LOUISVILLE — Bryan Station was ready to celebrate like it was 1999, but Tanner Evans and Tre Harrison spoiled the party and lifted No. 15 Eastern to a 30-27 victory in the second round of the Class 6A playoffs Friday night.
The Defenders were in position to reach the third round of the playoffs for the first time in 12 years after Raking Young's 71-yard fumble return for a touchdown gave them a 27-23 lead with eight minutes left in the game.
Bryan Station looked on the verge of victory when it had the ball inside Eastern's 35 with less than four minutes on the clock. But the Defenders came up short on fourth down, and that gave Evans and Harrison one last chance.
The senior quarterback and junior receiver took full advantage.
Evans threw a 31-yard pass to Harrison to move the ball inside the Defenders' 30. After a couple of running plays, Evans rolled out, with Bryan Station's Austin Hendron chasing him, and lofted a pass to the end zone that Harrison stretched out to catch for a 27-yard TD with two minutes left.
"He found gaps and got open both times," Evans said. "He's a heck of an athlete and he made the plays."
Eastern Coach Ken Whalen said, "When No. 8 (Harrison) gets serious, I don't know of many any better. He made some unbelievable plays."
Bryan Station Coach Craig Yeast said that was the bottom line on a heartbreaking defeat. "They made plays when they had to, and we didn't."
Eastern, which beat the Defenders 30-21 in late August behind the passing of Evans, did it again.
Evans threw for 284 yards and two TDs. Harrison had six catches for 171 yards. Austin Kessler had two receptions for 57 yards and a TD.
Bryan Station's offense was led by quarterback Ora Johnson (166 yards passing), Tyus Alcorn (four catches, 69 yards) and Everett Talbert (91 yards rushing).
The Defenders defense had costly lapses. It allowed Eastern to drive 91 yards to score in the closing minutes of the first half to tie it 13-13. Then there was the game-winning drive by the Eagles just when it looked like Bryan Station had victory in its grasp.
Austin Hendron, Nicholas Johnson and Talbert were standouts on defense for the Defenders, who have made a remarkable turnaround from a 1-10 record last season.
"Two tough teams going at it," said Yeast, whose team finished with a 7-5 record in his first year. "I'm just proud of the way our kids fought. It proves we're moving in the right direction.
"We really felt we should've won this game, but (Eastern's) a great football team.
"When you're trying to build something like we are, we've gotta learn to make plays when we need to make them."
Whalen praised the Defenders for their effort, especially defensively. They forced Eastern to settle for three field goals by Michael Bryar when the Eagles were deep in Bryan Station territory.
"Those guys played their guts out," Whalen said of the Defenders. "Dang, they're good."
Eastern (10-2) advances to play unbeaten Scott County (12-0) next week.
Bryan Station 0 13 0 14—27
Eastern 6 7 10 7—30
E—Michael Bryar 22 field goal. E—Bryar 34 field goal. BS—Nicholas Johnson 1 run (conversion failed) BS—L.J. Warfield 2 run (Adam Kline kick). E—Austin Kessler 3 pass from Tanner Evans (Bryar kick). E—Bryar 29 field goal. BS—Warfield 5 run (Kline kick). BS—Raking Young 71 fumble return (Kline kick). E—Tre Harrison 27 pass from Evans (Bryar kick).
Records—Bryan Station 7-5; Eastern 10-2.