By J. Daniel Rollins
Register-Herald Sports Writer
The history books were opened Saturday afternoon at Garten Stadium when the Summers County Bobcats hosted their first football playoff game.
Unfortunately for the Bobcats, it wasn’t the storybook ending for which they were hoping.
The No. 5-ranked Bobcats were eliminated in the opening round of the Class AA playoffs 24-14 by the 12th-seeded Ritchie County Rebels.
The Rebels took advantage of five Summers County turnovers, rolling up 443 yards of total offense, mostly on the back of quarterback Alex Lipscomb, to add a signature win and advance to the second round of the playoffs.
“I don’t know if we’re flying under the radar or over the radar,” Ritchie County coach Mike Dawson said. “We’re just happy to still be flying.”
Lipscomb, one of Class AA’s leading passers, threw for 182 yards and two touchdowns and picked up another 131 yards on the ground in the victory.
“I’ve got to give it up to Ritchie County,” Summers County coach Nate Tanner said. “They’re a tough team.”
Summers County was first on the board early in the first quarter, when sophomore quarterback Matt Ryan broke a 31-yard run for a touchdown.
The lead would be short lived as just a few moments later, Ritchie County began its run, scoring two touchdowns, one on a Austin Garrett run and another on a 10-yard pass from Lipscomb to Seth Cottrill.
But perhaps the biggest play of the game came with fewer than 10 seconds remaining before halftime.
The Rebels had driven 36 yards down the field and were preparing to score another touchdown to go into the half, but Lipscomb fumbled the ball on the 1-yard line and it was recovered by Summers County, switching momentum in the favor of the home team.
However, on the very next play, Summers County fullback JaQuan Ayers returned the favor, fumbling the ball, and a Ritchie County defender recovered.
That allowed Ritchie County’s Orlando Burgy to convert a 22-yard field goal to go into the half with a 10-point lead and the ball at the start of the second half.
“It was just three points, but I think, emotionally, it just kind of stuck a dagger in our kids to an extent,” Tanner said. “They got the ball back, hit the field goal and put more points on the board. We made a stop on the goal line. I think that would have been a really good thing going into the half. But we coughed it up. It’s like the emotions just went from one end to the next.”
Dawson knew that having a kicker capable of making the field goal would be an advantage for his team.
“That boy’s been kicking for a long time,” Dawson said. “It’s big. You come away with points right there. Those points add up. He’s played well all year, and he’s just a sophomore. We expect to have him for a while.”
The momentum definitely tilted in favor of the Rebels, as the Bobcats were unable to really get much going, ending three of their final four possessions with turnovers. The lone positive drive came from a 70-yard touchdown run by senior running back Isaiah Brown.
“I feel like going into the game we were prepared,” Tanner said. “We just didn’t play the way we’re capable of. We had too many turnovers. Whenever you have that stuff, it’s hard to get into a rhythm. You can’t do that against a good team. It’s hard to win.”
The Bobcats turned the ball over six times in the contest, five of which came on interceptions, but not necessarily due to the play of Ryan.
“Those interceptions weren’t his fault,” Tanner said. “There at the end, we were getting more and more down and not running our routes like we should have. I mean, that just comes with being a quarterback. You’re going to have days like that. You’ve just got to learn from your mistakes.”
The playoff experience for Ryan will likely benefit the Bobcats moving forward next year, their first without a core group of players who have been the heart and soul of Bobcat nation.
“Matt’s a good player and a really good kid,” Tanner said. “After the game I told the team that the seniors have really paid the price to where they’ve gotten. They’re the reason we’ve gotten that far.”
Tanner completes his first season as head coach with a 9-2 record and hopes the momentum will continue to build in 2014.
“I’m extremely blessed to go 9-2. I’m happy, but at the moment I wanted to go deeper in the playoffs,” he said. “This is the first time this has ever happened here, and I think everybody will be more excited about football.”
Ritchie County will move on to play Robert C. Byrd in the second round.
“Summers County should be really proud,” Dawson said. “They put on a first class atmosphere here. They were really cooperative, and their kids played really hard. You could tell that they knew what they wanted to do.
“We’d make a play or two and they’d make a play or two. It went back and forth and went down to the wire until we got the pick and got up two scores. We’re happy.”
— E-mail: jrollins
RC (8-3) 7 17 0 7 — 24
SC (9-2) 7 0 0 7 — 14
SC: Matt Ryan 31 yard run, (Tristan Sears kick)
RC: Austin Garrett 4 yard run, (Orlando Burgy kick)
RC: Seth Cottrill 10 yard pass from Alex Lipscomb, (Burgy kick)
RC: Burgy 22 yard field goal.
SC: Isaiah Brown 55 yard run, (Sears kick)
RC: Jayden Allender 55 yard pass from Lipscomb, (Burgy kick)
RUSHING — RC: Dylan Frye 1(-1), Austin Garrett 5-55, Alex Lipscomb 19-131, Cory Farley 1-1, Tyler Reed 7-54, Orlando Burgy 5-6. SC: Isaiah Brown 11-70, Matt Ryan 7-50, T.J. Smith 15-84, Jaquan Ayers 7-38.
PASSING — RC: Alex Lipscomb 13-22-182-1, Cory Farley 1-1-15-0. SC: Matt Ryan 4-14-31-5, T.J. Smith 1-1-13-0.
RECEIVING — RC: Dylan Frye 3-30, Austin Frashure 1-32, Jayden Allender 3-63, Seth Cottrill 1-7, Austin Garrett 1-12, Alex Lipscomb 1-15, Cory Farley 2-25, Austin Strickland 1-0, Tyler Reed 1-13 . SC: Isaiah Brown 1-5, T.J. Smith 2-26, Erik Lindsey 2-13.
TAKEAWAYS — RC: Dylan Frye (INT), Austin Jayden Allender (2 INT), Alex Lipscomb (INT), Seth Cottrill (INT) . SC: Matt Ryan (INT), Casey Forren (fumble recovery).