It was billed as the game of the year. The Letcher Central Cougars would travel to Clay County to take on the Tigers in a battle for supremacy in the district. The Cougars lost both previous games with the Tigers and were underdogs going into Manchester to take on Mr. Zack Lewis and Company.
Lewis, 6’2″ and only a junior, came into the game rated as the #1 passing quarterback in the state. He has lived up to the hype by putting up huge numbers and looked to do the same against the Cougars. Lewis was averaging nearly 350 yards per contest to power the Tiger attack.
The Cougars were coming off the biggest win of their young existence. They downed Perry Central last week 63-14 in a big district win. The Cougars have a more balanced attack. They average 230 yards on the ground and 162 through the air for an average of 392 yards a game. Four players have more than 120 yards for the Cougars on the ground led by senior Dakota Brock with 191 followed by 168 from senior Terry Tolson, 133 from senior Ben Fisher, and 121 by junior quarterback Charlie Banks. On defense they have been led by big junior Caleb Frazier with 22 solo tackles and 9 assists followed by sophomore Mckenzie Smith with 13 solos and 3 assists.
The two teams had both been beaten by Hazard but the Cougars lost 43-22 while the Tigers were beaten by 1 point at Hazard after failing on a two-point conversion that would have won the game. So it looked like a pretty good match-up and, man, would it turn out to be just that.
The Tigers won the toss and deferred to the second half. The Cougars took the opening kick and Terry Tolson returned it all the way to the Clay County 41 to put the Cougars in fine shape. But the drive would go nowhere as the Cougars were pushed back and forced to punt.
It wouldn’t take Lewis long to get on track. Starting at their own 20, they quickly moved to the Cougar 40-yard line. After missing on 2 passes and having one deflected by Mckenzie Smith, it was fourth down and 10. He calmly stepped up and found Matt Dobbs over the middle and he was off to the races. They would tack on a 2-point conversion and quickly it was 8-0 Tigers at 7:27 of the first quarter.
The Cougars would strike back almost as quickly. On a third-down play, Banks found sophomore Chase Adams at the Clay County 45 with a 20-yard pass and a big first down. The Tigers got their second pass interference of the drive and moved the Cougars down to the 30-yard line. Banks found Dakota Brock and he broke tackles and moved all the way to the Tiger 1-yard line. Banks would sneak in from there. Colton Cook tacked on the point after and it was 8-7 Clay County with 4:36 left in the first quarter.
The Tigers got right back after it as Lewis, starting at his own 33, quickly connected with his receiver to the Cougar 35. He moved to the 25 on a run and then found Nolan for 25 yards and the second touchdown of the night for Clay County.
With the 15-7 lead it would not take long for them to strike again. On the Cougars next possession, Charlie Banks was picked off and it would be Tanner Gilbert scoring from 40 yards out and the Cougars were shell-shocked. It was quickly 23-7 with 1:57 left in the first quarter.
The Cougars put together a good drive behind Ben Fisher and Dakota Brock as they drove to the Tiger 18-yard line, but it would stall at the end of the first quarter and the Tigers took over. It took only 3 plays for the Tigers as Lewis passed out to the 48 on first down and, after a three-yard pickup on the ground, he connected with Matt Dobbs again for 48 yards. Things really looked bad for the Cougars as the Tigers moved in front 30-7 with 10:45 left in the second quarter.
Letcher Central would punt on their possession but for the first time all night they held the Tigers and forced them to turn the ball over on downs. Banks quickly ran out to the Cougar 32-yard line and on the next play he hooked up with Dakota Brock for a beautiful 67-yard touchdown pass and the Cougars had some life before half-time as the score stood at 30- 13 Clay County. Charlie Banks is becoming a huge threat with his feet as well as with his arm.
If I could be a fly on the wall, I would love to know what Coach Hillard Howard said at half-time because the Cougar team that came out in the second half was a completely different ball team.
Clay County got the second half kick and quickly moved downfield. They got all the way to the Cougar 2-yard line but that is where the Cougar defense stepped up and said that’s enough. They stopped the Tigers on a big fourth down play and took over.
The Cougars put together a long drive with Banks at the controls. He would not be denied as the Cougars moved to the Tiger 14-yard line. Banks ran it in from there and he showed everyone that the Cougars have a pretty good quarterback of their own. The extra point by Colton Cook made it made it 30-20 Tigers.
With a renewed fire the Cougars soon got the ball back again. Banks would quickly find Dustin Brown at the Clay 32-yard line and then he would call his own number again as he burst up the middle for the final 32 yards and another touchdown. The point after made it 30-27 Tigers with 11:20 remaining in the game.
With a renewed strength the Cougars got the ball back and then some magic came into play – or should I say brute strength. On fourth down the Cougars were forced to punt. Caleb Frazier went back to punt for the Cougars and it was a bad snap. Frazier bobbled it and took off running. He ran over people but he would not be stopped as he took it all the way home for the Cougars and the Cougars had the lead 33-30. They had clawed their way all the way back and now it was up to the defense.
Clay County was not impressed and Lewis quickly moved the Tigers back downfield with less than 5 minutes left in the game. They moved to the Cougar 15-yard line and with 4:44 left Nolan would score from 15 yards out and Clay County was back in control 37-33.
It was like a movie or something as the Cougars took over and behind their leader, Charlie Banks, they moved down field and showed something to fans as well as the Tigers – and that something is that they are a very good ball team and they were not going home with a loss. It was all heart for the Cougars as they drove to the Tiger 5-yard line and the star of the game, Charlie Banks, would take it in from there.
The Cougars had established themselves as a team to be reckoned with as they would come out of Manchester with an unbelievable 40-37 victory. Clay got the ball back before the end of the game but the drive was stopped by Stacy Phillips with an interception and the Cougars had held on. Charlie Banks was responsible for nearly 300 yards through the air and on the ground as well as scoring four touchdowns on the ground and passing for another. The victory improved the Cougars to 3-1 and 2- 0 in the district.
Coach Hillard Howard tackled defensive coach Delano Thomas because he was so happy. It was a well deserved victory for Coach Howard and Coach Thomas. Offensive coordinator Ben Howard also gets a lot of credit.
Every Cougar was a hero on this night as they got the biggest win in Cougar history and if I know Coach Hillard Howard it is only the beginning of something special in Cougarland.