Every Frederick Douglass touchdown Friday night was a truth bomb.
That hard truth: Scott County is every bit as out-athleted by the Broncos right now as it was in many past November games against the likes of Trinity, Male and St. Xavier. Maybe more so.
To topple Lexington’s powerhouse of the present in the Class 5A District 6 championship at Birds’ Nest Stadium would have required near-perfection.
Valiant effort and the utmost class simply weren’t enough as this strangest of seasons in everyone's world ended for the previously unbeaten Cardinals, 39-21.
“They beat us. I don’t think we turned it over. We only had 25 penalty yards and zero turnovers,” SC coach Jim McKee said. “The margin for error is so small. They’re just better than us. I don’t know what more to say than that.”
Darius Neal scored four touchdowns to lead Frederick Douglass (6-1), which will travel to Pulaski County for a date with Southwestern in next Friday’s state quarterfinals.
Neal was never touched on either his 47-yard scoring grab from Samuel Cornett to open the game or a 21-yard TD ramble in the closing seconds of the first quarter.
His first score put the Broncos on track after they had apparent touchdowns nullified by penalties on consecutive plays.
Douglass sandwiched those scores on its first two possessions around a defensive stop and a shanked punt that covered only nine yards.
“We jumped offside on fourth-and-1 opening drive,” McKee said of the double whammy at the start. “We were doing exactly what we needed to be doing, which was taking the ball down the field, and we jumped offside.”
District player of the year Neal cashed in again with a 1-yard run in the final minute of the half to put the Broncos in front, 19-7, and his 49-yard scamper was one of two backbreaking touchdowns in the first four minutes of the third period.
Cornett was 12-for-16 through the air for 241 yards and three touchdowns. Douglass’ two blue-chip receivers, Dane Key and Dekel Crowdus, each caught one of those scoring tosses.
Crowdus finished with six grabs for 100 yards to go along with Neal’s 22 carries for 165 yards.
“I said last year, and it’s sour grapes probably, but how did they not win it?” McKee said. “How do they not win it this year? No offense to anybody else, but I’ve seen them all. How do they not win it?”
Scott County (7-1) scratched within six points on Zane Patton’s 18-yard TD strike to Jaxon Saylor with 3:13 remaining in the first half. Key first downs by Montago Jones on fourth-and-short and a sliding sideline catch by Kam Lay kept the drive afloat.
The rush of excitement on SC’s side of the stadium was short-lived. T.J. Horton’s 60-yard return of the ensuing kickoff set up the third touchdown by Neal for an almost immediate response.
“You can’t be a championship team if you can’t kick the ball inside the 5-yard line. No offense to Jacob Bange. He’s awesome. He’s like second in the state in PATs. He’s trying as hard as he can, and that’s ultimately on me,” McKee said. “I have to find somebody in a school of 1,200 students who can kick the ball inside the 5-yard line.
“They returned two kickoffs last week (for touchdowns, in a 62-21 win over Great Crossing). There is no way to kick off to them other than kick it in the end zone. That's it. Kick it in the end zone. But yeah, that was big, because we’d just made it 13-7.”
Douglass protected that two-touchdown lead by knocking down Patton’s pass to Hamilton in the end zone at the horn. Saylor and Hamilton rushed for first downs, combined with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against the Broncos, to give the Cards that crack at the last word.
The Broncos had the benefit of receiving the second half kickoff, and Cornett used it to pad the lead, dropping a 38-yard dime to Key on a post pattern.
After a quick stop by the Douglass defense, Neal needed only two plays to chalk up his longest scoring jaunt of the night and put the issue out of reach.
“We did some good things on both sides of the ball,” McKee said. “We just didn’t string together enough good things for enough of the game.”
Douglass has won four of the past five meetings against Scott County, including the 2019 regular-season and playoff games.
SC showed no quit, as usual.
Helped by multiple personal fouls – the boisterous Broncos earned numerous unsportsmanlike conduct flags on their way to 17 penalties for 219 yards – the Cardinals cut into the lead late in the third quarter.
Patton capped the march with a two-yard jump pass, a la Tim Tebow, to Campton Martin for the latter’s team-leading 18th TD of the season.
Despite backing itself into first-and-35 on the next series with the continued infractions, Douglass dug out with two long throws from Cornett to Crowdus.
Crowdus fittingly finished the drive with a 1-yard TD grab just over a minute into the fourth.
Haaden Jones completed the scoring on a 7-yard surge up the middle with 1:14 to play.
Scott County mixed it up in the running game with Montago Jones (20 carries for 78 yards), Jeremy Hamilton (10 for 62) and Martin (11 for 38) doing the heavy lifting.
The Cards also eliminated turnovers, took only the four relatively harmless penalties and won the battle for time of possession by more than six minutes, all things SC needed to accomplish in order to have a prayer.
But the Broncos’ swarming defense simply wouldn’t allow SC to keep pace with Douglass’ cadre of playmakers. Kwahlie Coffman (16 tackles) and Ty Bryant (15) led the pursuit.
Elijah Adams, Jonathan Berry and Isaac Krebs each had a stop for loss in a tireless and resilient showing by the Scott County defense, which hadn’t surrendered more than 18 points in any previous game this season.
“We had a great season,” McKee said. “We went 7-1. I’m proud of the kids, and I have no excuses. Ultimately the losses fall on me.”
Scott County was playing on Thanksgiving Weekend for the 10th time in the past 13 seasons. Each of the others was a state semifinal.
This postseason was pushed back two weeks after the campaign started that same amount of time behind schedule due to COVID-19.
Douglass and SC’s scheduled regular-season game was canceled twice, and the teams had been off for four and five weeks, respectively, prior to last week’s opening round of the playoffs.
“I’m just mainly proud of them because when we started lifting weights on June 15, we didn’t know if we’d even have a season,” McKee said. “So we just worked out for basically six months.
"They need time off to heal up and be kids and get back in school and do the things they should be doing. But we’re very young. We’ll return a lot of kids. We started 13 or 14 underclassmen tonight.”