By Dave Malaska
UNION, Ky. – Seemingly snake-bitten Cooper looked like it was finally on its way to a district win, but in the span of three minutes in the fourth quarter the rug was once again pulled from under the Jaguars.
Cooper (2-6, 0-3 in district play) lost, 31-20, to South Oldham on Friday night after taking a touchdown lead in the last 12:00.
An onside kick recovery, an end zone interception and 18 unanswered points gave the Dragons the win while leaving Cooper coach Randy Borchers shaking his head.
"We've felt like the last three weeks, we had things under control," Borchers said, "Then they got away from us. We just can't make the plays."
South Oldham (5-3, 3-0 in district) scored three minutes into the fourth quarter on a 4-yard pass from Chase Lightfoot to Davis Culbertson to tie the score at 20, negating the Jaguars' lead. Momentum swung fully in the Dragons' favor on the ensuing kickoff as kicker Drew Koch squibbed his kick through Cooper's forward coverage team.
After the ball caromed off a Cooper player, the Dragons recovered the ball on the Jaguars' 27 yard line.
Two plays later, Lightfoot hit senior running back Tricorion Williams up the middle for a 23-yard touchdown pass and the quarterback converted the 2-point play with a run up the middle to put the Dragons up, 28-20.
South Oldham added a late field goal on a drive that started with an interception of the Jaguars' Will Ludwig in the end zone to seal the win.
"We really feel like the last three weeks we lost close games to teams that we can beat. That we maybe should have beaten," said Borchers, after the Jags dropped games to Scott and Conner by a combined 12 points before letting South Oldham escape with Friday's win.
The Dragons picked off Ludwig three times on the night — including twice in the red zone — in an otherwise strong performance by the senior. Ludwig completed 20 of 42 passing attempts for 294 yards and two touchdowns on a night when the Jaguars' ground game couldn't get in gear.
Cooper finished with only 17 rushing yards total.
Cory Fussinger caught 10 passes for 181 yards and both of Ludwig's scoring strikes to lead the Cooper receiving corps. Kyle Henderson caught four passes for 50 yards.
The Dragons were led by Lightfoot's 157 passing yards on 10-of-16 passing to go with 65 rushing yards on 17 carries. Williams chipped in with 73 rushing and 66 receiving yards for Oldham, and Kuriger ran for 65 yards on 16 carries.
Cooper got on the scoreboard on its first drive of the night with a 45-yard pass from Ludwig to his favorite target, senior Cory Fussinger.
After keeping the Dragons from a first down and forcing them to punt on South Oldham's first possession, the Jaguars were driving again but Ludwig's pass to Fussinger was picked off at the 4-yard line by Ethan Reinert to prevent them from building on their lead.
After another Ludwig interception in the second quarter, Oldham drove 61 yards in five plays to go up, 7-6, on Kevin Kuriger's scoring run from three yards out.
The lead was short-lived, though, as Cooper's Brandon Youngblood fielded the ensuing kickoff at his own 9 yard line, waved his way through the coverage to midfield, then broke through the right side on his way to a 91-yard scoring return.
Cooper took a 12-7 lead into the break.
The Dragons grabbed the lead back on their opening possession of the second half, going 72 yards in seven plays, capped by Lightfoot's 22-yard scoring strike to Reinert at the 9:08 mark.
Cooper responded with its longest drive of the night over the next six minutes -- a 73-yard, 19-play effort that hit paydirt when Ludwig found Fussinger open on a post rout up the middle.
Fussinger's second touchdown catch of the night, from 15 yards out, put the Jaguars up, 20-13, setting the stage for the late collapse.
Five minutes later, Cooper was reeling, down by eight points and snake-bitten again.
The Jaguars, aided by a late hit out of bounds by South Oldham, drove to the Dragons' 9 yard line when Ludwig looked to his favorite target once again. Fussinger and South Oldham defensive back Jon Jones both went up for Ludwig's offering in the back of the end zone and looked to have both come down with it — which would have given the Jaguars the touchdown.
But referees ruled it an interception, which ended Cooper's last, best hope.
When told that it looked to reporters in the press box that both Fussinger and Jones had possession, Borchers agreed.
"That's what it looked like to us, but obviously it's not our call," the coach said. "Unfortunately, that's the referees' calls and you just have to live with it."
After a bye week, the Jaguars still have two games left — on the road at Grant County on Oct. 25 before finishing at home against Dixie Heights on Nov. 1. Though winless in district play, Borchers said Cooper still has hopes to may a run in the playoffs.
"We've got a great group of kids. They haven't given up. Our ultimate goal is to still make the playoffs," Borchers said. "We're telling the kids we really feel like
the last three weeks we could have won these games. It's a very close district. Pretty even. So, if we can get to the playoffs, maybe that little bit bad luck turns the other way for us."
S. OLDHAM 0-7-6-18—31
at COOPER 6-6-8-0—20
C—Fussinger 45 pass from Ludwig (kick failed)
SO—Kuriger 3 run (Koch kick)
C—Youngblood 91 kickoff return (pass failed)
SO—Reinert 22 pass from Lightfoot (kick failedck)
C—Fussinger 15 pass from Ludwig (Ludwig run)
SO—Culbertson 4 pass from Lightfoot (Koch kick)
SO—Williams 23 pass from Lightfoot (Lightfoot run)
SO—Koch FG 39
RECORDS: South Oldham 5-3 (3-0 district), Cooper 2-6 (0-3 district).