The season is dwindling down and the Letcher County Central Cougars are down to their last three games of the campaign. The Cougars have struggled all season, and with a record of 1-6 and 0-3 in the district they would really have to have a monster effort against a 6-1 Clay County Tiger team if they wanted that first district win.
The Cougars have had trouble scoring this season, but they were coming off a big off ensive showing the week before against Whitley County that saw them put up 520 yards of offense. Drew Bentley had his best game as a Cougar. He rushed 18 times for 185 yards. Matt Boggs caught three passes for 140 yards. But to pull out a win in Manchester the Cougars would need that and more. The Tigers were coming off a win over Perry Central and sitting at the top of the district with Harlan County. They have been in some good games this season, most notably a come from behind win against Middlesboro in the last few minutes of the game. After trailing 35-7 at the break they came back to win 43- 42. Their only loss came to Knox County by a score of 9-6.
The Cougars won the toss and got the ball first. A quick three and out forced a punt and the Tigers got the ball. A returned to the Cougar 35 had the Tigers in great shape, and it took only one play to score, as C.J. Miller took it 35 yards to the house and Noah Reid tacked on the conversion to give the Tigers an 8-0 lead in less than 2 minutes.
The Cougars got into Tiger territory on their next possession and after a facemask against the Tigers they had the ball at the Clay County 35 yard line. But the drive stalled and Clay County got it back and put together another scoring drive. With 3:22 left in the first quarter, Miller scored again, this time from 2 yards out.
With the Cougars back on offense, an 11-yard pass to Matt Boggs and another to Boggs got the Cougars to the 42 yard line, but they were forced to punt again. The defense came to life on the next Clay County drive, with Chris Tyree recording a sack to force a third and 16 and help the Cougars take the ball over on downs. Drew Bentley got into Tiger territory, but on the next play Logan Johnson’s pass was intercepted by Joey Dezarn and returned to the Cougar 35. With 8:00 left in the second quarter the Tigers quickly advanced into the Cougars’ red zone. Noah Reid got to the 2-yard line but was stopped for no gain on second down and then he dropped for a loss on the 5-yard line on third down. A pass to the endzone was incomplete on fourth down and the Cougars had held.
The Cougars, however, could not mount any off ense at all and were forced to punt again. The Cougar defense stopped the Tigers again before the half, leaving the score at 14-0 at the break.
The Tigers opened the third quarter on off ense, but the Cougar defense stepped up and forced a fourth-and-16, but the Tigers converted in a big way when quarterback John Wilson hit Reid with a pass at the 4-yard line. Reid took the ball in for the score and a 22-0 lead with 7:05 in the third. A Cougar punt gave the ball back, but Dezarn fumbled after returning the ball all the way down to the Cougar 5-yard line. The Cougars recovered, but a couple of personal fouls resulted in another punt as the Cougars began to get frustrated.
It took just one play for the Tigers to score again as Wilson went up the middle from his quarterback position all the way for the score and a 29-0 lead. The Cougars finally did get on the board. After a good return by Bentley to the 40, Johnson hit Tyree for a score but it was called back. He then connected with Jesse Rose on the 9-yard line before taking it on into the endzone on a quarterback keeper. The conversion to Rose was good and it was 29-8.
The defense would take over again for the Cougars at the start of the fourth quarter and forced a punt by the Tigers. With the Cougars in good field position at the Tiger 35, Bentley got to the 8 before Johnson scored from 2 yards out. The conversion to Boggs was good and suddenly there was a ballgame at 29-16.
An onside kick was next, but the ball only went a few feet and the Tigers had it in Cougar territory. They quickly moved to the Cougar 25, but fumbled on the Cougar 13 with less than five minutes in the game. The Cougars were down to their last chance. After getting to work and putting together a drive to move inside Tiger territory at the 40, Johnson ran the ball to the 19. A completed pass to Keaston Hall put the ball on the 10- yard line. Johnson then got the ball to the one, but the Cougars fumbled and the Tigers recovered and run out the clock.
The Cougars fell to 1-7 and 0-4 in district and have lost any mathematical chance to get into the playoff s. The Tigers improved to 7-1 and 4-0 in district play. Clay County’s win set up a matchup for the district title next week with Harlan County, who beat Perry Central 50-7 at Perry County. Harlan County should easily cruise to their first district title.
The Cougars have two games remaining, including a district game against North Laurel. They can win both of their remaining games. If they do it should give them some momentum for next season.