UNION, Ky. - The Ryle Raiders won the battle of undefeated 6A powers and broke a five-game losing streak to Simon Kenton in a game that lived up to expectations Friday.
Ryle (9-0) used its typically balanced and explosive offense to pull out a thrilling 32-25 win before a packed house at Ryle. The Raiders also tightened up defensively in the second half when needed against a similarly explosive Pioneers’ offense.
“It was great for both of us, and great for Northern Kentucky, for both of us to come into this game 8-0,” said Ryle head coach Mike Engler. “I don’t remember the last time you had the No. 2 and No. 3 teams in the AP poll who were 8-0 and from Northern Kentucky. It was a great football game.”
The Raiders and Pioneers came in as two of only three unbeaten Kentucky 6A teams, along with powerhouse Louisville Trinity.
Thanks to a short squib kick and a personal foul, Ryle’s offense started the game on the Pioneers’ side of the field. Senior quarterback Tanner Morgan capped the 47-yard drive by finding senior wide receiver Zach Cusick from 10 yards out, and Cooper Scherr ran in the two-point conversion for an early 80 lead.
Simon Kenton (8-1) answered when Dylan Hampton ended off a 63-yard drive by going in from the 3 to make it 8-6 with 7:18 left in the first. After trading punts, Ryle’s Bryce Ashley beat the defense on a 22-yard touchdown reception from Morgan to make it 15-6 late in the first.
Simon Kenton seemingly seized momentum early in the second quarter when it stopped Ryle on the 1-yard line on fourth down, and then junior quarterback Matt Shearer hit Luke Vance for a 98-yard touchdown catch-and-run. Junior quarterback Cam Racke and Fisher Hayden hooked up for the two-point conversion to cut the Raiders lead to 15-14.
Morgan led Ryle down the field late in the half, and senior kicker Mason Molique hit a 37-yard field goal as time expired in the second quarter to make it 18-14 at the break.
After Ryle forced a three-and-out on defense, junior running back Jake Chisholm took over in the third quarter, capping a 67-yard drive to make it 25-14. After the Ryle defense stiffened deep in their territory to force a Christian Seager 28-yard field goal, Morgan hit Easton Pilyer on a third-and-13, and the junior receiver went 81 yards to put Ryle up 32-17 with just under 10 minutes left in the game.
Racke hit Vance with 4:42 left for a 6-yard touchdown pass, and then Racke hit Logan Kreidenweis for the two-point conversion. Simon Kenton got the ball back one more time, but turned it over on downs at its own 31.
“The defense really stood up. People kinda talked bad about them to a certain degree,” said Morgan. “They made big plays when they needed to, they stood their ground. They bent, but they didn’t break.”
Morgan completed 18-of-26 passes for 261 yards and three touchdowns, while Chisholm ran for 235 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries.
The two could match up again, but the way Kentucky rotates the 6A pairings, a potential meeting in this post-season wouldn’t be until the state semi-inals at the winner of 6A, District 6, which was Simon Kenton.
“Hats off to them, and hats off to (Simon Kenton head coach) Jeff Marksberry, they’re a great football program,” said Engler. “They’ll be back, and they’ll go deep in the playoffs, and who knows, around week four of the playoffs, we may see them again.”
Simon Kenton ends its regular season next Friday when it hosts Scott, while Ryle hosts Dixie Heights next Friday. Both teams won their district and will host central Kentucky schools in the first round of the playoffs.
Brady Laber also contributed to this report.