HAZARD — Trailing defending state champion Lexington Christian 20-9 at halftime, an undefeated season and post-season run in peril, Hazard Coach Mark Dixon had a message for his players.
"I told them the best victory you can possibly have is a win from behind ... and they came out and got that," Dixon said. "This is something they'll remember the rest of their life."
The Bulldogs pulled off the memorable win in the Class A state semifinals, 31-30, on Jon Combs' two-point conversion run with 24.1 seconds left.
Combs, the quarterback, got the call from Dixon after a timeout.
"He got us in the huddle and he asked us, he asked all of our seniors 'what do you want to do?'" Combs said. "Every one of us said we want to go for the win. And when he called my number, there was nothing stopping me from getting into the end zone."
The conversion came after Combs hit Jordan Olinger for a 17-yard touchdown. Olinger made the catch near the 10-yard line, then banged his way into the end zone.
"I was thinking 'if I get in the end zone, we're going to win this game,'" Olinger said. "So I had to get in the end zone. Nothing could stop me."
Friday marked the fourth consecutive season the teams have met in the semis.
LCA won last year's game, 35-28, and went on to capture the state title.
Now it's the Bulldogs who will be going for the crown. Hazard will take a 14-0 record into Friday's finals, against Mayfield or Beechwood, at Western Kentucky University.
LCA (10-4) took a 27-23 when Chad Snyder took an interception to the end zone for the second time in the game, with 5:46 left.
LCA's Ben Farhat recovered a fumble on the kickoff.
The Eagles drove 19 yards to the Hazard 8 before settling for Shawn Hoke's 24-yard field goal with 2:07 left.
Hazard battled back.
"We had to," Combs said. "I threw two picks. That was my fault. But I knew I could lead us down the field for a victory."
LCA's 20-9 halftime lead was helped along by 10 Hazard penalties totaling 89 yards (to 2-for-20 by LCA). Hazard didn't get another flag until the final 24 seconds, when a pair of kickoffs sailed out of bounds.
Zack Blanton's 1-yard TD on fourth down cut LCA's lead to 20-15 with 5:35 left in the third quarter.
Blanton scored from 8 yards out on the second play of the fourth quarter. Combs passed to Olinger for the two-point conversion and a 23-20 Bulldogs lead.
"We had a lot of guys that didn't get to play tonight for various reasons — sickness and other things," said LCA Coach Ray Graham, who wore the No. 75 jersey of Zach West. LCA's premier lineman was suspended for the game after being ejected a week earlier, a ruling that LCA unsuccessfully appealed.
"Disappointing we couldn't be at full strength tonight. Disappointing that we had our turnovers," Graham said. "But we had big plays that gave us a chance to win. ... I'm proud of our young people."
The Eagles' first drive misfired in the red zone, where Olinger recovered a fumble on his 17-yard line.
Blanton nearly scored from there, but Snyder made a saving tackle to stop Blanton after 74 yards. LCA held the Bulldogs to a 26-yard field goal by Joseph Combs.
LCA then put a complete drive together, scoring on Clay Mossbarger's 4-yard sweep around right end with 3:32 left in the first quarter.
Just 1:36 later, Snyder returned an interception 22 yards to the end zone to put the Eagles ahead 13-3.
Hazard cut the deficit to 13-9 when Jon Combs, out of the shotgun, ran 5 yards up the middle.
LCA made it 20-9, though, when Scout McCamy hit Austin Bundy with a 34-yard pass with 11 seconds left in the half.
Lexington Christian 13 7 0 10—30
Hazard 3 6 6 16—31
H—Joseph Combs 26 field goal; LCA—Clay Mossbarger 4 run (Shawn Hoke kick); LCA—Chad Snyder 21 interception return (run failed); H—Jon Combs 5 run (kick blocked); LCA—Austin Bundy 34 pass from Scout McCamy (Hoke kick); H—Zack Blanton 1 run (run failed); H—Blanton 8 run (Jordan Olinger pass from Jon Combs); LCA—Snyder 45 interception return (Hoke kick); LCA—Hoke 24 field goal; H—Jordan Olinger 17 pass from Jon Combs (Jon Combs run).