Boyle turnovers allowed Johnson to shorten game

Published 10:56 pm Monday, December 9, 2019

LEXINGTON – It wasn’t what Johnson Central did with Boyle County’s turnovers that made the difference. It was what Boyle didn’t do.

The Rebels didn’t seize control of the game in the first quarter as they had so many times this season. They didn’t deliver the early punches that debilitated so many of their opponents. They didn’t force a Johnson Central team that desperately wanted to shorten the game to play from behind.

All because they didn’t have the ball.

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There’s no way to know how many touchdowns the Rebels’ five turnovers cost them, but there’s no doubt they were a huge factor in their 21-20 loss to Johnson Central in the Class 4A championship at Kroger Field.

“We missed opportunities. We couldn’t afford to miss opportunities against their offense because their offense is a ball-control, time-consuming type of offense, and they took the time off of the clock,” Boyle coach Chuck Smith said.

Boyle found itself in a truly close game for the first time this season, and each turnover cost the Rebels a little more time, which played right into Johnson Central’s hands.

“There’s no doubt about it. It did what we wanted to do, shorten the game,” Johnson Central coach Jim Matney said.

“We knew going into the game that we couldn’t survive that, and certainly we didn’t,” Smith said.

This season marked the 20th anniversary of Boyle’s first appearance in the state finals, and the first of five consecutive championships and eight in a period of 19 seasons.

This Boyle team, which came to Kroger Field with gaudy averages of 50.7 points and 402 offensive yards per game, seemed to compare well to most of those championship teams and needed only one more win to take its place alongside them.

Instead, the Rebels scored fewer points than they had in any game this season – by 10 – and fewer points than they had in any of the eight championship games they have won.

“(The turnovers) hurt us in terms of our points … and we knew with the way they tried to run the clock and run their offense that we needed to stay on top of them on the scoreboard, and we just didn’t do that,” Boyle offensive coordinator Chris Pardue said.

Based on statistics reports submitted to the KHSAA by Boyle’s opponents, the Rebels had only 11 turnovers in their first 14 games this season.

“We preach not turning the ball over, and we did a great job of it,” Pardue said.

That changed against a physical Johnson Central team, as Boyle had three fumbles and two interceptions.

“We kind of feel like defense is a lost art,” Matney said. “Nobody plays defense, so I think it surprises people sometimes how hard these mountain kids hit. But things happen. This is a pressure packed game. This is tough for young people to play, It’s a big stage.”

Johnson Central defensive end Dillon Preston came rushing across that stage to deliver a message on Boyle’s first play from scrimmage.

Preston hit Boyle wide receiver Reese Smith, who caught a pass for a gain of 39 yards to the Johnson Central 22-yard line, forcing a fumble that the Eagles’ Grant Rice recovered.

“When that guy came down on the first play and hit Reese from behind, I know Reese wasn’t expecting that. He showed great hustle to do that,” Pardue said. “You’ve got to credit Johnson Central for some of (the turnovers).”

Others, however, were unforced. Yet Pardue said he doesn’t believe the Rebels beat themselves.

“I think our kids played really hard, I think we laid it on the line. We missed a couple of plays that we normally make, but they were on us quick and they hit us. Things like that happen in a game sometimes,” he said.

Things like that happened four times in the first half Saturday – though one was a meaningless interception on the final play of the first half – and they happened three times in Johnson Central territory.

Even so, the Rebels found themselves in a 14-14 tie at halftime.

“We didn’t feel bad, because we were moving the football,” Pardue said. “We’re tied up, we’re moving the football, and we came out (at the start of the second half) and – unforced – again turned the football over.”

A fumble six plays into the second half – turnover No. 5 – cut Boyle’s first series short and further frustrated the Rebels.

Chuck Smith wasn’t surprised that the game was up for grabs in the fourth quarter, but he was surprised by Boyle’s high turnover total.

“I thought going in it would come down to the final minutes or so of the game. I didn’t expect us to have those turnovers, though. That really hurt us,” he said. “But I still say at the end, they made the plays and we didn’t.”