Washington County held a 27-22 lead over Bethlehem with two minutes remaining in Friday night’s football season opener at Bennett R. Lewis Field, when Eagles’ junior quarterback Connor Ballard took matters into his own hands.
Facing a 4th-and-6 at the Washington County 19-yard-line, the Eagles appeared to have their backs against the wall, before Ballard scrambled to the sideline and drew contact two yards shy of the first-down marker. Ballard went airborne for a 360-degree front-flip, landing on his back for what resulted in a first down by the tip of the football. Ballard eventually finished the drive off with a three-yard touchdown run, as well as a two-point conversion, to give his team a 30-27 lead with 1:02 remaining.
“He made a great play,” said Washington County Head Coach Eric Sagrecy. “Our outside linebacker made a good play coming in on him, but he flipped over top of him and landed past the first-down marker. We had guys in good position, but he just made a good football play.”
In a game that saw the offenses unleashed late, the Commanders still had enough time to respond, and nearly did, after a 22-yard run by junior quarterback Morgan Churchill set WC up at the Bethlehem nine-yard-line with 17.8 seconds remaining.
However, the Bethlehem defense held firm on three-straight plays following a spike, and escaped with a season-opening victory as Washington County’s final pass attempt fell incomplete as time expired.
Washington County outgained Bethlehem 392-210 in total offense, but it was the Eagles who were able to make the big plays late.
Churchill found senior tailback Tyler Loving in the front of the endzone from 15 yards out with 1:08 to play in the first quarter for the game’s first score, but Ballard found sophomore Jake Yates for a 29-yard touchdown midway through the second quarter to tie the game at seven.
The Washington county offense got rolling late in the first half, when Churchill connected with sophomore wide receiver Tylyn Byas for 33 yards, and Loving broke off an 18-yard run to set up a two-yard touchdown by sophomore JaQualin Thompson with 1:07 remaining for a 14-7 Commander lead at halftime.
Eagles’ senior Dallas Lanham set up his own three-yard score with a pair or runs of 12 and 14 yards with 1:03 to play in the third quarter to tie the game once again, which led to a successful Bethlehem onside kick.
The ensuing possession, however, was snuffed out by Washington County senior Alex Marshall, who picked off a Ballard pass at midfield. Neither team regained an advantage until Marshall exploded out of the backfield for a 45-yard touchdown run with 6:26 left in the fourth quarter.
Lanham made sure Bethlehem got a quick answer though, speeding down the sideline to the Washington County two-yard-line before being dragged down by Byas. Ballard scored from two yards out to pull the Eagles within one, then added a two-point conversion to give Bethlehem its first lead of the game at 22-21 with 5:30 remaining.
Washington County responded with a 22-yard reception by Loving on a crucial 4th-and-6, and Marshall picked up his second score of the game on a 36-yard screen pass with 3:55 left. The two-point conversion failed, leaving the Commander advantage at 27-22.
Lanham then made another big special teams play, breaking off a 50-yard return to the Washington County 35-yard-line, setting up Ballard’s hard-nosed play. Sagrecy said he liked what he saw from his guys overall.
“Out of the 11 guys we played on both sides of the ball on Friday night, we probably had three who had varsity football experience under the lights with people watching. I expected us to be a little bit tentative,” Sagrecy said. “I think that’s a game that we win down the stretch, but the kids played hard all the way to the last whistle. They might have missed assignments, but the effort was there and the rest will come.”
Bethlehem ran the ball 42 times for 147 yards, while Ballard completed 8-of-21 passes for 63 yards. Washington County had 36 rush attempts for 237 yards, and was 6-of-22 passing for 153 yards.
The Eagles stay on the road next week with a matchup against rival Bardstown on Friday at 7:30 p.m.
BHS 0 7 7 16 30
WCHS 7 7 0 13 27
First quarter -- (WC) Loving 15 pass from Churchill (Patton kick). Second quarter -- (B) Yates 29 pass from Ballard (Harrison kick); (WC) Thompson 2 run (Patton kick). Third quarter -- (B) Lanham 3 run (Harrison kick). Fourth quarter -- (WC) Marshall 45 run (Patton kick); (B) Ballard 1 run (Ballard run); (WC) Marshall 36 pass from Churchill (Pass failed); (B) Ballard 3 run (Ballard run)