BUTLER | Bracken County moved the ball seemingly effortlessly in the first half Friday night, but its inability to convert that into points cost the Polar Bears dearly in their regular season finale.
Pendleton County scored 16 straight points in the fourth quarter to break open a tense tussle and pull away to a 26-14 home victory in a steady rain on its senior night.
Wildcats senior back Austin Pyles ran for 174 yards and the two fourth-quarter touchdowns that put the game out of the Polar Bears' reach.
Bracken County (5-5) amassed 348 yards of offense, including 171 yards on the ground from Dallas Honan and 130 through the air from Logan Houston.
“They just struggled to stop us all game, and I guarantee we had more yards in this game,” Polar Bears coach Mike Sizemore said – and he was right, Bracken County won the offensive yardage total 348 yards to 337.
But the Polar Bears just left too many points on the board. They had five turnovers on downs and lost two fumbles after driving deep into Pendleton County (2-8) territory time and again.
“It was a tight one,” Sizemore said. “We had some missed opportunities early in the first half. We had a chance to get up on 'em there a little bit, and it came back to haunt us in the end.”
The Polar Bears did finally get into the end zone twice in the second half, the first on a Honan 26-yard run, with his run wide on the two-point conversion failing.
That brought Bracken County to within 10-8 with just under three minutes to go in the third quarter. But the visitors didn't have a defensive answer for Pyles' power running in the second half.
“Kid (doesn't) come off the field,” Wildcats coach Terry Brown said. “He's actually played all year long with a busted back and a slipped disc, and I tell you what, they don't come much better than him. He's a great kid.”
Pyles ran for touchdowns on back-to-back possessions, opening up a 26-8 lead with his 24-yard burst up the middle with 1:08 remaining.
Houston connected with his brother Jacob on a 46-yard touchdown on the first play of the next drive to keep things interesting, though the two-point try failed when he couldn't handle the slick shotgun snap.
Pendleton County had no trouble with the ensuing blooped kickoff, and ran out the clock to preserve its season-ending win.
The weather Friday night might have matched Pendleton County's mood much of the season. But the Wildcats came out in a game where nothing was on the line but pride, and displayed plenty of it in beating their border rivals for the seventh straight time.
“This season wasn't what we wanted it to be,” Brown said. “But they fought hard and they set the foundation for years to come. And for our younger guys, our underclassmen, it's a great way to go into the offseason with a good positive taste in your mouth.”
Bracken County in its own right has accomplished more than most outside observers would probably have predicted before the season.
“They have done everything I've asked,” Sizemore said. ”It's been a joy coaching them. I'm so impressed with these kids, their heart, their determination, the fire that they play the game with. People kinda counted them out (this) year, and it was great for them to come back and have the season they did this year.”
The Polar Bears scored the game's first points with their defense.
The visitors surrendered possession early in the second quarter on an incompletion on fourth-and-goal from the Pendleton County 2, but their defense brought down Pyles behind his own goal line for a safety with 9:46 to go in the second quarter for a 2-0 Polar Bears lead.
Connor Rigg returned the ensuing free kick 20 yards to the Pendleton County 45, and Bracken County reached the Wildcats 21. But Honan fumbled on fourth-and-1 and wouldn't have gained the necessary yardage anyway because he was being stuffed in his own backfield.
The Polar Bears turned it over on downs again at the Wildcats 9 on their next possession, and Pendleton County finally did something with that momentum.
On third-and-12 after a procedure penalty, Wildcats quarterback Adam Koeninger kept the ball on the option and took off down the left sideline 88 yards to paydirt.
Aven Harper, who scored 44 goals in 23 games this season for Pendleton County's soccer team, booted the extra point to give the Wildcats a 7-2 lead they carried into halftime.
While Pendleton County's season came to an end on Friday, the Polar Bears have the postseason to get ready for. Bracken County has a date at Beechwood on Friday night in their Class A playoff opener.
The Polar Bears will look to build on some momentum they may have gained Friday night.
“We played pretty solid,” Sizemore said. “I can't really fault my kids. We stood up and played with a 4A school. It's a positive we can put into it.”
Bracken County 0 2 6 6 – 14
Pendleton County 0 7 3 16 – 26
BC – safety, 9:46
PC – Koeninger 88 run (Harper kick), 3:53
PC – Harper 26 field goal, 5:49
BC – Honan 26 run (Honan run failed), 2:53
PC – Harper 34 field goal, 10:42
PC – Pyles 27 run (Harper kick), 3:12
PC – Pyles 24 run (Harper kick failed), 1:08
BC – J. Houston 46 pass from L. Houston (run failed), :41
Rushing: BC – Honan 31 carries-171 yards, Rigg 12-62, L. Houston 3-(-15); PC – Pyles 24-174, Koeninger 7-111, Silbersack 3-(-10).
Passing: BC – L. Houston 7 completions-20 attempts-130 yards-0 interceptions; PC – Koeninger 7-15-62-0.
Receiving: BC – J. Houston 2 receptions-81 yards, May 2-22, Fite 2-15, Cracraft 1-11; PC – Pyles 3-34, Holland 1-22, Silbersack 3-6.
Records: Bracken County 5-5, Pendleton County 2-8.