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Battle for upset comes up short

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By John Shindlebower

They weren’t able to pull off the upset, but the Spencer County Bears showed marked improvement Friday night in a 33-21 loss to district champions Henry County.

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Coming off a miserable showing the week before in a 28-0 loss at North Oldham, the Bears had something to prove on Senior Night.

“The team came out very focused and ready to play against Henry County,” said Bears coach Wes Napper, who said they had a good week of practice and were motivated not only by playing Henry County, but also in hoping to send off the seniors on a good note.

It looked like it might be a repeat of the week before in the early stages, as Henry County took their opening possession and marched downfield for a quick touchdown, going up 7-0 three minutes into the game. Meanwhile, Spencer County struggled offensively and went three and out on their first three possessions. Fortunately, Spencer County’s defense held the visiting Wildcats in check as well.

However, on the last of the three straight punts for the Bears, the snap sailed over the head of punter Cameron Smith, setting up Henry County deep in Spencer County territory. They would score on the second play of the second quarter to go up 14-0.

The Bears were able to move the ball a bit on their next possession, picking up a couple of first downs, but the drive stalled and ended in another punt. Spencer County’s Brian Wessels intercepted a Henry County pass at his own 35 yard line, giving the Bears new life.

On this drive, the offense began to click. Solid running by Cameron Smith and Erico Smith helped move the ball down field, and sophomore quarterback Morgan Brown, who struggled in his first game the week before, got some newfound confidence, hitting Cameron Smith on a pass that Smith took down to the 4-yard line. Smith would then score from four yards out to cut the lead to 14-6. A muffed snap and hold cost the Bears the extra point attempt.

The two teams played a defensive stalemate the rest of the first half.

In the third quarter, Spencer County again managed only three plays and a punt on their first possession and Henry County took advantage. Using short passes, they marched down the field and scored on a 17-yard pass and catch to go up 21-6.

Continued good defense from both teams kept each offense off the scoreboard the remainder of the quarter, although Spencer County began what appeared to be a promising drive, only to have it stalled by penalties.

The Bears’ first drive of the fourth quarter looked promising as well, with Brown hitting Steven Ashley and Cameron Smith on passes that moved the ball up to midfield, but a fumble stopped the drive and gave Henry County the ball. They took advantage and turned a screen pass into a long touchdown that gave the Wildcats a commanding 27-6 lead early in the final frame.

The Bears didn’t quit however, and on one of the Bears most balanced drives of the season, moved the ball downfield with a good combination of run and pass. It ended with six points when Steven Ashley caught a deflected pass in the end zone for a touchdown. A two point conversion then made it 27-14 with just over five minutes remaining.

Any hopes for a miracle rally were short-lived however, as an unsuccessful onside kick attempt gave Henry County the ball at midfield. Henry County, helped by two big Spencer County penalties, quickly was in scoring position and quickly found the end zone to take a 33-14 lead with 2:34 remaining.

The Bears would manage to put up another score when Erico Smith got loose for a 44-yard touchdown run to cut the final margin to 33-21 for the Bears, who now stand at 3-6 on the season. Henry County improved to 7-2.

Napper was pleased again with his defense, which earlier in the season, appeared to be the big question mark for the team. However, he said the short passing game of Henry County proved effective.

“Our defense played very well Friday in most areas of the game. Our biggest weakness was not rallying to the flats on the underneath pass plays. We had a difficult time with this because their quarterback did a tremendous job of running the ball when we flexed our backers out and put them in a better position,” he said. Napper said the Bears’ pass rush must get better in order to put pressure on the quarterback.

On offense, Napper saw tremendous improvement from the week before, and said he was pleased with Brown’s second outing behind center.

“He made some great passes and seemed more poised in the game. He got confidence early and carried it throughout the game. Brown finished with 10 completions in 23 attempts for 137 yards and a TD, although Napper said his stats suffered from about six dropped passes that should have been caught.

The Bears running game rebounded from last week too, with Cameron Smith rushing for 68 yards and Erico Smith running for 85. Cameron Smith also had 43 yards receiving, as did Steven Ashley and Erico Smith had 30 yards receiving.

On defense, David Cross led the way with 14 tackles, Kevin Hume added 12 and Bryan Harris had 11. Austin Cook added eight stops while Steven Ashley had seven. Trey Wyatt and Logan Dunbar each were in on six tackles and Dunbar recorded a sack. Brian Wessels had six tackles, four pass deflections and an interception.

Before the game, the Bears honored their seniors and Napper said the group was special to him because he started his coaching career four years ago when the seniors arrived at the high school.

“I remember coaching these guys at freshman and JV games early in their careers. It is amazing how much each of them has matured and become their own individual both on and off the field. I would like to personally thank each of the guys’ parents for playing such a huge part in not only raising their sons, but allowing them to play football and represent Spencer County in such a positive way.”

This Friday, the Bears close out the regular season on the road at Anderson County, who are 8-1 following a 10-7 loss at Oldham County last week.

The Bears will open up postseason play the following Friday when they travel to Louisville Central for the opening round of the 3A playoffs.