• By Thomas Mims, Sport Writer

Rice and easy - Senior powers his way to five touchdowns as Woodford wallops West Jessamine 56-16

Friday was a night for jubilation as the Woodford County High School football team crushed West Jessamine 56-16 at Community Stadium. The blowout victory was the first district win by a Yellow Jacket team since a 2014 win at West Jessamine. It also marks the first district win for WCHS Coach Dennis Johnson, who praised his team after the game by saying, “We had a good week of practice … It was a good win and I’m proud of you guys,” he told them. Moments before, the team emptied the water bucket on their coach’s head during the game’s final seconds. Minutes later, the Jackets came together to sing “Happy Birthday,” to senior Amartae Rice. Rice was the star of his own party Friday night, rushing for five touchdowns and 221 yards on 20 carries. Three of the five scores came in the game’s first quarter. The first Yellow Jacket score was a touchdown by Sidney Mudd. After Woodford’s defense forced a three-and-out on the game’s opening drive, the Jackets gained 28 yards on a Ziggy Gill catch-and-run to get into West Jessamine’s half of the field. It looked as if Rice scored the game’s first touchdown on a 42-yard run, but the play was called back for a Woodford penalty. Even with the penalty, the rush advanced Woodford to the Colts’ 27-yard line. On the next play, quarterback Bryce Patterson dropped back and threw a perfectly placed pass to Mudd for a touchdown. Patterson’s pass came down just behind the grasp of a leaping Colt defensive back and landed perfectly in Mudd’s waiting hands. The touchdown was Mudd’s first on the season. On the Colts’ second drive, the Jackets again forced West Jessamine to punt quickly. From there, Rice and the Jackets’ offensive line did most of the work. On Woodford’s second play of the drive, Rice took the handoff and bulled his way through the defense with three broken tackles before he found open space. Rice’s 59-yard carry set him up to finish the drive as he took two carries to get the nine yards Woodford needed for the touchdown. The next WJHS drive was a short one. On the second play, JD Alexander pressured Colts’ quarterback Noah Reliford and forced a tipped throw that was intercepted by senior lineman Lucas Brocato. “The interception felt great,” said Brocato. “I had practiced doing that all week, so it felt good for it to come to fruition during the game.” Secondary to Rice’s contributions on the ground were those of Nick O’Toole. The junior finished with 89 of the Yellow Jackets’ 354 rushing yards. His first big run was a 20-yard gain immediately after the Brocato interception. One play later, Rice finished the brief drive with a 17-yard touchdown run. He started behind the line, running right. He cut back to the left behind senior right tackle Daegan Bush’s block, spun off a defender and cutback again, this time behind a block at the second level. His work still not done, Rice made the final defender miss with a feint at the goal line to put Woodford up 21-0 after a Joey Whitehead extra point. With another drive came another West Jessamine three-and-out as the Woodford defense continued to bully the Colts’ offense at the line of scrimmage. Malik Richardson broke a big punt return to set the Jackets up at the West Jessamine 23-yard line. Rice finished the drive with a 7-yard touchdown run to close the first quarter with a 28-0 lead. It was a dominant performance in the trenches that set the tone for the night. “I feel as if we’ve come a long way since the beginning of the year,” said Bush. “We let a lot of people down in that loss to Lincoln County and did some soul-searching.” Brocato said the relationship between the offensive line and running backs allows them to feed off each other’s success. “It feels great having a back like Amartae. Him running the way he does makes me want to block as hard as I can,” said Brocato. Some great rushing performances are a measure of an offensive line’s performance and the running back is simply a passenger along for the ride. Some great rushing performances are the product of a running back’s individual effort making players miss and breaking tackles. Friday night’s performance was a blend of both. The West Jessamine offense finally came alive at the start of the second quarter. Reliford completed passes of 18, 9 and 26 yards to march down the field. Still, the Jacket defense had a chance to get off the field by forcing a fourth-and-11. Reliford completed a 22-yard pass to keep the drive alive and scored on a four-yard QB sneak. Reliford rushed again to convert the two-point conversion. The Colts surprised the Yellow Jackets with an onside kick and recovered to let Reliford get back to work. Reliford completed a 53-yard screen on second down for another Colt touchdown. The Colts converted the two-point conversion again to cut the Woodford lead to 28-16 midway through the second quarter. The Yellow Jackets answered with rushes of 14 and 28 yards by Rice. The “Human Bulldozer” plowed his way in from seven yards out to extend the lead with a minute remaining in the half. Trying to make something happen before halftime backfired on the Colts as Reliford’s pass was tipped and sophomore Jackson Geilear intercepted the pass, taking it 35 yards for another Woodford County score. In the space of a minute, the Jackets turned a 14-point halftime lead into a 42-16 advantage. In the second half, Coy Hayes would add a Woodford touchdown on a pass from Patterson to put the Jackets ahead by 33 points. On the final play of the third quarter, Rice would score from 9 yards out to put the Jackets ahead 56-16. The fourth quarter was played with a running clock and plenty of Yellow Jacket backups were given a chance to play the final minutes of the blowout. Quarterback Cody Dunn took all the Yellow Jacket snaps in the game’s fourth quarter, resulting in a bizarre sequence of events. On second-and-16 from the WJHS 34-yard line, the snap sailed out of the reach of Dunn’s left hand. The backup signal-caller chased down the loose ball and looked for an open receiver but didn’t find any options available. Instead, he ran back towards the center of the field, losing several yards in the process. Out of options that way, Dunn headed back to the left and again found nothing but Colt defenders. By the time he gave himself up, the play had cost the Jackets 26 yards and set up a rarely seen third-and-42. The Jackets did not convert. It was a humorous sight on an otherwise business-like win for the Yellow Jackets to start district play. Woodford County travels to Madison Southern this week to play their second district game against an Eagles team that won its district opener against Collins but lost to East Jessamine 49-35 Friday evening. Two seasons ago, the Eagles lost to Highlands in the Class 5A State Championship. Last season the Eagles’ only two victories came against Woodford and Bourbon counties. This season, Madison Southern has found a balance somewhere in the middle of the previous two seasons. The Berea-based school has a 3-4 record heading into the matchup with Woodford County. Scoring points hasn’t been a problem in 2019 for the Eagles as the team has scored exactly 34 points in three of their games and has scored 28 or more points in all but one game. The problem for MSHS has come on the defensive side of the ball. The Eagles have given up over 25 points in every game in 2019 and the Jackets offense will likely need to continue that trend to come away with a victory. The path to a Yellow Jacket win could also come with ball control. If the Jackets keep the Madison Southern offense off the field with Rice and the running attack, they could suppress the scoring totals and come away with a low-scoring win instead. Already 1-0 in the district, the Jackets aren’t looking ahead and aren’t standing around scoreboard watching either says Brocato. “We plan to take each game one at a time. We’re going to study and practice all week so we can come out on top Friday,” the senior said. Kickoff in Berea is set for 7:30 p.m. Friday.

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