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Teams with their playoff future secure may use a final regular-season game as a chance to fine-tune their game. But on Friday night, the Spencer County Bears discovered they may be in dire need of some major repairs after grinding to a halt at Washington County during a 45-7 loss to the Commanders.
The Bears broke down on defense and sputtered on offense from the very beginning, falling behind early and never mounting a real threat in a performance in which they resembled nothing close to the team that had proven competitive in every game this year despite a 4-5 record heading into last Friday.
They’d performed well enough to earn a first-round home playoff game against Louisville Shawnee, but head coach Matt Powenski said it’s possible his team was simply looking ahead to the postseason.
“That’s possible,” he said, but added that “we had good practices all week and the coaches prepared and coached the players to win.”
But while Powenski knows his team wasn’t up to par, he also was quick to praise the Commanders, a high-scoring team that Powenski said is one of the best 4-6 teams in the state.
“They have rarely been stopped (on offense) all year. Their quarterback is the best we’ve seen all year.”
On defense, the speed the Commanders possessed kept the Bears in check all night and prevented Spencer County from seriously mounting any comeback after quickly falling behind.
Washington County jumped out early after taking the opening kickoff. On their second play from scrimmage, their running back took a handoff and broke free for an 85 yard run, only to be stopped on the one-yard line. They would score two plays later and after a blocked extra point, led 6-0.
Spencer County went three and out before punting, giving the hosts the ball at the 35 yard-line.
The Bears knew they had to defend a spread offense - with eligible receivers lined up from sideline to sideline. But they also had some disagreements with the officials - and that became clear early on when the coaching staff protested that Washington County’s passing game included ineligible men downfield. The protest was so loud, it drew an unsportsmanlike penalty, the first of many flags that plagued the Bears on the evening.
Powenski said he thought there were some bad calls in the game, but said that didn’t excuse the Bears’ poor performance.
“We can’t control the officials, we just have to play with our pads and play from whistle to whistle like we are taught.”
The Commanders used the penalty as a springboard to their second score, a screen pass that went for nearly 50 yards and a touchdown, and following a successful two point conversion, the Commanders were up 14-0 with less than five minutes gone in the game.
Spencer County suffered through another three and out before punting. The Bears defense did hold on the Commanders’ next possession, but could get nothing started on offense before having to punt again themselves.
Washington County then embarked on a drive that would take them deep into Spencer County territory again, but got two big breaks when completed passes were fumbled, but then recovered by the offense. However, an attempted pass to the end zone was picked off by Spencer County’s Tyler Stevens, stopping Washington County, at least for the moment.
Penalties again killed the Bears’ next drive, forcing another punt. Washington County then took advantage of good field position and more Spencer County penalties, scoring on an eight-yard touchdown pass to go up 21-0 with just under 10 minutes left in the half.
Erico Smith picked up the Bears’ first first-down of the game on a run during the next season, but that series also ended with a punt and when they got the ball again, more bad news awaited. Erico Smith picked up nine yards on a run, but was injured when he took a direct hit on the ankle by another player’s helmet. The game was held up for nearly 25 minutes as he was tended to on the field, and was eventually carted off on a stretcher and taken for x-rays.
Washington County then converted on their next series, scoring on a 35-yard touchdown pass to go up 28-0 with under a minute left in the game.
A fumbled kickoff return then pretty much sealed the fate for the Bears, as the fumble was recovered by Washington County in the end zone for a safety, and the Bears had to kick-off to the Commanders again. They scored again right before the end of the half to take a 37-0 lead into the break.
The Commanders started the second half with the same dominance they displayed in the first, scoring on a 33-yard touchdown pass. They then went for the two point conversion, not to run up the score, but to get the margin to 45, which would allow the clock to run continuously - which is high school football’s version of a mercy rule.
The Bears were able to salvage a little pride with a drive highlighted by the running of Eric Doty and Cameron Smith and capped off with a short run on a quarterback-keeper by Kevin Hume. Tyler Calvert’s PAT was good, and the score was 45-7 with just under four minutes left in the quarter.
For the game, Cameron Smith had 22 carries for 176 yards and 45 yards on kick returns. Doty had 13 carries for 54 yards. On defense, Bryant Fowler recorded eight tackles while Doty had five.
Neither team would score again, but the Bears would leave the field knowing that it will take a much better performance next week if they have hopes of advancing.
The Bears will take on Louisville Shawnee, who finished the season with a 5-4 record. Powenski said speed again will be a weapon the Bears will have to contend with.
Powenski said Erico Smith suffered a high-ankle sprain and will be week-to-week. “He’ll most likely sit out this week,” the coach said, adding that it will be a significant loss. “Erico is a two way starter and plays a lot of special teams. He will be missed.”
If the Bears can rebound and pick up a victory over Shawnee this week, the road will get much tougher as they’ll then have to travel to take on the winner of the Henry County-Louisville Central game the following week. Louisville Central is the defending 3A state champion.