High School Football

‘We played like we know how to play.’ Douglass passes final exam before playoffs.

Frederick Douglass has not faced much adversity this year. Eight shutouts, with only two touchdowns against can be more of a concern than a blessing with the worry the Broncos haven’t really been tested entering next week’s playoffs.

So, dial up Lexington Catholic and their Kentucky commit Beau Allen at quarterback for the final week — a team that has proven it can score on anyone and took another top Class 5A contender (Covington Catholic) to the wire earlier in the season.

The Broncos passed the test with a “team effort” 42-31 road win Friday against a Knights team that never stopped threatening to get back in it. Though the Broncos’ shutout streak of seven games got snapped, there was a more important lesson.

“I just felt like we faced adversity and it turned out,” said Broncos wideout Dane Key, who got the first touchdown of the game on a 16-yard run that he finished off with some help as his teammates moved the pile across the goal line. “We played like we know how to play.”

Broncos quarterback Josh McClurg didn’t get the reps in the air his counterpart did, but he made big plays nonetheless, going 6-for-10 with one interception and a 50-yard swing pass TD to Devin Neal, while rushing for 51 yards and another score.

“It was great for us to go into the playoffs and play a tight game … It was good for everyone on the field,” McClurg said.

Allen completed 28 of 44 passes 286 yards with one TD pass and a late TD run.

“That quarterback’s damn good,” Douglass Coach Brian Landis said. “You’re not going to see a guy better than that guy. He made a lot of plays. We’ve been playing wing-T and triple option for four weeks, and we show up and this guy’s slinging it all over the yard.”

While Allen put up some big numbers, Douglass’s formidable defense also made its presence felt with two third-quarter interceptions that helped put the game out of reach. It also forced a turnover on downs in the first half that gave the Broncos some breathing room.

Down 21-10 at halftime, Catholic got the ball to start the third quarter. But on the third play Douglass’s RaMarcus Thompson collected a ball popped up in the air on the reception attempt and set up the Broncos on the LexCath 22-yard line. McClurg ran it in from the 12 a few plays later to put Douglass up 28-10.

On Catholic’s next drive, Douglass put Allen in a fourth-down-and-12 situation and flushed him from the pocket. His attempt to find a receiver beyond the marker was cut off by Jaylin Bybee who intercepted it and returned it to the Broncos’ 38. Devin Neal took the handoff on the next snap and ran 62 yards for a touchdown to make it 35-10 with 2:26 left in the third.

In all Douglass had six touchdowns from four different players — including two from Devin Neal in the first half and two from his brother Darius Neal in the second half.

“This team is a brotherhood, really,” Darius Neal said. “When I’m not out there, my brother’s making plays. When me and my brother aren’t out there, we’ve got young guys stepping up making plays. … I think that’s what makes this offense really special.”

It also helps to have one of the most dominant offensive lines in the state led by Clemson commit Walker Parks and four-star junior Jager Burton.

“We’ve got a lot of explosive guys … it’s all led by the offensive line,” McClurg said. “They make everything happen.”

Catholic tightened the game up late. Dylan Bracken scored from 9 yards out to cut it to 35-17. Then the Knights recovered a fumbled kickoff runback and that set up a pinpoint Allen 34-yard pass to Jackson Klein who was downed at the 4. Ryan Nichols scored to make it 35-24 with 8:48 left, but the ensuing onside kick was recovered by Douglass. The two teams exchanged a pair of TDs the rest of the way.

“Give a lot of credit to LexCath. Those are great coaches,” Landis said. “They did a great job with the scheme and we made enough plays to keep us in it when we had to, and we were just dominant on the ground. That was the key.”

Douglass (10-0) had 279 yards rushing to LexCath’s 77.

Lexington Catholic Coach Nigel Smith said he was disappointed with the loss, but pleased with the effort his team showed against a tough opponent.

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“Our goal coming into this week was to prepare to play a state championship level game, and I think our kids did a good job of handling that,” Smith said. “I think at times, our effort and execution was at a caliber to win a state championship, we just have to improve at the margins. The line between good and great isn’t big.”

Lexington Catholic (6-4) will host Bourbon County (4-6) in next week’s Class 4A, District 5 first round.

The Broncos will host Great Crossing (1-9), while rival Scott County (9-1) will host Montgomery County (3-7). The winners of those games will compete the following week in the second round for the Class 5A, 6th District championship. It could be a Scott County-Douglass playoff rematch the Broncos lost last year.

“Coming into the playoffs, we all know we have a big challenge coming up,” Darius Neal said, noting that it did feel great to be 10-0, but “we remember we were undefeated last year — so it’s good, but we have to keep our mind focused.”


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Jared Peck, the Herald-Leader’s Digital Sports Writer, covers high school athletics and has been with the company as a writer and editor for more than 19 years.
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