By Jimmie Earls
Sun Sports Writer
Halloween offered no treats for the Washington County Commanders on Friday night as they lost to the Elizabethtown Panthers 49-48 in Elizabethtown. The loss drops WC’s record to 3-6 on the season despite another record-breaking performance by WC quarterback Joe Joe Simms, who threw for 446 yards and a school record six touchdown passes, surpassing his own record set earlier this season.
It all came down to fourth and 11 for WC on E-Town’s 15-yard line with 21.1 seconds left on the clock. After taking two timeouts, instead of going for a field goal, WC elected to try for the end zone. After scrambling to find an open receiver, Simms’ pass was knocked down by E-Town defensive end Thomas Jacobs. The Panthers took over on downs with 10.9 seconds left in the game.
According to www.khsaa.org, the Commanders have averaged 34.9 points scored per game this season compared to averaging 36.1 points allowed per game. That means the opposition is scoring an average of 1.2 more points per game against Washington County, and that margin was all it took for E-Town to hand the Commanders their second straight loss on Friday night.
The first quarter got under way with Elizabethtown using only two plays to get on the board first, scoring on a 70-yard TD pass from senior quarterback Michael Thomas to senior wideout Chris Gohman. WC marched down to the Panther 18-yard line but was unable to score, and E-Town took over on downs. The Panthers increased their lead as they drove 82 yards and scored on another TD by Gohman. A two-point conversion brought the score to 14-0 E-Town.
The Commanders’ next drive almost stalled before it got into gear as they faced fourth and five at their own 25-yard line, but a fake punt caught E-Town off guard and the Commanders ended the first quarter with second and four on the Panther 22.
WC continued its drive in the second quarter as senior running back Nathan Hood ran the ball to the E-Town 7-yard line. The Commanders got on the board with a 6-yard TD from Joe Joe to his brother Alex Simms. An extra point by Seth Mattingly brought the score to 14-7 E-Town with 10:14 left in the half.
The Panthers answered with a scoring drive of their own as they scored on a touchdown catch by Trevor Deneen with 7:55 left and took a 21-7 lead. It took WC a little over a minute to punch back with another touchdown, this time with senior receiver Lee Mudd finding the end zone. Mattingly’s point after brought the score to 21-14 Panthers.
E-Town padded their lead as they drove down the field and scored on Gohman’s third TD reception of the game. An extra point by Josh Plant gave the Panthers a 28-14 lead with 2:45 left in the half.
The Commanders put together another strong drive, starting at their own 20 and marching 80 yards to score on a Joe Joe Simms touchdown run with 34 seconds left. Mattingly made the first extra point attempt, but a penalty on WC pushed the ball back and Mattingly missed the second attempt to tack on the extra point. The first half ended with Elizabethtown leading 28-20.
The second half got under way with the Commanders getting the ball on their own 20-yard line. After fighting their way to their own 42, Joe Joe connected with Mudd for a 58-yard touchdown pass. Mudd also caught a two-point conversion pass to tie the score at 28-28 with 9:42 left in the third quarter.
Elizabethtown came back with a TD run by senior running back Cody Withers. An extra point brought the score to 35-28 E-Town with 7:44 on the clock. One minute later, the Commanders tied it up again as sophomore receiver Dalton Culver-Barnett caught a Simms TD pass at the 6:43 mark.
The Panthers used up a lot of the clock on their next drive, scoring another touchdown with 1:57 to increase their lead to 41-35 following a missed extra point. The third quarter ended as Washington County drove the ball to their own 32-yard line.
WC opened the fourth quarter by continuing to drive toward the end zone, with senior running back Stewart Jones getting the ball to the Panther 6-yard line for a first and goal. On second and goal, Simms found freshman Trae Abell for a TD pass with 7:50 remaining. A missed extra point attempt tied the score at 41-41.
E-Town was putting together another strong drive when Joe Joe Simms came up with a big defensive stop by catching a deflected pass for an interception. The Commander offense took over with the ball on their own 30-yard line. Hood brought the ball to the Commander 48 and Simms connected with sophomore Quan Turner for a 52-yard TD reception to give the Commanders their first lead of the game. An extra point by Mattingly gave WC a 48-41 lead with 5:10 left in the game.
But WC’s lead wouldn’t last long as the Panthers ran the ensuing kickoff back to the WC 44-yard line and eventually drove to the Commander 9-yard line with a first and goal. E-Town’s Deenen once again found the end zone for a touchdown. In what turned out to be the deciding factor in the game, Elizabethtown added a two-point conversion to take a 49-48 lead with 2:22 left in the game.
After the kickoff went into the end zone, WC would have to drive 80 yards from their own 20 if they wanted to pull out a victory. A big catch from Mudd put the Commanders in excellent position at the Panther 33-yard line. WC had first and 10 at the Panther 15 and eventually got to the 10 with third and four but a costly holding penalty pushed WC back to the 25-yard line on third down.
Turner got the ball back to the 15-yard line, giving the Commanders a fourth and long at the E-Town 15 with 21.1 seconds left in the game.
WC took two timeouts to make sure they knew what they wanted to do. The Commanders elected to try for the end zone instead of attempting a field goal. Simms took the snap and scrambled to his right trying to find an open receiver. He fired the ball but it was knocked down by E-Town junior defensive back Titus Sublett. The incomplete pass gave the Panthers possession on downs with 10.9 seconds left on the game clock. Elizabethtown senior quarterback Michael Thomas took a knee and handed the Commanders a heartbreaking one-point loss.
It was another big offensive night for the Commanders who totaled 629 yards on 67 plays, 446 yards on 35 passing plays and 183 yards on 32 running plays.
Joe Joe Simms completed 26 of 35 passes for a 74 percent completion rate, totaling 446 passing yards and six touchdown passes. He also had 97 rushing yards and one touchdown.
Mudd totaled 223 receiving yards and two TDs on eight catches, while Hood had 101 receiving yards and 71 rushing yards. Turner had three catches for 64 yards and one touchdown.
This Friday, the Commanders will play their final home game of the season as they host the 4-5 Spencer County Bears. Game time is 7:30 p.m. Come out and support the Commanders or catch the game on WYSB 102.7 FM with pre-game starting at 7 p.m. followed by the kickoff at 7:30 p.m.
Visit www.readthesun.com late Friday night for the score and tune into WYSB 102.7 FM at 10 a.m. every Saturday morning for the coach’s show, featuring game highlights and analysis by Coach Mark Perry.