BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – Reliant on a stout defense all season, the Fern Creek High School football team ran into a stronger one Friday.
Clark Payne threw three touchdown passes and Bowling Green’s defense slowed the Fern Creek rushing attack on its way to a 21-0 victory in a Class 5-A state semifinal.
Fern Creek was limited to 151 rushing yards, 91 less than its season average. The Tigers managed just 3.6 yards per attempt against the Purples.
“That’s one thing we knew would be a struggle this game,” said Fern Creek coach Josh Abell, whose team finished 12-2 after reaching the state semifinals for the first time since 1994. “They’re so athletic defensively that they can let plays develop in front of them and break to the ball and make plays.”
Bowling Green (13-1), No. 6 in the state in The Courier-Journal’s Litkenhous Ratings, advanced to face defending champ and No. 13-ranked Pulaski County (13-1) in next Saturday’s 9 p.m. EDT state final at Western Kentucky University. Pulaski County defeated Highlands 41-31 in Friday’s other state semifinal.
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After winning three straight state titles from 2011-13, Bowling Green lost to Graves County in a regional final last season. Coach Kevin Wallace said that defeat was not a motivational tool this season.
“I don’t like to live in the negative,” he said. “We just picked up and went to the next group. It’s their turn. We’re going to play a really, really good team next week. I don’t know if we’re good enough to compete with them, but we’re going to spend the week trying to find a way.”
Payne and fellow junior Jamale Carothers figure to give the Purples a chance.
Payne’s first touchdown pass of the night came on a hook-and-lateral play to cap the Purples’ second possession of the game. Payne hit DeAngelo Wilson for a 13-yard gain to the left side before Wilson pitched the ball to Carothers, who raced the final 20 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead at the 1:12 mark of the first quarter.
After Fern Creek failed to convert a fake punt early in the second quarter, Payne made the Tigers pay. On first down, he hit Jacob Yates for a 53-yard touchdown pass and a 14-0 lead at the 8:06 mark of the first half.
“When teams score on us, they typically score in big-play fashion,” said Abell, whose defense entered the game allowing just 6.8 points per game. “It’s rarely a methodical drive. They took advantage of how quick we break on the ball. They burned us on it.”
The Tigers’ best chance to score came on their first drive of the second half. Jamison White had runs of 12 and 13 yards to start the drive, and Shamar Bryant’s 23-yard pass to Lamarius Kinslow on a fourth down gave Fern Creek first-and-goal at the 2.
But a 15-yard personal-foul penalty backed up the Tigers, who ultimately faced a fourth-and-goal at the 3. Devon Blincoe took a pitch to the right side and was stuffed for a 1-yard loss, turning the ball over to the Purples.
“The ballgame ends right there,” Abell said. “That was not the play that was called. The play that was called was supposed to be more on the outside edge.”
Payne iced it with his final touchdown pass, a 70-yarder to Carothers to make it 21-0 with 5:35 remaining. Payne finished 14 of 22 for 202 yards. Carothers had five catches for 90 yards.
White led the Tigers with 128 yards on 21 carries.
“Their defense just flew around to the ball,” Fern Creek offensive lineman Evan Flener said of the Purples. “They made plays, and we never really got a chance to break one on them.”
Fern Creek will lose several solid players to graduation, but Abell is hopeful the underclassmen will be hungry to build on the success of this season.
“Bowling Green is a fantastic program with all of the championships they’ve won,” he said. “We want to build up to that, and obviously we’re not there just yet. … But we had a fantastic season and made some history for the school.”
Jason Frakes can be reached at (502) 582-4046 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
FERN CREEK 0 0 0 0 – 0
BOWLING GREEN 7 7 0 7 – 21
BG – Jamale Carothers 20 pass from Clark Payne (Lee Ramsey kick); BG – Jacob Yates 53 pass from Payne (Ramsey kick); BG – Carothers 70 pass from Payne (Ramsey kick).
First downs 10 11
Total yards 205 282
Rushes-yards 42-151 27-80
Comp-Att-Int 4-11-2 14-22-0
Passing yards 54 202
Fumbles-lost 1-0 0-0
Punts-avg 6-38.7 7-33.3
Penalties-yards 7-65 5-36