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Bears self-destruct in fourth-quarter

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By John Shindlebower

 

All game long, Spencer County answered every North Oldham score with one of their own. They appeared ready to do the same late Friday after the visiting Mustangs were clinging to a 33-28 lead as the Bears marched down the field toward the game-winning touchdown, only to self-destruct and see their season record fall to 2-4.

Head coach Matt Powenski was disappointed with the outcome, but pleased with the effort.

“We played well and our kids worked hard this week for this game,” he said.

Powenski said the level of competition this year is stronger than the Bears have ever faced, and despite the record, they’ve showed they can compete.

“We feel like our district is the most competitive in the state. Playing the toughest schedule in the history of our program will allow us to get better and better.”

Tied 21-21 going into the fourth quarter, North Oldham (6-0) connected on a 25-yard touchdown pass play to go up 27-21. The extra-point attempt was blocked and the Bears had over eight minutes to respond. They needed less than three.

Two strong runs by Eric Doty and Erico Smith put the Bears in good field position when Cameron Smith then broke free from about 30 yards out for the tying touchdown. Tyler Calvert’s extra point attempt was good and the Bears had their first lead of the night, 28-27 with just under six minutes remaining.

However, North Oldham showed they could answer as well and quickly, taking the ensuing kickoff back for a touchdown, erasing not only the Bears’ lead, but also recapturing the momentum.

Powenski said that was a big play in the game, but credited North Oldham’s special teams for making good blocks on the return.

North Oldham attempted to make up for the missed extra point by going for a two point conversion, but failed, leaving Spencer County with an opportunity to pull back ahead with a touchdown.

The Bears looked like they were on their way. Taking over at their own 23-yard line, Cameron Smith and Erico Smith took handoffs and were able to pick up big yardage, crossing over into North Oldham territory with just under two minutes remaining.

With a 1st and 10 at the Mustang 24 yard line, the Bears abandoned the running game, a move that provided disastrous. A lateral pass sailed over the intended receiver’s head, and rolled out-of-bounds for a ten-yard loss. At that point, the Bears were forced to throw the ball and were unable to convert a 4th down and 16, turning the ball back over to North Oldham on downs, who then was able to run out the clock.

Powenski doesn’t second guess the decision to throw, suggesting that the defense North Oldham was playing opened up the possibility of a big gain on a pass play.

“They were leaving a wide receiver wide uncovered but we just didn’t execute the plays that we had practiced during the week.”

The Bears were again hurt by penalties on offense this week, some of which were personal fouls that Powenski said were a result of his players “blocking past the whistle.”

North Oldham actually got off to a quick start, taking their opening drive and moving at ease on the Spencer County defense to take a 7-0 lead. Later in the first quarter, Spencer County answered when Erico Smith made a nice run, eluding a couple of tackles toward the far sideline, and scampering into the end zone to tie the game.

The Bears defense then settled in, and forced a North Oldham punt, but on the Bears’ next possession, a fumble gave the Mustangs the ball on the Spencer County 22 yard-line. They were able to connected on a five-yard touchdown pass a few plays later.

Cameron Smith put the Bears in good field position with a good kick return, then later scored on a 2-yard run to knot the score at 14-14 right before the half.

North Oldham struck first in the third quarter, when their runner broke a couple of tackles and ran 33 yards for a score. But the Bears responded with a scoring drive of their own, capped off by Cameron Smith’s 25-yard TD run to make it 21-21, setting the dramatic fourth quarter finish.

Despite coming up a little short on the scoreboard, Powenski saw some good things Friday, including a good defensive effort by his roster that’s been shortened somewhat by injuries.

“Our defense has steadily improved and will continue to improve,” he said. “We have made some moves to allow us to rest some players for defense.

The Bears’ tough schedule continues this week, when Anderson County pays a visit Friday night. The Bearcats are an impressive 5-1 on the season and will present another challenge for the Bears.

“Anderson County is big and strong with some speed to go along with it. It’s going to be a tough game.”

But Powenski said the Bears’ preseason goal of hosting a first-round playoff game is still attainable if they can turn some of these close games into wins.

“Our goal at the beginning of the year was to host a playoff game. It is still in our grasp.”