PAINTSVILLE – Just too much.

Mason County made the two and a half hour bus trip to Paintsville to take on the defending Class 4A champs in Johnson Central and were overmatched in a 43-0 defeat to the Golden Eagles.

“We were overmatched. I think the biggest thing that hurt is tonight was the look that we got in practice,” Royals coach Jonathan Thomas said. “With the number of kids and the injuries we had this year, it was tough to get a look that they gave us tonight.”

A nightmare start for the Royals didn’t help the cause.

On the opening kickoff, the Golden Eagles pooch kicked the ball and were able to recover after the ball bounced off a Royals player, getting a gift from the get-go with the ball on the Royals 39.

“No secret we got to start better. We got to come out on fire and we didn’t,” Thomas said. “We knew we had to have some things go our way and we definitely couldn’t have come out and done that.”

They’d score four plays later as Ryley Peece, who ended up with an all-around memorable game, ran one in from 11 yards out.

Then more self-inflicted wounds from the Royals would come.

On their first play from scrimmage, Malkolm Devine was stripped and the Golden Eagles recovered on the Royals 36-yard line. Six plays later on a Preece three-yard run, Mason County faced a 14-0 deficit less than six minutes into the game.

Looking to respond quickly, Chandler Dunaway was able to hit brother Leevi Dunaway for a 46-yard completion to get into the Johnson Central red zone. But they’d stall out from there as Chandler Dunaway was forced to make a play on fourth and long, resulting in an interception from Johnson Central’s Taylor Blanton.

Blake Gamble would get in on the scoring action on the ensuing possession, running one in from 15 yards out, making it 21-0 just at the start of the second quarter.

Then it was the Ryley Peece show, the quarterback/defensive back would get the game to a running clock with two pick sixes on back-to-back possessions, one from 66 yards out, the other 60 yards out as he tight roped the sidelined on the latter, making it 36-0 Golden Eagles with 4:27 to play in the first half.

Mason County was able to come out and show their character in the second half, still battling, but two stalled drives in Golden Eagles territory preserved the shutout for Johnson Central.

Preece would hit Gamble for a 50-yard touchdown in the fourth, getting the final score to 43-0.

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Gamble led the Golden Eagles with 206 all-purpose yards (130 rushing, 76 receiving) and two scores. Peece had all 76 of his passing yards go to Gamble, while he ran for 23 yards and the two scores with two defensive scores as well and three total interceptions.

The 9-2 Golden Eagles move in to face Scott in Taylor Mill next Friday after the Eagles knocked off Rowan County, 43-0.

For Mason County, it was tough sledding on the night as they tallied just 104 total yards with four turnovers. They forced one turnover, via a Leevi Dunaway interception.

The Royals season closes at 7-4 and although it wasn’t the performance they wanted tonight, they made great strides in Jonathan Thomas’ third season as head coach. They were literally three plays away from a possible undefeated season.

“We were very, very close. I’m sure we all wish we could have done some things a little differently here and there for a win here or there. To get that much out of that bunch, I’m very happy pleased and proud of them. They gave me what they had,” Thomas said.

They’ll now have the burden of replacing seniors like Dalton Kindt, Trey Crump and Will Caudill along the line, Malkolm Devine, Tykeiese Henry, Camdyn Wasington, Shane Sizemore, Chandler and Leevi Dunaway at the skill positions, who all made big contributions this year.

“Some of those kids don’t leave the field. Some of those kids don’t leave the practice field either. The reps they endure over the week was a lot. I’m happy to be their coach and think there’s several of these kids that could go on play at the next level,” Thomas said. “Hopefully that will help us as far as getting more kids out. We need as many as we can get.”

The 7-4 season was their best since 2014.

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