When East Jessamine’s district neighbors got shaken up in the 2015 realignment, longtime head coach Mike Bowlin thought it could open up some things for the Jaguars. Two years in, that theory proved true.
With a 41-30 win over Marion County Friday night, East Jessamine locked up its first district title in school history. It was the first for a Jessamine County program since 1988; East Jessamine and West Jessamine both opened in 1997.
“We’ve had some really good football teams but unfortunately have always been stuck in a really tough district,” said Bowlin, in his 12th year leading the Jaguars. He noted that for a long time East Jessamine shared a district with perennial powers Boyle County and Lexington Catholic. Before the current alignment it dealt with the likes of Anderson County and Franklin County, each of whom fielded powerful teams in recent years.
“Our administration’s done a great job of putting emphasis on football and really bringing our program up a notch,” Bowlin said. “We just stayed true to what we are and who we are and kept chipping away. We finally got one.”
The Jaguars (6-3) didn’t take an easy road to making history. They started the season with a tight win over Elizabethtown in which they lost star running back Justin McIntyre to a broken leg in the opening minutes.
“When you’re three minutes and fifteen seconds into game one and you lose your best running back, nobody could have told me at that moment, ‘Hey, hang in there you’re gonna be district champions,’” Bowlin said. “I would’ve thought ‘You are crazy.’”
That injury coupled with some offseason departures left East Jessamine fairly depleted from a skill standpoint. To make things even more harrowing, Desman Laduke — who bloomed in McIntyre’s absence alongside fellow running back Aaron Fortenbury — missed the Jags’ first district game against Mercer County. A fourth-quarter field goal helped East seal the deal against the Titans, to whom it finished as district runners-up in 2015.
Bowling called the Jaguars’ win at Taylor County on Oct. 6 “a miracle.” They pulled ahead of the Cardinals, 29-28, on a two-point conversion with about 30 seconds to play.
Its game against Marion County — 1-7 after losing Friday — was never an easy-breather, either.
“I guess our kids don’t like to be bored,” Bowlin said with a laugh.
East Jessamine has lost close games, too, but Bowlin says the Jaguars are getting the most out of what they’ve got right now.
“We look like Rocky when he fought Ivan Drago every time we go out to midfield and shake their hands,” he said with a laugh. “We’re a body-puncher. We’re just gonna keep pounding and pounding and pounding and wear you down.”
Typically Bowlin preaches the importance of its matchup with county rival West Jessamine based on its district implications. Since the Jaguars have locked up a No. 1 seed, this year “we’re gonna relax, let our hair hang out and play some football,” he said.
And as long as it comes out a winner, Bowlin doesn’t mind how ugly it might look.
“It doesn’t matter how the baby gets here, you’re still a daddy when it gets here,” he said. “A win is a win is a win. We’ll take ’em any way that we can get ’em.”
Senior linebacker Branden Layne forced two pivotal second-half fumbles that were recovered by the Lafayette, which had a tough time stopping Madison Central in the opening 24 minutes of its 49-31 win over the Indians.
Layne returned the first one 12 yards to Central’s 27-yard line, creating the opportunity on the Indians’ first play after Lafayette went up 28-21 early in the third quarter. Cameron Morgan rushed for a touchdown two plays later to extend Lafayette’s lead to 35-21.
Layne’s second forced fumble came with the Indians deep in Lafayette territory and trailing 42-31 midway through the fourth quarter. Ean Shaw, who led the defense with 15 tackles, recovered that fumble. Morgan rushed for a 78-yard score on the Generals’ next play from scrimmage.
“When it came down to it, we made plays when it counted,” Layne said. “The two fumble recoveries were a whole team effort. I know I made them personally but I couldn’t have done it without my other defensive guys.”
Layne injured his left hand earlier in the game on a tackle. He was worried it might be broken — something he planned to have assessed after the game — but managed to calm down and play through the pain.
“I think maturity has a lot to do with it,” Layne said. “I’d say I’m a big leader on this defense and I knew my team needed me so I kinda had to tough it out.”
▪ Lexington Catholic (3-5) capped a 38-7 blowout over Boyle County (4-4) with a 96-yard interception return touchdown by Sid Sharp and 26-yard pick-six by Eric Sottile within 42 seconds of each other in the fourth quarter.
Sharp also had one of two LexCath sacks on the night. The Knights picked off six Rebels passes, with Sottile and Jack Fagot intercepting two apiece. Boyle’s Landen Bartleson rushed for 102 yards in the loss.
▪ Lexington Christian scored 22 fourth-quarter points to erase 21-19 deficit and stay undefeated at Somerset, 41-28. Dillon Wheatley rushed for 143 yards and a score for the Eagles (8-0), and added three catches for 68 yards and two TDs.
▪ Isaiah Yeast had five catches for 140 yards, including an 80-yard touchdown for the first score of the game, in Paul Laurence Dunbar’s 40-21 win over Henry Clay. It was Dunbar’s first win against a city opponent since it defeated Tates Creek 28-7 on Aug. 23, 2014.
▪ Scott County kept Bryan Station out of the end zone until the fourth quarter of a 43-14 victory. Brice Fryman rushed for 75 yards and three TDs on only four carries for the Cardinals. Quarterback Josh Davis was a perfect 6-for-6 for 91 yards and a TD.
▪ Tates Creek pitched its second shutout of the season, upending Clark County 36-0. Creek quarterback Cam Workman was efficient, going 7-for-10 for 103 yards and two TDs.
▪ A.J. Mayer and Max Schrand, who combined for nearly 400 rushing yards and six TDs in Covington Catholic’s 63-26 rout of Highlands. Schrand rushed for 225 yards and two TDs while Mayer scored four times, had 168 yards and also threw a TD. It was the Colonels’ first win over the Bluebirds since 2006.
▪ Isaac Kelly, who had 232 passing yards and threw three TDs in Lewis County’s 62-28 loss to Russell. The Red Devils had only given up 30 points through seven games.
▪ Jake Chisholm, who rushed for 223 yards and two TDs to lead Ryle in its 42-28 win at Conner. It gave the Raiders (8-0) their first district title since 2010. Ryle hosts Simon Kenton, also 8-0, next week.
▪ Landon Bowman, who nailed the game-winning field goal with about two minutes left in Bourbon County’s 17-14 victory over Scott.
▪ Bryndon Labhart, whose 121 rushing yards and two TDs fueled Anderson County’s 35-6 win at Montgomery County.
▪ Skip Patterson, who scored four TDs for Henderson County, including the game-winner with 50 seconds left in the Colonels’ 42-40 win over Daviess County.
Herald-Leader reporter Josh Sullivan contributed to this article.