The Wayne County Cardinals opened the Class 3A State Playoffs last

Friday

night at Jewell Field against Harlan County. The Cards, the district's

number 2 seed, owned a 7-3 record and were coming off a 26-19 home loss to

Monroe County. The Black Bears owned a 7-3 mark and wrapped up their regular

season with a 38-32 win at Somerset. Wayne County was making their 13th

appearance in the state playoffs and owned a 3-12 all-time record in the

postseason. Harlan County, in the first year of existence after Cawood,

Cumberland and Evarts consolidated, was looking for a win in their inaugural

playoff game.

Harlan County used just 39 plays to total 324 yards of offense and five

first downs, as the Black Bears used nine plays of 20 yards or more, to

claim a 38-21 opening round win. Senior quarterback Zach Blanton completed 4

of 7 passes for 165 yards, that included a 74-yard scoring strike to Lance

Simmons, as Harlan County improved to 8-3 with the win.

Simmons setup another touchdown with a 75-yard kickoff return, while Dylan

Smith returned an interception 102 yards for a score and added a 24-yard

touchdown run. Senior offensive back Nathaniel Gillilam, one of the state's

top six rushers going into the postseason, totaled just 37 yards on 10

attempts as Harlan County found other ways to put points on the board.

"This was a tough way to end our season. Give Harlan County a lot of

credit. They made big plays all night long and we just didn't match their

efforts. We played extremely hard all night but couldn't make enough big

plays to offset our mistakes. I thought our defense played pretty well at

times and in spots. We held the Gilliam kid to around 135 yards below his

average, but we allowed some of their other guys big plays," said Cards head

coach Shawn Thompson.

The Black Bears were averaging just under 300 yards of rushing per

contest, but was held to 159 yards on 32 attempts. Senior fullback T.J.

Green led the attack with 48 yards on 8 attempts, with a 32-yard scoring

run, while senior back Glen Roberts totaled 27 yards and 2 touchdowns.

"We missed too many assignments and had to many errors to overcome a

very good football team. Take nothing away from our guys and their effort

and dedication all season long. I'm proud of our team and the way they

battled back from a 2-2 start to share a district title and have a chance to

do some great things. We never quit, we never gave up, we just didn't play

very well in all areas the past couple of weeks. This is the postseason, so

one bad night ends the season, hopefully our younger guys will learn and our

program will continue to grow," said Thompson.

Wayne County used 68 plays to total 287 yards of offense and 13 first

downs, but was paused by 2 turnovers and 7 penalties for 80 yards. Junior

D.J. Hall led the attack with 17 rushes for 79 yards and added a season high

4 receptions for 76 yards, to total 155 yards of offense with 2 touchdowns.

Hall scored on a 41 yard touchdown reception and a 4 yard run, as the

Cards struggled to mount much of a ground attack. The Cards totaled just 97

rushing yards on 39 attempts and had to rely on the passing game.

"Harlan County really attacked the line of scrimmage and blocking wasn't

as good as it has been. Not just up front but our backs and receivers also

struggled, so give credit to Harlan County they were very physical and

aggressive," said Thompson.

The Black Bears opened the game with the football and used 9 plays , to

march 71 yards and grab the early lead.

Dylan Smith scored on a 24 yard touchdown run and the kick failed giving

the visitors a 6-0 lead, with 7:45 left in the opening quarter.

The Cards answered right back and used an 11 play, balanced drive to

travel 65 yards and score on a D.J. Hall 4 yards run. Zack Stephenson

completed 3 of 3 passes on the drive, to 3 different receivers to compliment

Hall's runs of 19, 18, 10, 4, and 2 yards.

"Second game in a row that we allow our opponents to score and come

right back score, make our extra-point to grab the lead. I thought our

offense was sharp early, but we didn't have another series like that the

rest of the half," said Thompson.

Harold Flach booted the point-after to give Wayne a 7-6 lead with 3:06

left in the first period.

Special teams made the game's next big play as Lance Simmons returned

the ensuing kickoff back 75 yards to the Wayne County 5 yard line. Three

plays later Glen Roberts scored on a 4 yard run, as Harlan County reclaimed

the lead. Zack Blanton added the conversion run to push the score to 14-7,

with 2:12 left in the first frame.

The Cards tried to answer back with an Eric Rhule 34 yard kick-return,

but the hosts fumbled away the football in Harlan County territory.

Defense dominated the next six offensive possessions, as the teams

traded empty possessions and punts. The Black Bears did add to their lead at

the 2:31 mark of the second quarter. T.J. Green capped-off a 3-play, 66 yard

drive, aided by a Wayne County personal-foul penalty, with a 32 yard

touchdown run. The extra-point failed, leaving the score 20-7 late in the

first half.

Eric Rhule once again gave the Cards great field-position on their next

drive, with a 41 yard kick return. The squad was called back on a

questionable motion penalty and a couple passes fell incomplete in the end

zone. The drive stalled at the Bears 7 yard line, leaving Harlan County with

a 20-7 halftime advantage.

The Cards opened the second half with the football and used 8 plays to

march 64 yards and score on a Zack Stephenson 41 yard touchdown pass to

Hall. The kick failed, closing the score to 20-13, with 9:34 left in the

third frame.

Stephenson had one of his better passing efforts, completing 15 of 28

passes for 187 yards with 1 score and 1 interception.

"We came out with a good drive to start the second half and after we

scored, I thought we had the momentum. I thought we were able to do some

good things in our passing game, especially with our screen plays," said

Thompson.

Wayne County's defense, led by the team high 10 tackles of senior

linebacker Alan Dobbs, was up for the challenge. Dobbs registered a season

best 4 tackles for loss, including one on the next series, as Harlan County

was forced to punt after failing to gain a first down.

The Cards offense couldn't fair any better with a chance to tie, or take

the lead, as the hosts punted the football right back after 3 plays produced

a minus 4 yards.

Harlan County scored on their second play of the next series, as Zach

Blanton connected with Lance Simmons on a 74 yard touchdown connection. The

kick failed leaving the Black Bears edge at 26-13, with 5:00 left in the

third period.

"Big plays killed us and the thing that is disappointing is just about

every time that happens it's usually an alignment error," said Thompson.

The next big play sealed the deal, as the Cards were on Harlan County's

13 yard line threatening to make it a one score game. After a near touchdown

pass on second down, a Zack Stephenson attempt was intercepted by Dylan

Smith in the end zone and returned 102 yards for a score.

The conversion run failed giving the Black Bears a 32-13 advantage, with

9:46 left in the ball game.

"What a swing of momentum in two plays. We could've scored the play

before to make it 26-20, instead they score the next play to make it 32-13.

It was just one of those nights that we couldn't get over the hump on either

side of the ball," said Thompson.

Wayne County refused to go away without a fight and used 11 plays to

roll 80 yards and score on a Zack Stephenson 22 yard touchdown run.

Stephenson added the conversion pass to Dustin Denney, to close the gap to

32-21 with 5:41 left in the game.

Harlan County followed that up with the final score of the night, a Glen

Roberts 20 yard touchdown run. The run capped off a 3 play, 53 yard series,

as the conversion failed leaving the final score at 38-21.

The win advances the Black Bears into a second round match up with

Breathitt County, a 28-13 winner over Garrard County in the opening round.

The teams met earlier in the season on September 26th, with Breathitt County

claiming a 47-7 road win.

Harlan County has a very good football team and I'm sure Coach Larkey

will have them ready. I'm sure it will be much closer than the first time

they played," said Thompson.

Wayne County's season ends with a 7-4 record and a share of the

program's first ever district championship. It also means the end of the

careers of a senior class that has helped win 28 games the last four

seasons.

"I have so many good memories with this senior class and they mean so

much to me and this program. These guys have sacrificed so much of their

time, I just can't say enough about them. Nobody ever enjoys going into the

locker room for the last time with their seniors and this group was no

different. They're special for a lot of reasons and hopefully our younger

guys will take their work ethic and build on what this group has started,"

said Thompson.

Congratulations Cardinals on a very memorable and successful 2008

season.

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