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Turnovers, costly mistakes, giving up big plays and falling behind quickly have all played a role in each of the Bears’ seven losses this season. Such was the case again Friday night as the Bears fell 20-14 to visiting Western Hills during homecoming. The Bears may look back at the second half of this game as the turning point in the season.
After falling behind 20-0, the Bears clawed back and played their best football of the season in the second half and hopefully set the tone for their two remaining district games.
It was a familiar beginning starting out, as Spencer County took the opening possession at their own 43-yardline and promptly fumbled on a third and five. Western Hills fell on the loose ball and scored on a 60-yard pass play on their first play from scrimmage. They converted a two-point conversion and the Wolverines jumped out to a 8-0 lead on Homecoming night.
Spencer County sputtered on offense again, punting on fourth and long and the teams traded possessions before Spencer County took over deep in their own territory.
Senior running back Erico Smith caught a short pass and took it out five yards for first down yardage but was injured on the play. He left the game and the field to have his injured ankle checked out and was lost for the game.
If that weren’t bad enough, moments after the injury, sophomore quarterback Trent Holbrook looked to make something happen while being chased in the backfield and tossed an errant pass that landed right into the hands of a Western Hills defender, who waltzed into the end zone for another Wolverine score. They failed to convert the two-point converstion, but led 14-0 with three minutes left in the quarter.
Most of the second quarter was a defensive struggle as the teams exchanged punts, but Western Hills was able to put more points on the board near the end of the half on a pass to the back of the endzone. The two-point conversion attempt was stopped by Spencer County’s Trey Wyatt who intercepted the pass.
Western Hills then tried to put the game out of reach when they recovered an onside kick and quickly moved the ball down within the 30-yard line of Spencer County as the half neared the end. However, the Bears defense came to life and the Wolverine drive ended when senior Logan Dunbar recorded a quarterback sack. The teams went to halftime with the Bears trailing 20-0.
In the second half, Spencer County looked like a different football team. On their first possession, which began on their own five-yard line, Bryan Harris took a handoff, found a hole in the line and found himself with nothing but open field in front of him. He outran several pursuing Wolverines for a 95-yard touchdown run, and after Tyler Calvert’s successful PAT kick, the score was 20-7 with 10 minutes left in the third quarter.
Spencer County’s defense then stepped up and stopped Western Hills on a three and out, and the Bears got the ball back near mid-field. Runs by Kevin Hume and Harris, combined with a penalty on Western Hills, put the Bears deep into Wolverine territory, and Harris scored from two yards out.
Calvert’s kick made it 20-14 with just under five minutes in the third quarter.
Both teams played tough defense the rest of the quarter and into the fourth, however Spencer County showed some life as they got one final possession following an interception by Wyatt that gave the Bears a first and 10 at their own 26-yard line.
A Holbrook pass to Matt Black took the ball out to the 39-yard line, and the Bears were moving the ball as the clock wound down.
Hume made a huge play when he caught a pass on the Wolverine 27-yard line in which he somehow held on to the ball after being hit hard in the back right after securing the ball.
However, a fumble on the next play ended the drive and the hopes for a magical Homecoming rally. The Wolverines were able to simply run out the clock and send the Bears to an 0-1 district record.
While the disappointment of another loss was not diminished, Bears coach Wes Napper said the game revealed something positive.
“Our team showed a lot of heart fighting back the way they did. I can honestly say that every player gave everything they had and left it all on the field,” said Napper.
The coach said it’s not fair to suggest they gave the game away, but admitted that when you turn the ball over four times, as the Bears did Friday night, you lose games that you probably should win.
While the defense has been much maligned this season, Friday night they stepped up, especially in the second half when they shut down the Wolverines.
Napper said not only was there maximum effort and aggressiveness on defense, but he said the staff tried to simplify some things and let the players concentrate on making plays.
“Defensively, we got very basic and allowed our guys to just play defense instead of thinking so much during the presnap. I feel our defensive play will continue to get better.”
Despite the loss, the Bears can still make some noise in the district, and if they get help, could still end up winning it.
Spencer County will host North Oldham Friday night, a dangerous team that Napper said is capable of taking an early lead if the Bears don’t come out and execute from the first play.
Erico’s injury, while initially appearing to the type that could sideline him the rest of the season, may not be as severe as first thought. Napper said the senior running back is week to week and while he’s probably out for the next week or two, could return before the final game.
The injury will mean Harris will need to step up big again this week, and the junior did just that against Western Hills, gaining 188 yards on the ground and scoring two touchdowns.
Spencer County will travel to Henry County for their final district game on Oct. 22 and will end the regular season with a home matchup with Anderson County on Oct. 29.