After impressive wins over Mercer County and Harlan County in the opening rounds of the Class 5A playoffs, the Letcher Central Cougars moved on to the Elite 8 for a date with the Pulaski County Maroons.
The Cougars, 10-2, traveled to Somerset for the game and, as usual, they took a bunch of fans.
Pulaski County (also 10-2) was fresh off of a victory over Whitley County that set up the regional championship game with the Cougars.
In only their fifth year as a school, the Cougars are playing in their third straight regional championship game. They have won one and lost one.
The Cougars opened the game on the receiving end, and the turnover bug again made its mark as the Cougars turned the ball over on a fumble.
The Maroons were in great shape deep in Cougar territory, but the Cougar defense was ready for the challenge. The defense stepped up and stopped the Maroons with a goal line stand that turned the ball back over on downs to the Cougars.
The Cougars, starting at their own 5, moved out to the 40-yard line on a delay by sophomore quarterback Logan Johnson. The designed play has been the Cougars’ bread-and-butter play all year.
The drive stalled and the Cougars punted it back to the Maroons. The Maroons got the ball at the 18-yard line and quickly got to work. A pass from junior quarterback Zack Eastham to D.C. White put the ball on the Cougar 40-yard line and a first down. A personal foul moved it on down to the Cougar 30. With a full head of steam, they moved it down to the Cougar 9 and another first down.
Abner picked up 5 down to the 4, and then again the Cougars’ red zone defense stepped up and stopped the Maroons on a thirdand 4 to set up a Maroon field goal. The kick was good and the Maroons were on the board.
With 4:20 left in the first quarter, the Cougars quickly got threeand out on three straight passes.
The Maroons got the ball in good field position at the 43-yard line. They struck quickly as Eastham hit McQueen for a 55- yard bomb and the Maroons were rolling with a 10-0 lead.
The Cougars started deep in their own territory at the 5-yard line. A pass to senior Robbie Huff got the Cougars out of the hole and got them a first down, but they came up short on a third-andthree and were forced to punt again as the quarter came to an end.
The Maroons moved inside Cougar territory as Eastham was firing at will to his receivers and running the ball with authority. Eastham had stepped in for starting star quarterback Chris Muse,who was lost for the season with a knee injury.
Eastham connected on his next pass to the end zone, but it was called back on a penalty on the Maroons. The Maroons were in a zone, but Cougar defensive end Koree Stewart brought them back to earth with a fumble recovery at the 48-yard line.
The Cougars got it going and Dustin Brown got to the Maroon 35. The Cougars were forced to go for it on a fourth-and-inches play that Logan Johnson got on his own. They got to the Maroon 15, and were faced with another fourth down.
Sophomore Drew Bentley got to the 7, and Johnson took it home from there, and it was a new ball game. The conversion failed and the score stood at 10-6 Maroons.
The air quickly went out of the Cougar sails as D.C. White returned the kickoff all the way to the Cougar 38, and the Maroons were right back in business.
Eastham got down to the 20 on first down, but the Maroons fumbled and Logan Johnson recovered for the Cougars. With 5:40 left in the half, the Cougars started to drive again.
Brown picked up 12 to the 41. A pass interference on Pulaski moved the ball to the Maroon 45, and with all day to pass Johnson hit senior Travis Stephens at the Maroon 9-yard line.
But then on the next play, the ball was fumbled and the Maroons had it at their own 10-yard line.
Eastham connected on two passes and moved the Maroons to the Cougar 41. He went to the ground and picked up most of the yards on his own. On a first down play from the Cougar 18-yard, he juked and jived all the way to the one. Abner took it in from there, and the score was 17-6.
With only a couple minutes left in the half, the Cougars tried to mount a drive, but the ball was fumbled and picked up deep in Cougar territory by a Maroon lineman. He scored easily to shock the Cougars and move the score to 24- 6 at the half.
The Cougars had to find a way to get back in the game, and they got it early in the second half. The Maroons opened the half on offense but fumbled it with 8:12 in the third, and the Cougars recovered deep in Maroon territory.
Logan Johnson scored from 4 yards out to make the score 24-14. After another big drive, the Maroons answered quickly. Eastham moved his troops to the Cougar one, and Abner scored again to make it 31-14 after three.
The Cougars went three-andout, and the Maroons threw an interception that was picked off by Logan Johnson (his fifth of the season). The Cougars were unable to mount a drive, but a couple of penalties on Pulaski moved the ball to the Maroon 40-yard line.
The Cougars turned it over on downs with 10:22 left in the game. The Maroons were not able to get a touchdown, but they did attempt a 46-yard field goal that was no good.
With time running out the Cougars moved down to the Maroon 9-yard line, but were unable to score. The Maroons got the ball back and ran out the clock.
The final would stand at 31-14. They were the region champions, and would move on to face Highlands in the semi-finals. The Cougars ended their season at 10-3, and they would say good-bye to 17 seniors that got them where they are today.
They accomplished so much in such a short time. Three straight regional championship appearances, and one regional crown. They will be sorely missed.
The Maroons’ Zack Eastham had a huge game with 275 yards through the air on 17-21 passes. He also ran the ball 18 times for 120 yards.
The Cougars’ Logan Johnson passed the ball 22 times and connected on 15 of those for 143 yards. He ran the ball 11 times for 100 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Overall the Cougars had 324 yards of offense. They are very young, and nothing but good things should happen for them in the future.