Rebels top Tates Creek in opener

Coaches, players still not happy with their play

HARRODSBURG — Boyle County met the goal but fell short of the standard in its season opener.

The bar has been set high because the Rebels believe they are once again capable of achieving great things on the football field. That’s why even though the defending Class 4A champions got the desired outcome Saturday night, they didn’t feel good about it.

Coaches and players alike were disappointed in the Rebels’ level of play in their 31-6 victory over Tates Creek in the Little Caesars Fort Harrod Bowl at Alvis Johnson Field, and they didn’t mind saying so.

“You always take a ‘W,’ but we didn’t play to the standards that we’ve set,” Boyle coach Justin Haddix said. “You could see it on the kids’ faces when they were over here (in the postgame huddle), and you could see it on, obviously, the coaches’ faces. We’ve got a lot to live up to, and they know that.”

Such talk can often sound like coachspeak, but in this case the players were saying it, too, both with their body language as they left the field and in some cases with words.

“We learned that we need to come out and play our game every single week and play at that championship level,” Boyle running back-linebacker Dalton Stone said. “I don’t think we overlooked them, I just think that this was a very good learning experience and this was a good gut-check for us.”

Right about here, it should be noted that Boyle won the game convincingly. The Rebels needed less than four minutes to score on their opening drive and were never threatened after they took a 14-0 lead less than two minutes later.

“The first few minutes we came out hot, we leaned on each other,” Boyle wide receiver Cole Lanter said. “But I think we got too comfortable too quickly, and we’ve got to learn not to do that.”

It should also be noted that even the very best teams only get 15 opportunities to enjoy a win.

“We came out here and we competed. We didn’t play to our standard, but we came out with a win, so there’s no reason to be upset about it,” said Lanter, who was named the game’s most valuable player after he scored two touchdowns in the first half and three in all.

There were bright spots, to be sure. The results of the first three series of the game were Boyle touchdown, Tates Creek turnover, Boyle touchdown, putting the Rebels firmly in control.

The Commodores crossed midfield only three times on offense and reached the red zone only twice.

Lanter caught eight passes for 85 yards, and he saved his best catch for last, leaping over a defender in the end zone to catch a 12-yard TD pass for the final score of the game.

Quarterback Jagger Gillis, playing the first game of a second senior season after opting for a supplemental school year allowed by Senate Bill 128, was 13 for 18 for 118 yards.

And the Rebels didn’t have a turnover on offense, while their defense forced two.

But when Haddix was asked what was good about the Rebels’ play, his only answer focused on the kicking game, where Jackson Smith kicked a 21-yard field goal, missed a 41-yard attempt only a couple of feet or so to the right and put four of six kickoffs into the end zone and where the only kickoff returned by Tates Creek resulted in only 14 yards.

High on the list of things the coach did not like were two of the fixtures of football: blocking and tackling.

“Those are two things that are never going to change in the game of football, and we didn’t do a very good job in either one of those tonight,” Haddix said.

Right about here, it should be noted that this was Boyle’s first live action of the season because the Rebels were unable to play a preseason scrimmage the week before their opener.

Haddix said that probably made a difference in the way the Rebels played in this game, though he said they won’t use that as an excuse for poor execution.

Stone and Lanter said a scrimmage typically provides an opportunity to get some first-game jitters out of the way before the first game, particularly for players who haven’t been on the field much in the past.

“I think there’s some guys that haven’t felt that atmosphere yet, so I just think that little bit of extra action would have helped us, but … no excuses,” Lanter said.

Tates Creek, a Class 6A school that was winless last season, drove from its own 43-yard line to the end zone in only 57 seconds at the end of the first half for its only touchdown, scoring on a 26-yard catch by Marquevion Smith as time expired.

Boyle outgained Tates Creek 293 yards to 180 and held the Commodores to 59 yards in the second half.

Stone, who is using the supplemental school year to repeat his junior year, led the Rebels in rushing with 53 yards and scored the first touchdown of the season on an 8-yard run that capped a nine-play, 68-yard opening drive.

Three plays later, Lanter intercepted a pass and returned it 17 yards to the Tates Creek 15 to set up his own 2-yard touchdown run.

Midway through the second quarter, Smith forced a fumble and Gillis recovered it to stop a Tates Creek drive at the Boyle 13.

Things weren’t so good for the Rebels after that, however.

“It’s a learning experience,” Haddix said. “You need these games. Obviously, as a coach, you don’t like them. You want to be perfect every time. But we’ve got a lot of work to do, and we’re going to get it done.”

That might have meant an arduous Monday afternoon when the Rebels returned to practice and reviewed game film with the coaches.

“They’re going to be very critical, because we expect perfection,” Lanter said. “It’s the Boyle County way, that’s what we expect and that’s our main goal. So I don’t know if I should be nervous walking in Monday or not.”

Haddix gave an indication of what the film session might look like.

“It ain’t going to be pretty,” he said. “And they know that.”

Sharing the load: Boyle’s running game featured an array of ball carriers, with six players getting at least three rushing attempts each.

That’s a switch from last season, when Will McDaniel got 56 percent of the team’s carries to amass 1,219 yards in his senior year. And it’s a trend that’s likely to continue as the season unfolds.

“Losing Will, that’s huge. … But we do have some guys, and we look to spread the ball around,” Lanter said. “It’s not going to be a one-man show, Everybody’s going to get their fair share of touches.”

Stone had seven carries for 53 yards, and he was followed in order of attempts by John Rahbany (six for 22 yards), Lanter (five for 33), Avery Bodner (five for 27), Gillis (five for 12) and Sage Dawson (three for 27).

“As the season gets rolling, we’ll try to keep everybody fresh,” Haddix said. “And that’s a lot of different things that you’ve got to prepare for.”

Extra points: Boyle was 0 for 8 on third-down conversion attempts, though it was 3 for 5 on fourth down. Tates Creek was 5 for 14 on third down. … Stone and Tommy Ziesmer were the Rebels’ leading tacklers with five total tackles, and Stone had two tackles for loss. … Sage Dawson was active on both sides of the ball in his Boyle debut. Dawson, a sophomore who was Danville’s starting quarterback last season, rushed three times for 27 yards and had 3 1/2 tackles.

Boyle has won five straight season openers since an overtime loss to North Hardin in the 2016 opener. The Rebels have opened the season in Mercer County’s bowl in six of the seven seasons since it began in 2015 — the bowl was not played in 2020 — as part of a reciprocal agreement that brings Mercer to Boyle’s Rebel Bowl in week two.

Titans on top: Jalen Lukitsch scored two defensive touchdowns to lead Mercer to a 34-13 win over Madison (Ind.) in the second game of the Little Caesars Fort Harrod Bowl.

Lukitsch had an 80-yard interception return for a touchdown in the second quarter and a 42-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown in the third quarter to spark the Titans, who led 27-0 at halftime and 34-0 after three quarters.

Trosper Buchanan completed nine of 14 passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns, and Brayden Dunn rushed 11 times for 72 yards and a TD.

Scoring summary

Tates Creek       0   6   0   0 — 6

Boyle County  14    7   0  10 — 31

First Quarter

Boyle — Dalton Stone 8 (Jackson Smith kick), 8:05.

Boyle — Cole Lanter 2 run (Smith kick), 6:14.

Second Quarter

Boyle — Lanter 19 pass from Jagger Gillis (Smith kick), 9:27.

Tates Creek — Marquevion Smith 26 pass from Andrew Whitherington (kick failed), :00.

Fourth Quarter

Boyle — FG Smith 21, 9:19.

Boyle — Lanter 12 pass from Gillis (Smith kick), 5:59