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Oh, what a night for a comeback

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By John Shindlebower

First-year SCHS Head Football Coach Wes Napper had a night to remember Friday. In his first game at the helm, his Bears rallied late in the fourth quarter for a 35-34 victory over East Jessamine in front of a large and excited home crowd. He got the traditional post-game empty-the-water cooler shower from players, and was later given the game ball. Not a bad way to start a season, not to mention a career.

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“Winning the first game was one of our goals. Not only had that never been accomplished here before, but it sets the tone early and gets the guys’ attention that if you work hard and prepare yourself, good things will happen,” said Napper.

Speaking of setting the tone, the Bears did that from the outset Friday night when on their second play from scrimmage, senior running back Cameron Smith found  the corner and outran the pack of Jaguars for an 87-yard touchdown run. Tyler Calvert’s PAT was good and the Bears were quickly up 7-0.

Spencer County’s defense then forced a three-and-out, giving the Bears possession at their own 41.

This time, junior quarterback Erico Smith had a big play, a 37-yard run, followed by a 15-yard gain by junior running back Kevin Hume. Two plays later, the Bears completed the ground attack when Hume powered his way over from one yard out. Calvert’s kick made it 14-0 with less than four minutes into the game.

Spencer County’s Jacob Snider then recovered an East Jessamine fumble to set up the Bears again, but any notion that the route was on would be short-lived.

The Jaguar defense stiffened, forcing a Spencer County punt, and East Jessamine proved it could be effective on the ground as well, moving downfield and scoring from three yards out. On its conversion attempt, a sneaky snap resulted in a successful two-point conversion to close the gap to 14-8.

Spencer County’s next drive stalled, resulting in another punt, and East Jessamine moved downfield again, keeping it on the ground, and moving to the goal line. On a first-and-goal from inside the one yard-line, the Jaguar runner lost possession of the ball, which squirted into the end zone, only to be recovered by an alert East Jessamine player for a touchdown. This time the Jaguar’s two-point conversion failed, but the visitors had rallied to take a 16-14 lead midway through the second quarter.

It looked as though Spencer County was falling apart when on their next series, Hume fumbled, giving the Jaguars the ball on the Spencer County 35-yard line. However, Hume would atone himself on defense, collecting a sack and then recovering a fumble of his own to give the Bears a first-and-10 at their own 42 with just over four minutes remaining in the half.

Again, the Bears marched downfield behind good blocking and running, and Erico Smith was able to score on a nifty piece of running from 20 yards out. Spencer County decided to go for a two-point conversion, but the attempt failed, giving the Bears a 20-16 lead with just over two minutes until the half.

The Jaguars used their running game and good clock management to get the ball inside the Bears’ 5-yard line in the time they had left, and punched it over for the score as time expired. The extra-point kick was no good, but the visitors took a 22-20 lead into the locker room.

The first break of the second half came to the Bears when Calvert recovered a fumble on the opening kickoff, giving the Bears good field possession. They took advantage of the mistake and marched down field quickly. Cameron Smith scored on an 8-yard –run and this time the two-point try was good as Erico Smith dove over a defender and into the end zone to give the Bears a 28-22 lead with just under 10 minutes left in the third quarter.

But the Jaguars answered quickly. Despite penalties that could have killed their drives, East Jessamine answered with big plays, culminating in a 20-yard touchdown run. Another two-point conversion attempt failed, and the score was knotted up at 28-28.

With just over nine minutes left in the game, East Jessamine retook the lead after marching down the field again, scoring on a five-yard run. The extra point kick was no good, but the Bears found themselves trailing 34-28.

Spencer County took over at their own 41 and ate up the clock and the yardage and they made their way down the field, converting on a couple of fourth down conversions to keep the drive alive.

They were able to get a first down inside the one-yard line of East Jessamine, where Erico then scored on the next play when he took the snap and followed his line up the middle. Calvert’s kick was good and was the difference as the Bears clung to a 35-34 lead.

However, what was supposed to be a pooch kick that would eliminate the chance for a big return resembled an onsides kick, giving the visitors new life as they started their last series near midfield. Fortunately, the Bears’ defense rose to the task. A big stop by Cameron Smith and a tipped pass by Michael Wessels killed the drive and the Jaguars ran out of downs, which allowed the Bears to run out the clock.

As the final seconds ticked off, Napper made his way to midfield for the traditional handshake. Before he made it far from the sidelines, a couple of players dowsed him with ice water from a cooler to help him celebrate the milestone victory.

As the team huddled in the end zone after the game, Clark Teague, assistant coach and new athletic director, presented Napper with the game ball and the team gave him a round of applause.

No coach is every completely pleased, especially in the early season when mistakes are common, but Napper said his team did a lot of things right on Friday to secure the win.

On offense, both Cameron (175 yards on 21 carries) and Erico (155 yards on 18 carries) proved they’re going to be a hard duo to stop. For added measure, Kevin Hume contributed 40 yards on 9 carries and it’s evident the running game will be the team’s strength.

“Our offense had a pretty decent night overall, but nothing close to what we’re capable of,” said Napper, who sounded like the experienced coach when he found something to complain about, noting that eight rushing plays resulted in negative yards, a stat he said is way too high for a team running behind such an experienced offensive line.

“The offensive line did a good job for the season opener. They are the motor to our offensive machine,” said Napper, crediting the line coaches for their preparation. “I do expect bigger things out of our backs that will be a direct result from the play of the O-line.”

The Bears only attempted six passes on the night, completing just two. Napper said both numbers will have to increase for the Bears to present a more balanced attack.

On defense, Napper credited the East Jessamine attack, but found a few more things to dislike, mostly in the way of missed tackles.

“More often than not, we were in position and making contact, but couldn’t bring the ball carrier down,” he said. That phase of the game is something that can be remedied with more practice for inexperienced players.

“The learning curve will have to be accelerated from the practice field to the game field. That is the positive, the defensive mistakes and short comings are correctable with practice.”

Another huge improvement was the reduction of penalties that seemed to plague the Bears last year. Spencer County was flagged for only three infractions Friday night.

“One of the toughest things to do is to play the game with the right amount of emotion without being out of control. I feel like our men did a great job of playing under control with the exception of two plays. Both were addressed and I feel confident that these penalties will be an oddity as the season moves forward.”

Napper said he was very proud of his team, especially how they battled back after losing the lead and when trailing in the fourth quarter.

He said another strength to this year’s squad is their unity.

“This group understands that we are far better as a collective group than as individuals. Anyone who watched the huddle after the game was over saw young men truly excited for each other.”

Finally, Napper was thrilled with the huge crowd, which some estimated may have been one of the largest at a Spencer County game.

“It means a lot to hear the roars of our community as we experience success on the football field.”

But Napper and his team know that those roars are just echoes now as the Bears get set to travel to Elizabethtown Friday night to take on E-town at Central Hardin at 9 p.m.