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Highlanders skin Jennings County

Highlanders skin Jennings County
Highlanders skin Jennings County
Floyd Central’s Mitchell Bernardi outruns a Jennings County defender for a first down in the Highlanders’ 28-3 win over the Panthers. Photo by Wade Bell
By Wade Bell, Sports Writer

The Floyd Central Highlanders football team gave itself a chance of a share of the Hoosier Hills Conference championship Friday when it man-handled visiting Jennings County Friday night. The Highlanders took a risk early that led to two quick scores, and the Panthers just never were able to recover.

“We looked pretty good,” said Floyd Central coach James Bragg. “Our offense played well. Our defense has played extremely well the past couple of weeks and, with this being our fall break, I was a little nervous. We gave them Monday off for the sheer fact that it didn’t matter who we were playing.

“We’ve been grinding since August with no days off, with all of the COVID still going around, our injuries and moving guys in and out,” he said. “As a staff, we just felt like, we said three weeks ago at fall break, the first Monday we’re going to give them off. We told them to go be kids.‘This ain’t a job for you guys; just go be a kid. Enjoy the weekend and come back in focused and ready to play.’ They were because they knew what was at stake.”

Floyd Central took possession first and got some help when the Panthers kicked the ball out of bounds, putting the Highlanders on the 35-yard line. Floyd Central moved the ball with authority to  the one-yard line, with Mitchel Bernardi doing most of the damage against the Panthers’ defense. Bernardi got the last call of the drive for six, and Max Grangier’s kick gave the Highlanders a 7-0 lead.

The Highlanders then took a risk and went with an onside kick. The ball bounced off of a Panther on the front line, making it a free ball. Seth Andres immediately fell on the ball to give Floyd Central possession. On the next play, Tristan Robertson threw a strike to Eli Branham for 55 yards and six more, and Grangier’s extra point gave the Highlanders a 14-0 lead just 12 seconds after the first six.

“We just kept plugging away and kept diving down the field, and we punched it in,” Bragg said of the first touchdown. “I said, ‘We’ve got some momentum here. Let’s see if we can get one.’ I told my defensive staff if we don’t get this, we’ll give them a short field and those guys were, ‘Hey, let’s go for it.’ The ball bounced our way literally, and then our offense executed a good pass over the top and we go up 14-zip. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing. If you go up 14-zip that quick, good things are going to happen rest of the night.”

Floyd Central contained the Panthers through midway of the second period. Jennings County failed to get six but did get a 24-yard field goal from Ian Sawyer for three. Floyd Central’s next possession led to seven more when Bernardi got his second TD of the game for a 21-3 lead at halftime.

“I’m very pleased with our defensive output,” Bragg said. “Our offense is getting better. Our system that we have right now, offensively, is working for us right now. Everybody has bought in, and we spread the ball around a ton. We did it last week too. Floyd Central’s identity is a little different. We still want to ground and pound. We still want to throw the ball, but it’s no longer just a two-man show the way it’s been the past couple of years. We’re having seven different people touch the ball religiously every night.”

The Highlanders held Jennings County scoreless through the second half. Floyd Central tacked on one more touchdown three plays into the fourth quarter when Cody Bibelhauser ran 48 yards for six more and the 28-3 final score.

“These guys are disappointed with the way the year started at 0-4, but we’ve played some very hard competition,” said the Floyd Central coach. “I think some people wrote us off a little bit but these guys, they didn’t let that deter them. They knew the competition we were playing, and they knew the path and all about peaking at the right time. Right now, we seem like we’re trending up.”

Bernardi led the Highlanders with 106 yards rushing on 21 carries, and Bibelhauser had 59 yards on four carries. Garron Jenkins had 31 yards on four carries, and Eli Branham had five carries for 27 yards. The Highlanders completed 4-of-7 passes for 91 yards.

“Jenkins is a good change-up back,” said Bragg. “Bernardi is a little more of a finesse guy, and Jenkins is just a bowling ball. He just gets it going. He doesn’t get a lot of carries but, when he does get the ball, he’s been very effective lately. We don’t want to wear him out because he’s our heart and soul on that defense right now. He’s done a great job of getting us checked in and stuff, plugging up holes. Tonight, in the second half, we wanted to shut down (Hayden).”

Peyton Hayden led the Panthers with 97 yards on 23 carries. Jennings County connected on 7-of-14 passes for 95 yards in the air.

The Highlanders go for a share of that conference championship against county-rival New Albany on the road Friday night.

“A share of the conference championship is next weekend, and these guys really want that bad,” Bragg said. “It’s been since ’98 since we’ve won one and, the fact that there’s an opportunity for us to share one, these kids came out focused in. It didn’t matter who we played with, they were ready to rock and roll and get an opportunity to go for that next week.”

Jennings County            0     3     0     0 –   3

Floyd Central                 14     7     0     7 – 28

Floyd Central-Mitchell Bernardi, 1 yd run (Max Grangier kick); Floyd Central-Eli Branham from Tristan Robertson, 55 yds (Grangier kick); Jennings County-Ian Sawyer, 24 yd FG; Floyd Central-Bernardi, 1 yd run (Grangier kick); Floyd Central-Cody Bibelhauser, 48 yd run (Grangier kick).