The victor in the New Albany-Floyd Central football series takes home the Anchor Trophy, which has changed hands an equal number of times in its 46-year span. Nothing was weighing down the two offenses on Friday night.
The Bulldogs and Highlanders, who have a history of nervous, gut-wrenching finishes, played Navy football – anchors aweigh – during a blazing 51-47 battle won by the Bulldogs when they fired the last shot. They cast off the chains and threw away the defensive playbooks.
Anybody who envisioned the over-under being close to triple digits is a prophet. New Albany first-year coach Sean Coultis didn’t. He made his mark as defensive coordinator, and he was thinking a more mundane 17-14 final – until electric New Albany sophomore Rondale Moore broke the first play for a touchdown. Until the two teams combined for 43 points in the first 17 minutes.
“I realized ‘Uh, oh,’” Coultis said. And from that point he had to hang on. Everyone did.
After the Bulldogs blocked a field goal with 2:44 left in the first quarter, touchdowns were scored on 9 of the next 10 possessions. Punters made only three appearances. Holding serve with the ball became crucial. In tennis terms, the Highlanders had the ground strokes, the Bulldogs had the ace. That was Moore, and he was more than enough.
Moore ran for 112 yards and scored four touchdowns, plus he threw a 66-yard halfback pass for another score. If anyone deserved to lug that Anchor home and plunk it on the kitchen table, it was No.3 in black. Floyd coach Brian Glesing was worried about his explosiveness, with just cause.
“First play of the game,” Glesing said. “We have the big-play capability throwing over the top, but not like Rondale has.”
Moore, fast and elusive, doesn’t require pancake blocks, just a shield and some space. His final carry, 10 yards for the game-winning touchdown with 8 seconds left, was evidence. He sprinted to the outside, and Floyd defenders were converging. One tackle, one hand around an ankle, could have saved the Highlanders. They were grasping at a ghost.
Moore was not the only phantom on the loose. Floyd’s Matt Weimer was 13 of 15 passing, most on play-action when his handoff fakes caught the Bulldogs in a trance, for 233 yards and two touchdowns. Floyd tight end Bradley Philpot caught a 50-yard touchdown on 4th-and-1 with 3:48 left. And it wasn’t enough.
“Offensively we were great,” Glesing said. “47 points should be good enough to win. Defensively, we just didn’t do it.”
The Highlanders couldn’t contain Moore or Darquan Richardson (119 yards rushing), and they failed to stop New Albany’s big-play passing strikes. The Bulldogs averaged an amazing 32 yards per completion.
“They hit so many passes over the top,” Glesing said. “Whoever that was did a good job.”
Now why it might sound odd for a coach to not know the name of the quarterback who was torching his team, there’s a reason – no one else, except for Coultis, did either. Justin Ricketts, a junior left-hander, was New Albany’s starter for the first 8 games. But this was a right-hander wearing No.12. On the New Albany roster, that number was assigned to a linebacker. That was no linebacker firing the football all over Buerk Field.
His name is Dylan Clark, a freshman who stunned everyone – except his head coach – with his poise and arm.
“It doesn’t surprise me at all,” said Coultis, who did not reveal why Ricketts was sidelined, and now might have a decision to make when the Bulldogs (4-5) face rival Jeffersonville in the Class 6-A sectional opener next week. “Clearly he is ready.
“He plays multiple sports, and I keep trying to preach that. He’s so good because he plays basketball and baseball. He’s out there on the free-throw line with people watching, he’s pitching with people counting on him. So when he’s in a pressure situation, he doesn’t get nervous.”
The only nervous people were defenders, on both sides.
“In the Bedford game, our defense kept us in that game,” Coultis said. “We got shut out in the first half. So we owed them tonight in a game they were struggling a little bit. We had their back. I was proud they didn’t hang their heads. They kept fighting and got us crucial stops.”
Floyd Central, at one time a hot team after beating Jeffersonville for its fourth straight win, has now lost four straight. The Highlanders are weighed down by disappointment as they head into a bye week before a sectional rematch with Bedford North Lawrence.
“We have to regroup,” Glesing said. “It is what it is. I don’t know what to say. It’s disappointing, but we’ll fight back.”
Best of the Rest
x- Charlestown won its fifth straight game despite missing head coach Jason Hawkins, who was in the hospital. Charlestown assistant Brad Troutman, a former head coach at Clarksville, guided the Pirates to a 54-15 win over Eastern Pekin.
x- North Harrison completed the first unbeaten regular season in program history with a 36-21 win at Paoli. Sam Best had 41 carries for 188 yards and three touchdowns, while Austin Nevil added 131 yards for the Class 3-A No.7 Cougars. North Harrison (9-0) ran the ball 71 times out of 73 offensive plays.
x-Class A No.8 West Washington capped its first undefeated regular season since 1976 with a 26-24 victory over Salem.
x- Providence overcame six turnovers to shut out Clarksville 21-0 and beat its city rival for the fourth straight time. The Pioneers (3-6) stopped the Generals seven times on fourth down. Aaron Flanagan scored two touchdowns. All three Providence victories this season have been by shutout.
Justin Sokeland can be contacted at [email protected]