to North Hardin, Lafayette and Danville. The offense has averaged nearly 40 points per game while the defense is allowing just over 18; the running game has three proven backs in Gunner Ashburn, Tanner Crawford and Landon Bartleson; and the fronts on both sides of the ball have improved.

Smith also pointed to the maturity and experience his once-young team has gained through its rigorous schedule.

“We’re coming together a little bit, our leadership has picked up, the team is jelling together,” Smith said. “That’s what we needed. We were inexperienced, we’ve gained some experience. As important as that is our leadership has stepped up, even the junior class. They’re more accountable.”

Crawford has come on as the season has progressed, and he was front and center in Friday’s win, gaining 83 yards on the ground and putting Boyle on the board first.

With neither team doing more than settling for punts through most of the first quarter, the Rebels finally got the break they were looking for when Reese Smith returned a punt 32 yards to the Dunbar 37-yard line. Crawford did the rest, running for five and seven yards on the first two downs then ripping off a 25-yard burst to the end zone with 1 minute, 3 seconds on the clock.

“Our running game has been pretty good, it’s picked up as the year has gone on,” coach Smith said. “We’re going to have to have a running game going into the playoffs. It was good see we could run the ball in the second half.”

Ashburn led all rushers with 111 yards on 13 carries as Boyle totaled 183 yards on the ground. They averaged over 5.5 yards per carry.

“They really stacked the box because we couldn’t get the pass game going, so we had to pick up our responsibilities and attack our responsibilities, get Gunner and Tanner holes and we knew they could do the rest,” Bramel said.

The Rebels threatened the goal line on their next series, advancing to the Dunbar 10, but a sack on third down backed the ball to the 20 and Nik Ruby came up short on a 37-yard field goal try.

Then it was Dunbar’s turn to mount it’s only consistent drive of the night, using 15 plays to make it to the Boyle 9. But a third down rush went for negative yards and an unsportsmanlike penalty on the Bulldogs pushed them back to the 28, where they eventually turned over the ball on downs.

With the teams exiting halftime and the score still 7-0, Dunbar caught lightning, at least for one play. Junior running back Nick Gay took over at quarterback; his first two rushes of the second half gained 10 yards, and his third carry ended 54 yards later in the end zone, tying the game at 7-7.

“That’s really inexcusable,” Smith said. “You can’t come in after half and let them have a cheap touchdown because we missed a lot of tackles.”

But the Rebels defense stiffened, allowing nine yards on Dunbar’s next two possessions and forcing two punts.

Boyle cashed in on the final play of the third quarter. Quarterback Sam Tiller made one of his five completions of the night count, finding a wide-open Nick Walker 20 yards downfield, and Walker raced the final distance to the goal line for a 47-yard score and a 14-7 lead.

“That was a designed play, we suckered them up and he slid in behind them,” Smith said. “It was a big-time play because we needed it bad, we were struggling.”

Boyle’s strong defense kept the Bulldogs (3-7) in check on their two fourth quarter possessions, and Mitchell Paycheck recovered a fumbled punt to keep Dunbar from gaining any momentum.

The Rebels held Dunbar to 178 total yards — the Bulldogs averaged 3.3 yards per snap — and 22 of their 42 rushing attempts gained two yards or fewer. Dunbar crossed midfield only twice.

Active defenses and steady running games won’t set highlights reels ablaze, but as Friday night showed, it can definitely win football games.

Even ugly ones.

Follow Jeremy Schneider on Twitter @jschneideramn