A fast start propelled the Bell County Bobcats to a 32-14 win over Harlan County on Friday as they celebrated Senior Night.
The win improves the Bobcats to 10-0 and ensures they’ll be home throughout the playoffs as they finish with the top RPI in Class 3A.
“We’re going to save a lot of money in Bell County that we can spend right here in and eat in town. We won’t have to spend gas money travelling to different places in the state,” Bobcat coach Dudley Hilton said. “The biggest thing that helped us in the RPI is that we played five bigger schools than us. When you play bigger schools you’re going to get more points, then we just took care of business in our district.”
Friday’s game couldn’t have got off to a much better start for Bell County.
Senior London Stephney took the first snap down from scrimmage, got to the sideline and followed a Brandon Baker block, then cut all the way across the field on the way to a 51-yard touchdown and quick 6-0 lead.
The defense forced a three and out and this time Baker got loose for a 57-yard run down to the five yard line.
Dawson Woolum ran in from there to make it 12-0.
Bell’s next possession saw Stephney hook up with Jason Jones on a 66-yard touchdown pass. Jones did a lot of work cutting back across the field as he outran the Black Bear secondary.
Before the end of the first quarter Jones scored again, this time on 15-yard pass from Cameron Burnett and it was 24-0 after one period.
“It was a big key that we jumped on them early and made some big plays. To score 24 points in the first quarter, being that explosive early really helped us and caused us to withstand the pressure they put on us,” Hilton said. “I liked the way our kids came out and responded. They wanted to be ahead in the RPI, they wanted that undefeated season and I felt like they did what they had to do in order to accomplish what they wanted for this year.”
From there Harlan County succeeded in making the game more physical. They threatened to score before halftime but the Bobcats made a goal line stand to keep the score 24-0.
Two turnovers led to two touchdowns for the Bears as they closed the gap to 24-14 midway through the fourth quarter.
“I guess we caught them off guard early, after they settled down they started really playing hard,” Hilton said. “I knew Harlan County had a good football team and it turned into a war along the offensive and defensive lines.”
Bell County recovered an onside kick and quickly went down the field with Stephney adding his second rushing touchdown of the game. Will Dean added Bell’s only two-point conversion of the night to set the final at 24-14.
“I give a lot credit to our linemen because they went against mountains up in there. Harlan County was the biggest team we’ve played and I think probably the best team we’ve played,” Hilton added.
Stephney finished with 118 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries. Baker added 73 yards on seven carries and Woolum 33 yards and a touchdown on three carries.
Jones had two catches for 81 yards and two touchdowns.
Ethan Raby led the Bell defense with 14 total tackles while Hunter Bailey finished with 13 tackles and Caleb Lefevers 11, including three for loss.
“We made some mistakes in between that good start and what we did at the end. We had some passes that we should have completed and didn’t do it. They got two touchdowns on two turnovers — both of them we made good defensive stands and then turned right around and turned the ball over,” Hilton said. “I thought we answered the call when we really needed to. I was amazed after watching the film how we battled up front. Our kids just got in there and fought with those big ol’ boys.”
Bell County (10-0) will host Garrard County on Friday in the first round of the playoffs. As long as they win the Bobcats will be at home until the state championship game at UK’s Kroger Field.
But Hilton is letting his team get look too far ahead.
“We’re back having to beat somebody twice. I know we worked our tails off the last two years trying to go back and beat Corbin,” he said. “Garrard County has a good established coach. He might not have been playing for the regular season, he might be playing for the playoffs. Rockcastle is going to be very competitive. We’re not out of the woods. We know we’ve had a good regular season, we’ve got a good RPI, we know we’re going to be playing at home. But we’ve got to take care of business on Friday nights.”