Rebels rip Logan, return to state title game

Published 10:28 am Monday, November 29, 2021

For Boyle County, November is no time to mess around.

The Rebels are rolling into Lexington for the third consecutive year on a series of impressive playoff victories, and they were as dominant on the final mile of that road Friday night as they have been all season.

Their focus was sharp and their execution was impeccable Friday night in a 54-16 romp over Logan County in a Class 4A semifinal at Rebel Stadium that sent them back to Kroger Field for a shot at a second straight state championship.

“It’s unreal, man, but I love it,” Boyle quarterback Jagger Gillis said. “We’re going back to Kroger, and I’m excited.”

Boyle (13-1) will return to the state finals for the third time in as many seasons, the fourth time in five years and the 12th time since 1999. The Rebels will play Johnson Central for the Class 4A championship this Friday in a rematch of the 2019 4A final, one of only two games Boyle has lost in the finals.

The Rebels’ current seniors were eighth-graders when Boyle began its most recent run of regular appearances in the title game with a win in 2017. As they watched from the stands that night, they set a goal of making it onto Kroger Field for their senior year, and this will be their third game on that turf.

“There’s no better feeling,” Boyle kicker-linebacker Jackson Smith said. “Most of us have grown up together, and we played together in elementary school and middle school. We saw those guys win state in 2017, and we said, ‘We want to be those guys our senior year,’ and I don’t think anyone works harder in the state than us.”

Boyle earned one more week of work to prepare for the title game with a superb semifinal performance against Logan.

The Rebels scored on their first seven offensive series and added a defensive touchdown, and their defense gave the Cougars only one first down in their first eight possessions.

“When you’ve got that ‘Rebels’ on your helmet, you’ve got to play this way,” Boyle coach Justin Haddix said. “When you’re playing in the semifinals, when you’re one of the final four teams, you’ve got to come out and play your best. We feel like we’re peaking at the right time, and that’s what we want.”

Boyle (13-1) was in high gear for much of the regular season, winning six games by mercy rule and losing only once. But when the calendar turned to November, the Rebels set the GPS for Kroger Field and put the hammer down.

Their average margin of victory actually increased in the postseason, going from 28.3 points per game at the end of their 10-game schedule to 30.9 through 14 games. They have won their four playoff games by 40, 34, 37 and 38 points.

They have played with a running clock after taking a lead of at least 36 points to trigger the mercy rule for more than 108 of the 192 minutes in those games, or 56.5 percent of the time.

“We just got hungry,” Gillis said. “That feeling of state comes back into you. It’s a Boyle County tradition … and we just wanted to go experience that feeling again.”

“We were focused, we were ready to go. We had a good week of practice,” Smith added.

Seven different players scored for Boyle, the first of whom was the most unexpected. Tommy Ziesmer, who stars at defensive end and also sees some action on offense, took a forward pitch from Gillis and rolled 39 yards to paydirt on the Rebels’ second offensive play.

Ziesmer shot through a gaping hole at the line of scrimmage and quickly built a head of steam on an unimpeded run to the end zone.

“He’s a monster,” Gillis said.

It was the third career touchdown and the first on offense for Ziesmer, who had caught one other pass this season.

Avery Bodner, who led Boyle in rushing with 77 yards on seven carries, followed with the first of his two touchdowns, and Dalton Stone scored on a 15-yard run to make it 21-0 after just 9 1/2 minutes.

Gillis and Bodner had rushing touchdowns in the second quarter to start the running clock with 3:39 left in the first half, and Will Alexander returned a Logan fumble 31 yards for his first career TD.

The Rebels even turned a mistake into points after Alexander’s touchdown when lineman Daulton Peetz scored an unlikely two-point conversion.

Cole Lanter, who was holding for an extra-point attempt, recovered a bad snap and got off a pass to Smith, who had headed toward the left.

“He wasn’t supposed to throw it to me, but I guess he saw me out there and decided to toss it to me,” Smith said. “They caught me, and I saw Daulton and I pitched it to him.”

Everything was coming up roses for the Rebels, who had no turnovers and only one penalty.

“Everything went right. We connected on all cylinders,” Gillis said.

Sage Dawson scored on a 14-yard run and Smith kicked a 35-yard field goal before Logan (10-4) got its two touchdowns in the fourth.

The Cougars, making their first appearance in the semifinals, had only 29 yards at halftime and finished with 148, while the Rebels had 275 yards.

Making their pitch: The shovel pass has become a bigger part of Boyle’s offense this season, and its use has increased in recent weeks.

The Gillis-to-Ziesmer pitch that resulted in the Rebels’ first touchdown Friday was the first of three times Haddix called for a shovel pass in the game. Gillis tossed the ball forward to Lanter on consecutive plays in the second quarter, resulting in gains of 4 and 3 yards.

“That’s just coach Haddix’s thing,” Gillis laughed and said. “He tries to make stuff easy on me. It’s a play that’s been good to us, and it counts as passing yardage.”

The play barely qualifies as a pass, as the ball is often in the air for less than a yard as Gillis tosses it to a wide receiver or running back in motion across the formation. It has been used increasingly at all levels of football in recent years on jet sweeps and other plays that function as running plays.

“We’ll take anything that works. I’m not afraid to try anything, … (but) our O-line coach (offensive coordinator Travis Leffew) gets mad about it,” Haddix laughed and said.

Kentucky bound: Lanter announced he has committed to play for Kentucky on Nov. 22, two days after receiving an invitation to join the Wildcats as a preferred walk-on. He leads Boyle in receiving with 73 catches for 1,172 yards and 19 touchdowns, and he has rushed for 227 yards and four TDs and has scored twice on punt returns.

Lanter is the second Boyle player to commit to Kentucky this year. Smith announced his commitment to the Wildcats in April.

Extra points: Boyle has won its four postseason games by a combined score of 204-55 for an average margin of victory of 37.2 points. This marks the fifth time the Rebels have won all of their playoff games leading up to the state finals by an average of at least 35 points.

Lanter, who got his team-high third interception of the season and returned it 28 yards to set up a second-quarter touchdown. Cole Sims also had an interception on the final play of the first half.

Gillis completed nine of 10 passes for 135 yards, and Lanter caught three of them for 34 yards. … Jayce Crowe had a team-high seven tackles. Bodner had six tackles, all in the first half. Five different Rebels recorded tackles for loss.

Finally, the finals: Johnson has become another familiar name at the state finals, and not one that Boyle players remember fondly.

The Eagles will appear in a championship game for the sixth time in seven years, and their most recent finals appearance resulted in a 21-20 victory over the Rebels in the 2019 4A championship.

They missed the big game last year when Franklin County knocked them out in the semifinals, but they avenged that loss Friday with a 42-24 semifinal victory over Franklin.

Johnson (12-1) has won nine consecutive games since a Sept. 17 loss to an independent private school from suburban Washington. That streak began three days after the passing of coach Jim Matney, who died Sept. 28 due to complications from COVID-19 and a stroke.

Matney won 186 games and two championships in 18 seasons at Johnson. Steve Trimble, a former Johnson coach who was principal there when Matney was hired in 2004, is the Eagles’ interim coach.

A more detailed finals preview will appear Friday in the Advocate and on amnews.com.

Getting to the game: Tickets for Boyle’s game in the state finals will be digital only and are on sale at khsaatickets.org.

There will be no walk-up sales at Kroger Field.

Tickets are $15 for general seating and $25 for Longship Club seats through Tuesday. Those prices will go up by $5 on Wednesday. Children ages 5 and under will be admitted free but must have a ticket for that age group, which can be obtained online.

All seating will be general admission. Gates will open no earlier than 7 p.m. for the 8 p.m. kickoff.

Boyle will be the home team, and its bench will be on the south (press box) side of the stadium.

Prepspin will produce a webcast of the game, which is available for $12. Visit go.prepspin.com to purchase the webcast.

The game will be broadcast locally on radio on WRNZ-FM (105.1) and streamed on its website, hometownlive.net.

Scoring summary
Logan County 0 0 0 16 — 16
Boyle County 21 23 7 0 — 54

First Quarter
Boyle — Tommy Ziesmer 39 pass from Jagger Gillis (Jackson Smith kick), 9:01.
Boyle — Avery Bodner 3 run (Smith kick), 4:47.
Boyle — Dalton Stone 15 run (Smith kick), 2:33

Second Quarter
Boyle — Gillis 3 run (Smith kick), 6:37.
Boyle — Bodner 23 run (Bodner run), 3:39.
Boyle — Will Alexander 31 fumble recovery (Daulton Peetz pass from Cole Lanter), 3:09.

Third Quarter
Boyle — Sage Dawson 14 run (Smith kick), 7:29.
Boyle — FG Smith 35, :49.

Fourth Quarter
Logan — Davin Yates 29 run (Cade Johnson run), 10:39.
Logan — Jesse Buchanan 1 run (Buchanan run), 2:40.