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By STAN CALDWELL – Herald Correspondent
With region play looming next week, both Greene County and Perry Central were looking to build positive momentum in the final non-region clash of the season.
Friday night at Johnny Ainsworth Field, it was the home-standing Wildcats who had the more positive result, defeating the Bulldogs 33-21 in a clash of neighborhood rivals.
Both teams will carry overall records of 2-3 into region play next week, with Greene County hosting Bay High in Region 8-4A and Perry Central entertaining Jefferson Davis County in Region 8-3A.
“We made big plays, and that’s what made the difference in the ball game.” said Greene County coach Michael King. “We were able to get some big, explosive plays and that’s what carried us tonight.”
The Wildcats shook off a rough start to the game, beginning with the opening kickoff of the game, when the Bulldogs successfully executed an onside kick.
With junior Kayden Bolton starting at quarterback for regular starter Austin Jones, who was hobbled with an injury, Perry Central drove to a first-and-goal at the Wildcat 2-yard-line.
However, three plays netted a loss of 2 yards and Bolton’s pass to H-back Jacob Sanders on fourth down came up a yard short of the goal line.
But the Bulldogs got the touchdown anyway on Greene County’s second play from scrimmage, when sophomore quarterback Coby King’s first pass of the night went straight to Perry Central sophomore linebacker Jace Hill at the 4-yard-line.
Hill quickly gobbled up that yardage, and with Hannah Parker’s PAT, the Bulldogs were up 7-0.
“We were only on the 2-yard-line, and we called a sprint-out,” Coby King said. “I spread it out there, but the linebacker just stepped underneath it. I never saw him and that was my fault.”
“I just kind of shook it off. I was, like, that play is over with; I can’t do anything about it. I was just trying to move on.”
The young quarterback shrugged off the mistake, quickly marching the Wildcats down the field for a responding touchdown on a five-play, 73-yard drive.
“We had a thing where our spacing wasn’t good on that play, and he kind of saw that,” said Michael King. “But he never saw the linebacker and the kid made a great play, stepped in front of it.”
“But he knew that when we run that play, we made sure we got our alignments straightened out. I had no doubt that he would come back and do a good job.”
Senior tailback K.J. Miller ignited the drive with runs of 8, 9 and 9 yards, sandwiched around a 14-yard pass from King to junior B.J. Johnson, coming around the left end on a flip throw.
From the Perry Central 33, King burst around right end and outran the pursuit all the way to the end zone. King’s kick for the conversion failed, but Greene County was on the board, and the Wildcats were just getting started.
“I actually thought I was going to get caught on that play,” said King, who rushed for 56 yards on six carries. “It surprised me when I ended up in the end zone.
Greene County got the ball right back on a three-and-out, and were even quicker on the draw for this possession. A 12-yard run by Miller was followed by a 55-yard catch-and-run from King to Johnson for the go-ahead score.
“He’s just an easy guy to throw to,” said Coby King. “He catches just about everything I throw his way. I’m lucky to have a receiver like him on my team.”
The run for the PAT was stopped, but the Wildcats had a 12-7 lead, a lead they would never relinquish.
The touchdown was just one of a number of big plays for Johnson, who caught eight passes for 156 yards and three touchdowns.
“My quarterback made some amazing throws to me, and I had a bunch of my secondary guys downfield blocking for me,” said Johnson. “It was just a wonderful night for me. The ball was coming my way and I knew they couldn’t guard me. So I put on a show.”
And after the early miscue, King finished the night with 14 completions in 21 attempts for 218 yards and the three scores to Johnson.
“He was the explosive plays I talked about earlier,” said Michael King on Johnson. “He was the main catalyst that allowed us to jump on them like we did.
“He’s a guy who even when he’s covered, he’s not covered, so we have all the confidence in the world to throw the ball up to him, no matter what the coverage.”
It was more of the same in the second quarter. After another three-and-out, Johnson returned the ensuing punt 57 yards for an apparent touchdown, but it was called back because of a block in the back penalty.
That was the only black cloud on Greene County’s night, as the Wildcats were flagged 15 times for 105 yards, many of them 5-yard encroachment calls that aided Perry Central on offense.
“We made an adjustment this week with our defensive line,” said Michael King. “We moved them closer to the ball, because we looked at film from last week and saw we were too far off the line of scrimmage.
“Sometimes with kids, you can fall into the ditch from both sides of the road, so tonight we were a little bit on the other side of that.
It didn’t matter, because the Wildcats drove 45 yards for another touchdown, on a 14-yard pass from King to Johnson. King’s conversion pass to H-back Cole Helton made it 20-7.
A fumble gave Greene County the ball right back, and the Wildcats cashed it in on a five-play, 39-yard drive, with Miller dashing around left end for a 12-yard touchdown run. King’s kick made it 27-7 going into halftime.
Bulldog coach Craig Cluff lamented the first-half mistakes, as Perry Central turned the ball over four times.
“You can’t turn the ball over and beat anybody,” said Cluff. “I don’t care, good team, bad team, whatever, you beat yourself, and tonight at times, we were our own worst enemy, with self-inflicted wounds.”
The Bulldogs regrouped at halftime and actually outplayed Greene County in the second half.
A promising drive on the opening possession of the third period was halted by a fumble at midfield, but the Bulldogs got the ball right back after stopping the Wildcats on a fourth down at the Bulldog 22.
Bolton’s 37-yard run on the first play of the possession sparked Perry Central on its best drive of the night, a 78-yard march on nine plays, with sophomore DeJohn Johnson getting the score on a 2-yard run.
Senior Hannah Parker’s kick on the conversion bounced off the crossbar but fell over for the PAT, cutting the deficit to 27-14. Bolton led the Bulldogs 86 yard on 13 carries, mostly in the second half.
“We knew we could attack the middle coming in; we just didn’t get it done in the first half,” Cluff said. “We were able to calm the kids down a little bit and changed a few things. But Greene County played a great ball game. They did a good job.”
But it wasn’t near enough, though, as Greene County rallied for a nine-play, 60-yard touchdown drive.
King and Johnson hooked up for 15-yard gain on a third-and-14, then King hit Miller with a 22-yard pass to the Perry Central 27. King converted another long third down with an 18-yard run, then connected with Johnson one last time for a 13-yard scoring pass.
“We’ve been getting beat, and it hasn’t been looking very good,” said Johnson. “This is a relief for all of our hard work to start paying off.”
“Now we’ve got to dig in. We’ve got this momentum and we want to carry it on into our region.”
Perry Central used up the final 4:29 off the clock on a consolation scoring drive, with Bolton scoring from 2 yards out on the final play of the game.
“Offensively, we got a little bit out of sync in the second half,” said Michael King. “We had a few holding calls that kind of frustrated us, and got up in a little bit of a funk. We kind of limped out of it there toward the end.”
“First half, couldn’t be happier; second half, a little bit sloppy.””
Miller led the Wildcats with 70 rushing yard on 10carries and he caught four passes for 42 yards.
After playing three Class 6A teams and a 5A team in non-region play, Michael King will welcome region play.
“We’re excited to get into some 4A competition, to be honest,” said King. “We had a brutal non-region schedule. Bay High, we were able to play them really well last year, so I know they’ll be coming in here with something to prove.”
Perry Central faces a stern test of its own in its region opener, tackling defending 3A state champion Jeff Davis County next week.
“It doesn’t get any easier,” said Cluff. “But, you know, that’s what it’s all about. We told the kids at halftime, we want to compete and not worry about the score. We weren’t worried about Greene County; we were worried about ours.”