INDEPENDENCE, Ky. – Simon Kenton scored 28 points in the first half and led by 16 late in the second quarter.
Unfortunately for the previously-unbeaten Pioneers, they scored zero after the break and allowed the final four touchdowns in a 42-28 loss to Lexington Lafayette in a Class 6A semifinal game at Menefee Stadium on Friday.
Simon Kenton (13-1) was looking for its second-ever state championship berth, with its only other appearance coming in 2008.
“I hadn’t seen our kids get tight all year, and maybe we had a little bit of tightness,” Pioneers coach Jeff Marksberry said. “We told them at halftime, we’re playing to win and we’re not going out with the attitude of playing not to lose, because I think there’s a huge difference. We left the door open for them in the second half and they’re a really powerful offense, they’ve got some explosive kids and they’ve got those big guys up front. I thought our defense did a great job of holding (Lafayette) in check for most of the night, but when you turn the ball over and you leave points out on the field, it’s hard to win a football game.”
The first four-plus minutes of the first half certainly did not go the way Simon Kenton hoped, as the Pioneers went three-and-out, punted and allowed a nine-play, 77-yard drive that culminated in a 4-yard touchdown pass from Walker Wood to Quinten Brown. Wood threw an incomplete pass on the conversion.
But Simon Kenton answered immediately, tying the score on a three-play drive that featured a pass interference call and was capped off by a 46-yard sprint down the right sideline by quarterback Cameron Racke. The possession lasted just 50 seconds, and the extra point gave the Pioneers the lead, 7-6.
Simon Kenton followed by halting a promising Lafayette drive with a tackle for loss and two forced incomplete passes from its 26.
On the Pioneers’ ensuing drive, they faced third and 12 from the Lafayette 35 after a bomb to Logan Scott that appeared to be caught in the end zone was ruled incomplete. The next play was a deep throw to Scott again, and this time he caught it cleanly at the 10, eluded a defender and ran it in to make it 14-6.
Set up by a 59-yard pass from Wood to Brown, Wood carried one in from three yards out to cut the Simon Kenton lead to two, 14-12 with a minute left in the first quarter.
Two key defensive plays resulted in the Pioneers’ next 14 points.
Casey Mitchell made a remarkable interception at midfield, cutting in front of a receiver and seemingly picking the ball off the ground less than three minutes later. Simon Kenton ran a halfback option to open that drive, as Racke caught a 25-yard pass from Tanner Green, and five running plays later Racke took a keeper in from the 1.
Brian Carter then sacked Wood, forcing a fumble on the play and covering the ball at the Generals’ 26, and Racke hit Green for an 8-yard score to cap off a five-play drive with a short field.
With the score 28-12, Lafayette got the game with within one possession before the half with an 11-play, 61-yard drive, with Mason Alstatt running a 9-yard TD and catching the conversion pass, making it 28-20.
“At halftime, we felt like we were a couple of plays away from blowing the thing open…and they came out and made some plays in the second half and we missed a couple of scoring opportunities,” Marksberry said.
The Generals (12-2) also received to start the second half, and they reached the Simon Kenton 31 before taking consecutive penalties – the first of which erased a long TD run – and after a third Lafayette infraction, the drive ended on a sack resulting from an errant snap.
The Pioneers went three-and-out, and Lafayette tied it on a four-minute drive that spanned 83 yards, ending with a 6-yard score by Wood around the right end, followed by a two-point conversion pass to Matthew Guilfoil.
Simon Kenton again was unable to generate a first down, and on the Generals’ first play on their next possession Wood hooked up with Brown for an 83-yard bomb down the right sideline, making it 35-28 with the extra point.
The Pioneers had two chances to tie it in the fourth quarter but completed a pass that fell short of the first-down marker on fourth and eight, fumbling the ball out of bounds, and they lost the ball on a snap exchange at the Lafayette 21.
“We have a chance to go down there and tie it at 35, and we feel like we get the score tied – we believe in our kids and we believe in our system and we believe in what we do, and our kids believe in us – that we would win the football game, and that was the goal,” Marksberry said. “Obviously we don’t plan for a turnover, no one does, and it just happens sometimes.”
Another 12-play drive for the Generals, on which 11 were runs, resulted in the clinching TD with 1:24 to play.
Simon Kenton managed just four first downs in the second half until the final 90 seconds, when they generated two more against the prevent defense.
Brown caught five passes for 189 yards, and Wood 16-for-27 for 315 yards and two touchdowns. Racke rushed for 104 yards and threw for 155 on 12 of 17 attempts.
Five of the past six years, the Pioneers were eliminated in the quarterfinal round of the KHSAA playoffs, so in addition to winning more games than in any season in team history (13), they also advanced further than they had in seven years.
“Obviously you’re disappointed when you dedicate – not just the coaches and the players, but everybody, the parents – just dedicated so much to make our season special and make our team better,” Marksberry said. “You’re disappointed, but I’m also proud of our kids and proud of the fact that we got over that regional final hump. Our seniors have won more football games in the last three years than any senior class. We did a lot of great things. We had the most wins in school history in a single season, we scored a lot of points, and our defense played really well. It was a really great year and I’m really proud of our kids – I love our kids – I’ve said it all year that we’ve got unbelievable kids, the character of our kids is outstanding and I’m just really proud of them.”