Red Devils burn Highlanders, 35-28
By Wade Bell, Sports Writer
When the Floyd Central Highlanders faced Jeffersonville during the regular season in football, they won the season opener by a score of 41-6. At mid-season, they played again and the Highlanders won by a 38-10 decision. Friday night they met for a third time, in sectional play, which proved to be more difficult as the Red Devils had improved greatly. Jeffersonville got its third-time charm with a 35-28 win to advance to the sectional championship round Friday night against New Albany.
“It was just difficult,” said Floyd Central head coach James Bragg. “It was a difficult night tonight and, unfortunately, they won and we go home and they move on.”
“Sectionals are a lot harder to win than what people think,” Bragg said. “I told everybody last year it’s easier to win one and it’s harder to win two, and we ran into that this year. Hats off to Jeffersonville.”
Nerves may have played a factor in the early going with both teams turning the ball over on fumbles in the first quarter and neither team was able to put any points on the board. The second quarter, however, got a lot more active.
The Red Devils had moved the ball to the three-yard line by the end of the first period with a serious scoring threat. The Highlanders made a heavy goal stand, however, keeping Jeffersonville out of the end zone and taking the ball over on downs. On its first play, however, Floyd Central coughed up the ball. Caleb Thomas scooped up the ball and ran into the end zone for six. Yuri Abrao got the extra point, and Jeffersonville had a 7-0 lead.
Floyd Central suffered another turnover on its next possession when Deydrian Hughes intercepted a Tristan Polk pass. Hughes got to the three-yard line before being stopped. The Highlanders’ defense stopped the Red Devils and forced a 26-yard field-goal attempt, which Abrao missed and the Highlanders had the ball again. That lasted only briefly as the Red Devils intercepted another Polk pass. The Red Devils ran two plays to the five-yard line. On the next set, Hughes threw to Michael O’Brian for six more. Abrao punched in the extra point, and Jeffersonville’s lead ballooned to 14-0.
“They played with a lot more emotion than we did at the beginning, and it showed,” said Bragg. “They jumped out to a 14-zip lead and they punched us in the mouth. We didn’t react very well to it tonight.”
Floyd Central countered with two big plays in the quarter. The Highlanders went to their big gun, Wenkers Wright, who carried the ball to midfield. Floyd Central was hit with a false-start penalty, which pushed the ball back five yards. On the next play, Wright found daylight down the left side and sprinted away from the Jeffersonville defense for six. Max Grangier added the point-after, and the lead was cut to seven.
It looked like the Red Devils were going to score again before halftime with Jeffersonville moving the ball to the 16-yard line. On the next play, Cole Phillips threw a pass that was intercepted by Floyd Central’s Cole Cummins. The senior sliced and diced his way through Jeffersonville tacklers. Cummins covered the distance to the end zone for six points. Grangier put the ball through the uprights, and the teams went to the locker room tied at 14.
“We didn’t come out with any emotion,” Bragg said. “I think because we had played them twice and maybe overlooked them a little bit. We quickly realized it was going to be a dogfight. You can’t spot anybody 14 points, especially in the playoffs like we did.”
“At halftime, we talked about we have to tighten up our coverage a little bit on defense,” said Bragg. “Offensively, we just talked about our offense. Defensively, we were playing lights out. They gave up that one score. We fumbled the ball in the end zone, and they scored on that. The defense had the pick-six. Defense truly played lights out all game.”
The Highlanders had the ball to start the second half and ran a ground game that was effective against the Jeffersonville defense. Wright, Andrew Spurgeon, and Polk moved the ball down to the one-yard line. Polk kept the ball on the next play, and the Highlanders took a 21-14 lead.
That lead melted away in a hurry. The Red Devils took over on their own 15-yard line to start their next possession. On the next play, Jordan Ferguson blasted his way through the Floyd Central defense. The Jeffersonville senior went down the right side for the 85-yard touchdown run. Abrao missed the extra point, however, and the Highlanders had a 21-20 edge.
The Red Devils went to an onside kick that went to their favor, recovering the ball on the 47-yard line. Minutes later, Ferguson had his second touchdown on a 17-yard run. Phillips threw to Thomas for the two-point conversion, and Jeffersonville had a 28-21 lead.
“We had some drops early, and they played with a lot of emotion and then the onside kick really jump-started them,” said Bragg.
The Red Devils’ defense forced the Highlanders to give up the ball on their next possession. Jeffersonville moved the ball into the fourth quarter and, with 10:54 left in the game, Ferguson got his third straight touchdown on a two-yard run for a 35-21 lead.
It only took seconds for the Highlanders to answer. Cummins had a big return on the kickoff, running the ball to the Jeffersonville 32-yard line. On the next play, Wright covered the distance for six and Grangier’s extra point pulled the Highlanders within seven.
Floyd Central ’s defense went to full power on Jeffersonville’s next possession and forced the Red Devils to kick the ball away. That kick, however, went all the way back to the Floyd Central 18-yard line. The Highlanders again went to Wright, who carried the ball on the next six possessions. Polk hit Cummins near midfield on the next play but followed that with a loss of four. The Highlanders found themselves in a race against the clock as well and fired two incomplete passes to fourth down. On the next play, the Red Devils intercepted. Jeffersonville put the knee down twice on the possession and advanced to the sectional final with the 35-28 win.
“They played hard, and it just goes to show you it’s hard to beat a team twice,” said Bragg. “I don’t think you can beat one three times. … Their defense had a great game plan for us on offense and, defensively, their offense was the best defense. They kept us off of the field. Going into that last drive with three minutes to go, I think we ran 15 plays in the second half. That’s hard to get going. Out of the 15 plays, we had two touchdowns.”
Bragg will lose 18 players to graduation, including Polk and Wright, a group of players he took under his wing as freshmen when he joined the Floyd Central coaching staff.
“With these guys, you always don’t want to see a senior class leave because they mean so much to you,” said Bragg. “Having said that, out of the 18 guys that are leaving, I think 13 of them are going to go play college football somewhere. It’s funny because my wife made a comment last week about, ‘When this is all over, what are you going to do next year?’ I said, ‘The first thing I’m going to do is get everybody’s schedules and we’re going to try to catch these guys playing at their colleges’.”
“You can name all of our seniors; every single one of them could go play somewhere and people would be lucky to have them,” he said. “They’re very hard-nosed workers … They’re weight-room junkies. It’s a class you truly don’t want to see leave. They work their butts off every day, and I feel bad we fell short.”
Jeffersonville 0 14 14 7 – 35
Floyd Central 0 14 7 7 – 28
Jeffersonville-Caleb Thomas, 5 yd fumble recovery (Yuri Abrao kick); Jeffersonville-Michael O’Brian from Deydrian Hughes, 5 yd pass (Abrao kick); Floyd Central-Wenkers Wright, 55 yd run (Max Grangier kick); Floyd Central-Caleb Cummins, 85 yd interception return (Grangier kick); Floyd Central-Tristan Polk, 1 yd run (Grangier kick); Jeffersonville-Jordan Ferguson, 85 yd run (Abrao kick); Jeffersonville-Ferguson, 17 yd run (Thomas from Cole Phillips conv); Jeffersonville-Ferguson, 2 yd run (Abrao kick); Floyd Central-Wright, 32 yd run (Grangier kick).