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By GOOSE LINDSAY
After missing out on the playoffs for three straight years, the Oliver Springs Bobcats will finally get a taste of postseason play as Wiley Brackett's squad wrapped up an automatic berth in the TSSAA Class AA playoffs Thursday night with a 42-14 victory at Wartburg.
Oliver Springs also ran their season record to 7-2 Thursday and that's two more wins than the combined five the Bobcats amassed from 2006-08.
“I can't tell you how proud I am of these kids right now,” Bobcat head coach Wiley Brackett said. “They have worked hard in the weight room and now all that hard work is finally paying off. I'm also proud of the coaching staff because they've also put in a lot of hard work and effort in getting these kids ready to play next week. This is big for these kids, school and community.”
Although Thursday's game ended in a blowout, there were some tense moments for the Bobcats, especially in the first half. With 2:01 left in the first half, Wartburg scored on a 64-yard pass to tie the game at 14-all.
At that point Wartburg seemed ready to take the momentum into the locker room at halftime, but the Bobcats put together one of their biggest drives of the year when sophomore RB Jordan Romero capped a two-play, 64-yard drive with a 52-yard run from Jordan Romero to make the score 21-14 at intermission.
The Bobcats then got the ball to start the second half and Brackett's boys marched 79 yards in 11 plays with Romero scoring to make the score 28-14 with eight minutes left in the third period.
“Getting that score right before halftime was huge,” Brackett said. “We got the momentum back and I knew if we could score again to start the second half that it would be tough for them to came back from two touchdowns as well as our defense was playing.”
Friday's game started as a defensive struggle as Wartburg punted the ball away on each of their first two possessions while Oliver Springs booted the ball away after their initial drive of the night.
Oliver Springs, however, opened the scoring on their next possession as the Bobcats drove 58 yards in eight plays with Romero scoring on a seven-yard run with 34 seconds left in the first quarter.
Austin Rice added the PAT to make the score 7-0.
Two big plays set up the score as Romero ripped off a 27-yard run to move the ball inside the 10 and before that a Wartburg interception was negated by a defensive holding penalty.
Wartburg answered using a 60-yard kick return by Adam pence to set up a five-play, 23-yard scoring drive capped by a four-yard run from Travis Hamby.
Kyle Schubert's PAT tied the score at 7-7 with 10:43 left in the half.
Oliver Springs punted the ball away on their next possession and Wartburg had a solid drive under way before Bobcat S Cory McBee picked off a pass to end the threat at the Bobcat 32.
The rest of the half tuned into a shootout.
Oliver Springs turned the turnover into points with a seven-play, 68-yard scoring dive that featured two big throws from QB Garrett Miller. The first was a 27-yard pass to Rue Eskridge and the second was an 18-yard scoring strike to Wesley Rather that gave the Bobcats a 14-7 lead with 2:24 left in the opening half.
Wartburg evened the score 23 seconds later when Drew Jenkins took a Rusty Phillips pass 64 yards to the end zone to make the score 14-14 with 2:01 left until halftime.
Not to be outdone, Romero scored 37 seconds later on a 52-yard run that gave the Bobcats a 21-14 lead with 1:24 left in the first half.
Oliver Springs came out and took control of the game with the 79-yard drive to open the third quarter. Miller hit Wesley Rather for a 33-yard pass to set up the score.
A series of punts finished out the the third quarter before the Bobcats put together two more scoring drives in the final period.
Oliver Springs only needed four plays to cover 70 yards in their first scoring drive of the fourth quarter with Miller ripping off a 42-yard scoring scamper around the right end to extend the lead to 35-14 with still 11:29 left in the game.
Miller was escorted to the end zone by 6'7” 330-pound C Tyler Harper and Harper's hustle didn't go unnoticed.
“Biggs (Harper) has been picked on the past couple of weeks but he really stepped it up tonight,” Brackett said. “Anybody watching him tonight seen that the 6'7” 330-pounder can play.”
The Bulldogs attempted a fake punt on their next series, but were stopped well short of moving the chains and the 'Cats took over at the Wartburg 43. Two plays later, Romero ripped off a 55-yard run to set up a one-yard touchdown run on a guard around play by Aaron Foust with 6:45 left in the game.
Rice added the finishing touches on the 42-14 victory with the PAT.
Wartburg's 245-yard offensive effort was led by the rushing trio of Travis Hamby (14-58, 1 TD), Rusty Phillips (14-33) and Adam Spence (3-30). Phillips was 7-16 for 117 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Drew Jenkins (3-74, 1 TD) and Kyle Schubert (3-40) were the top targets. Jenkins added 23 yards on 2 punt returns to give him 102 all-purpose yards.
Oliver Springs' 440-yard outburst was led by the 1-2 sophomore rushing charge of Jordan Romero (21-201, 3 TDs) and Garrett Miller (12-84, 1 TD). Haven Williams (4-22) and Rue Eskridge (1-12) helped the Bobcats rush for 336 yards.
Miller (6-10 for 104 yards, 1 TD) had a big night through the air. Wesley Rather (3-65, 1 TD) and Eskridge (2-43) were the top receivers. Rather returned 3 kicks for 49 yards to total 114 all-purpose yards.
The Bobcats close the regular season at Clay County before the playoffs begin.
Wartburg will finish the season by hosting county-rival Sunbright next Thursday.
Oliver Springs Statistics
Rushing- Romero 21-201 with 3 TDs, Miller 12-84 with 1 TD, Williams 4-22, Eskridge 1-12, Lively 2-9, Foust 1-1 with 1 TD.
Passing- Miller 6-10 for 104 yards with 1 TD.
Receiving- Rather 3-65 with 1 TD, Eskridge 2-43, Romero 1-(-4).