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The Marion County Knights played their big brother in the cold weather Friday night in Bullitt County. Big brother wasn't messing around.
The Bullitt East Chargers beat the Marion County Knights in the same fashion the Knights have won all season - with a bruising ground attack.
Knights' Head Coach Jeff Robbins put it simply.
"We got whipped up front," he said. "Bullitt East played better on both sides up front. They took it to our guys. We didn't respond."
The Knights did get whipped up front and everywhere else, unlike any game this season. The Chargers held them to season low scoring and near season low rushing yards and total yards. It wasn't supposed to be like that.
A highly touted rematch between the Knights and the Chargers had all the makings for a superb second round battle, with Bullitt East prevailing 13-10 in the regular season. The Knights had improved all around since that loss and looked to give Bullitt East a gritty match up.
Somewhere between John J. Boswell Field and Bullitt County, the Knights lost their game.
A stable of running backs that routinely produces 250 yards per game or more was held to under 200. Stud receiver Bryson Bell was blanketed all night by double coverage and only made one catch for seven yards, watching as several passes coming his way were batted down. A defense that prides itself on physicality and limiting opposing offense's to 100 rushing yards or less a game was trampled for over 300 yards on the ground, by far the most allowed all season.
"Our two low games were the Bullitt East games," Robbins said. "They just do it with physical play. I thought they wanted it a little more. They have 17 starting seniors and 20 seniors overall. I think that came into play a lot."
The Knights started strong against the Chargers, forcing three and outs on the first two possessions. The Knights even forced a Bullitt East punt on the Bullitt East 11 yard line, setting up the Knights from the Bullitt East 38.
After a few successful runs by Jacob Tabor, the Knights would falter on fourth and three at the Chargers 22, turning the ball over and losing momentum for the rest of the game.
"(On the 22) a lot of people say kick the field goal," Robbins said. "But it's different kicking in 25 degree weather than it is in 55 degree weather. That was my decision. I do feel like when we didn't convert the fourth down, it took wind out of our sails. It looked like the guys were thinking, 'Here we go again, that's what happened last time.'"
The last time the teams faced each other Marion County turned the ball over three times in the red zone, squashing their chances of winning or tying the game.
Bullitt East took advantage of the turnover on downs and sent Jonathan Bernard on a 78 yard scamper to pay dirt, putting the Chargers up 7-0.
Marion County would turn the ball over again on fourth and three in the second quarter after a Dylan Peterson run was stopped short.
While Marion County couldn't buy a fourth down conversion, Bullitt East turned a fake punt on fourth and one into a play that would set up another score.
Marion County never recovered, entering halftime down 21-0 after scores by Zach McCarthy and Matthew Bowles early and late in the second quarter.
The Knights would get within striking distance early in the third but a pass play from Jordan Bell to Bryson Bell was intercepted near the goal line.
A 66-yard run by T.J. Jones would set up a Jones touchdown that pulled the Knights within two touchdowns with four minutes remaining in the third quarter. Bullitt East quickly countered.
A late touchdown in fourth quarter quelled any doubt the Chargers would advance, putting the Knights down 35-7.
In the end, Robbins credited Bullitt East's squad of seniors for one of the reasons the Chargers pulled away.
"They played 19 seniors. It's going to take a toll. It's those player's last shot," Robbins said. "Doug Preston (Bullitt East Head Coach) has done a good job with them. They're playing at peak level going into the third round, which is what every team wants to do."
While the Knights had to replace 16 seniors from last season, many of whom played substantial minutes, the transition period to next year may not be as drastic.
Marion County loses 13 seniors overall, six of whom started or played substantial minutes on Friday.
"We've got positions to fill next year," Robbins said. "These seniors have done a great job for us. Our biggest replacements are going to be at quarterback on offense and linebackers on defense. Two of our three linebackers are gone. We've big holes to fill."
While the Knights are losing leadership, especially from seniors Eric Miles, Robbie Burch and T.J. Jones, they are bringing nearly 300 of the 330 points they scored this season back.
One of those players happened to be one of the only bright spots of the night for Marion County.
"Jacob Tabor played well. If we gave players of the game, Tabor gets it. He'll be one of our go to guys next year," Robbins said.
Tabor rushed for over 100 yards and caught two passes for yards against the Chargers. On defense he accounted for five tackles.
Missing from action Friday night was senior David Litsey. No comment about Litsey's absence was given by MCHS principal Taylora Schlosser, athletic director Stacy Hall or Robbins.