Johnson Central defends title in 46-8 victory
By Paul Lunsford, Contributing Writer
Defending state champ Johnson Central rolled up 414 total yards of offense on Friday to claim a 46-8 win over visiting Harlan County in the first round of the Class 4A playoffs.
Johnson Central opened the game with a 52-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Grant Rice to Mason Lawson on the first play from scrimmage. Following a Black Bear penalty, Rice connected with Dillon Preston for the two-point conversion.
Fifth-two seconds later, Rice found Toby Scruggs for a 56-yard touchdown pass. Austin Ratliff’s kick was good as the Eagles led 15-0.
At the 7:40 mark, sophomore running back Mason Lawson raced 53 yards for the TD. Ratliff added the PAT.
Johnson Central scored again as Sawyer Crum kicked a 27-yard field to make it 25-0 with 11:57 remaining in the first half.
Rice connected with Preston for a 45-yard touchdown pass at the 8:28 mark of the second quarter. Ratliff’s kick was good for a 32-0 lead.
With 4:16 left in the half, Preston went in from the 22 for a score. Ratliff made it 39-0 heading into halftime with his kick.
With a running clock in the second half, both teams scored once.
The Golden Eagles’ final touchdown came at the 3:52 mark of the third quarter as Caden Yates scored on a 12-yard run. Ratliff hit his fifth PAT.
The Bears went on an 11-play, 62-yard drive to score. Demarco Hopkins and Josh Turner each had five carries in a drive that was capped by a 7-yard run by Hopkins. Cody Clayborn found Tyler Flanary for the two-point conversion.
Rice, a junior, completed six of seven passes for 188 yards. Preston carried the ball five times for 95 yards.
Hopkins gained 40 yards on 18 rushes. Turner added 26 yards on nine carries. Jordan Steele recovered a fumble for the Bears.
Johnson Central (8-0) will advance to the second-round of the playoffs, hosting Letcher Central on Friday. The Eagles blanked LCC 62-0 on Oct. 23.
Harlan County closes the season with a 3-6 record. The Bears lose 13 seniors, including Hunter Blevins, Matthew Brown, Luke Caudill, Clayborn, Gavin Ewald, Flanary, Hopkins, Hunter Helton, Jonathan Lankford, Brent Roark, Josh Swanner, Steele and Turner.
HC picked up wins over Clay County, Anderson County and East Jessamine this season.
“You always hate to see a season end because you know that is the last time you get to play with those seniors,” said Harlan County coach Eddie Creech. “Our program has been blessed with a great group of seniors this season to lead us through a tough time. I am ultra proud of all the players for sticking together and finishing this thing the right way.”