Bell County saw their season come to an end on Friday with a 34-16 loss to Ashland Blazer in the regional championship round of the Class 2A playoffs.
Braxton Jennings ran for 157 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries, Atayveon Thompson scored three touchdowns and quarterback LaBryant Strader one for the Tomcats.
Bell Couty got two touchdown catches from senior George Pace — an 18-yarder from Daniel Thomas in the second quarter and a 43-yarder from Blake Burnett in the fourth. Ethan Raby ran for one conversion and Holden Clark caught a pass from Burnett for the other.
The Bobcats lost one fumble and threw two interceptions in the game, including one in the end zone after recovering an Ashland fumble to open the third quarter. That interception kept the Tomcats in front 14-8 and they pulled away with touchdowns on their next three drives.
“We hadn’t made turnovers all year long and we made a few costly ones tonight,” Hilton said. “The whole turning point was that we didn’t come out here and drive the ball on the first series. They three-and-outed us and that set the tone for the game. We’re supposed to set the tone and instead they set the tone.
“That’s coaching. I probably should have called a better set of plays to get us going.”
Bell was held to six yards on their first three plays and had to punt. Ashland drove 81 yards to take the lead with Strader scoring on a 1-yard sneak and Brian Church adding the extra point for a 7-0 lead with 3:29 to go in the first quarter.
The Bobcats picked up a first down on their next drive, but lost a fumble that led to another lengthy drive for Ashland. This time it was Thomas scoring on a 7-yard run to stretch the lead to 14-0 with 10:23 to play in the half.
“They were a big, nice team. They were better than what I thought they were,” Hilton said of the Tomcats. “Early in the season they didn’t look very good, but they really got better as the season went on.”
Bell County answered with a five-minute drive of their own, mixing the wishbone and shot-gun formations. Daniel Thomas found Pace in the end zone from 18-yards out and Pace held on despite taking a shot. Raby ran in the conversion to cut the lead to 14-8 with 5:01 left in the half.
That was still the score when the Tomcats were stopped on opening drive of the third quarter. Daniel Osborne forced a fumble that Hayden Damron recovered at the Ashland 32.
The Bobcats were driving but Thomas got up to intercept Burnett’s pass into the end zone.
Jennings got loose for a couple of long runs and capped an 80-yard drive with a 9-yard touchdown for a 21-8 lead with 2:26 to play in the third quarter.
Thomas added touchdown runs of one and 22 yards in the fourth quarter as the lead grew to 34-8.
A couple of nice runs by Dawson Woolum set up a deep ball from Burnett to Pace for a 43-yard touchdown. Burnett passed to Clark for the conversion to make the score 34-16 with 2:00 to play and that was the final score.
Woolum led Bell County with 61 yards on 11 carries and Daniel Thomas ran the ball 15 times for 40 yards before leaving with a lower leg injury in the third quarter.
“I thought we were a very explosive offense and tonight we met somebody that had quickness and speed that adjusted to us well,” Hilton said. “I didn’t know how anybody was going to stop Daniel but they showed me tonight. They knew they had to stop Daniel and every time he got it he took a beating.”
Ashland (9-4) advances to play at the Christian Academy of Louisville (13-0) in the semifinals on Friday.
Bell County ends the season with a record of 10-3.
“We had a great group of seven seniors that helped us to get this far. They’re a good bunch of boys,” Hilton said. “That’s got to mean that we have a lot coming back next year, so that’s going to help us.”