The State Quarterfinal game could not have started off much better for the Park Hills Central Rebels against the Lions of Cardinal Ritter. The Rebs started on defense like they had all season and set the tone early with an initial stop after the Lions moved the ball into the red zone. Kannon Harlow broke up a pass in the endzone on a 4th down play, and they took over at their own 26 yard line.
Park Hills was able to go down the field in just a handful of plays on receptions from Mason Williams and Hakin Wagner, paired with a 20-yd run from QB Casen Murphy. Then on a 3rd-and-7 from the 39 yard line, Murphy hit Kendall Horton for a 39 yard TD. Horton made a great catch outdoing some really good defenders from Cardinal Ritter. After Ritter jumped offsides on the PAT attempt, Central decided to go for two, but the attempt failed so the score was 6-0 after one possession from each team.
Ritter responded on a 3rd and long of their own from the 24 yard line when this time Harlow got beat in the corner of the endzone with 2:24 left in the 1st. Ritter was also stopped on their 2-point attempt. The 1st quarter ended with the score tied 6-6.
On Central’s next possession, on a 3rd-and-15, Murphy connected with Jobe Bryant for 14 to set up a 4th-and-1 and a critical decision for Head Coach Kory Schweiss. He decided to do what he always does, and went for it from his own 46 yard line. The power formation that had been so good for the Rebels all season did not get the yard they needed when Bryant got hit in the backfield. However, the defense picked the team up and forced a 4th-and-16 right away and forced Ritter to punt. On the punt, there was a bad snap and the punter decided to take off and run, and Ty Schweiss made his first of many open field tackles to force the turnover on downs.
Central took over at the 41 yard line with a chance to go up. After a few plays and moving the ball down to the 16 yard line, Central was facing a 3rd and a long 5. Central dialed up a jig route for Bryant that found him open in the endzone. The ball was a tad late getting to him and the defender came from the opposite side and nearly deflected it, but it got through. Bryant, who may have gotten his vision blocked, had the ball go off his hands. This was the first of a few bad breaks that happened in the next few minutes. The next play looked promising to at least convert the 4th down, but on the reverse throwback from Bryant to Williams, the ball didn’t make it to an open Williams.
Ritter took over at their own 16 yard line and two plays later, another unfortunate circumstance happened for the Rebels. On the 2nd and long play, Ritter decided to dial up a pass and threw it deep, something that usually didn’t end up well for opposing teams vs the Central secondary. It looked as though that was the case again as Murphy intercepted the pass, tying the single season interception record with seven, and also tying the career interception record with 14.
Murphy returned the interception from his own 42 yard line back to the 36 going in, but on the tackle, he was stripped and there was a fight for the ball. After appearing like Murphy came away with the ball, the ball was awarded back to Ritter. This was a call that Coach Schweiss was not happy with. “I don’t see how a fumble that is either a dual possession or one that we came away with after the dust cleared can go back to them. It’s either our ball because we came out with it or it’s our ball because dual possession should go back to the team that last had the ball. If they say that the ball goes back to the offense on dual possession, that is correct, but not after an interception because the intercepting team is now on offense. The frustrating thing is that the officials would not even give an explanation.”
This was a huge turn of events as two plays later, after Schweiss almost intercepted a WR screen pass on the next play, Ritter was able to break contain on a jet sweep and take the ball 60 yards down to the two yard line and eventually punched it in. Again, Central stopped the 2-point conversion ,so the score was 12-6 with 9:23 to go in the half.
The ensuing kickoff was the third bad break in the matter of minutes as Wagner decided to field the ball at the 1 yard line instead of letting it go into the endzone. That decision proved to be detrimental as he only got the ball to the two yard line. Then a bad snap that Murphy had to fall on in the endzone resulted in a safety and a 14-6 lead. On top of that, Central had to give Ritter a short field because they had to kickoff from the 20 yard line. After a few plays, Ritter connected on a 25-yard pass play with a tremendous catch. The ensuing 2-point play was converted, the score became 22-6 and the game was trending in a negative direction.
As halftime came the score remained 22-6, but Central was getting the 2nd half kickoff. The Rebels took advantage of that as Bryant, who spent the previous evening at urgent care with flu like symptoms, returned the ball to the 41 yard line. Murphy used his legs and a 4th down conversion pass to Bryant to move the ball down the field. Murphy eventually ran the ball in for a TD and the ensuing 2-point conversion.
With 6:05 to play in the 3rd, Central brought it back to a one score game at 22-14. On a 3rd and 20 at the 24 yard line, the QB broke contain and looked like he may score as Ty Schweiss was once again on an island with a really athletic player with a ton of room. He again made the open field tackle leading to a 4th and 11 at the 15 yard line. Ty was able to intercept the next pass on the 4th down attempt and Central took over at their own 16 yard line with a chance to drive and tie the game.
After an initial false start penalty, Murphy dropped a short pass to Bryant with no place to go. He was corralled by a number of Lions on the play, but somehow, Jobe ended up getting through all of them, like he is known to do, and taking the ball all the way out to the 45 yard line. That is how the quarter ended.
Central had the ball close to midfield with a chance to go tie the game going into the 4th quarter. After an initial first down, Central was faced with a 4th and 6 at the 43 yard line. The Rebels decided to go to the air and dialed up Harlow’s number. He beat his defender on a post route and Murphy could not have laid it out there any better, but the sure handed Harlow had it go right off of his hands.
“I would take that 100 times out of 100” Coach Schweiss said about the play. “He makes that catch, and we are likely talking about having an opportunity to tie the game with a 2-point attempt. It just wasn’t meant to be.”
Ritter took over on downs, but Central’s defense stepped up as they had all season and got an immediate 3-and-out. However, the offense after only one first down, did not take advantage against a good Ritter defense and had to punt the ball back to them midway through the final quarter. Murphy’s 58 yard punt pinned Ritter back at their own six yard line, but Ritter had some talented players on the field and two long runs later had the ball in the endzone to go up 30-14 after the 2-point conversion with 5:56 left in the game. It seemed unlikely at this point that Central would advance.
However, Central did not go down without a fight. Implementing a 2-minute offense against a team with athletes like Ritter is not easy, however, Murphy orchestrated it flawlessly and took the Rebels down the field making one incredible play after another. His final play of the drive had him step up in the pocket like he had all game, but instead of running this one, he found Bryant in the endzone for a 24 yard TD pass. With the score now 30-20, Central had to convert a 2-point conversion to try and get it back to a one score game.
Coach Schweiss dialed up a little trickery and Central lined up with a swinging gate formation. With Jones snapping, Murphy went in motion from left to right. Murphy took the snap from Jones and immediately threw it backwards to Ty Schweiss who was back at the 20 yard line near Ritter’s bench. Schweiss then ran back to the left and threw it back even farther to Bryant over by Central’s bench at the 25 yard line. Bryant had several options in the endzone, but Ritter had everyone covered pretty well so as Bryant was running with no one in the endzone to throw to, he decided to throw it back to Schweiss, but this one was a forward pass. Schweiss, knowing that he couldn’t throw it forward again, had nothing to do but try to score himself. With a pump fake that was harmless, he was able to avoid all of the would-be tacklers and dove in for the 2-point conversion making the score 30-22 and giving Central a chance.
With 3:22 left in the game and all 3 timeouts, Central decided to try an onside kick. Coach Schweiss on the remaining strategy, “We had been squibbing kicks all day to try avoid giving their stud athletes opportunities in the open field to return one, so there was no decision that had to be made. We were kicking on the ground all day, we just thought it was our best chance.”
Once Ritter was able to recover the kick, and after Central used one of their timeouts, the Lions again were able to get the edge and have a long run for a TD. Central stopped the 2 point attempt, but by this time, their fate had ultimately been sealed. That score made it 36-22 which proved to be the final.
Coach Schweiss’ final thoughts on game:
“We had our chances. Those circumstances in the 2nd quarter really put us in an uphill battle. The dropped TD, the interception-fumble, the dropped interception, the fielding the kickoff at the 1-yard line, and the bad snap in the endzone all happened in a matter of a few minutes. However, our kids really fought back in the second half and had opportunities to put a lot of pressure on them. The other dropped pass that could have tied the game early in the 4th quarter could have really been a momentum swing. I would have loved to see how Ritter would have responded if we tie that game in the 4th after everything seemingly was going against us. However, at the end of the day, you have to make plays, and we just didn’t do it today like we are used to. It’s really just a bummer because I feel like that game was there for us today, and we didn’t take advantage of it. Our best players had opportunities today, and that’s all we can ask for. I love these kids, and they will learn that things don’t always go their way. That’s what this game teaches because it won’t always go their way in life either. It’s how you bounce back. I promise you this……….. It doesn’t make me love any of these guys any less. I’m super proud of all of them.”
Eloquent and poignant words from a caring Head Coach. It was a crazy game that ended an incredible season, but sometimes you just don’t get the breaks. Congrats to the Rebels on a fantastic year.