LEXINGTON — Trailing 14-6 in the final minutes, Johnson Central’s Joe Jackson got the toss and he fought his way into the end zone from five yards out to cut the lead to 14-12.
Having to score the two-point conversion to stay alive, the Golden Eagles tossed the ball to Jackson once again, but this time he was stopped just short of the goal line.
Franklin-Simpson was ready and stopped the game-tying run. That gave Franklin-Simpson the 14-12 win and the Class 4A KHSAA Gridiron Bowl state championship.
“We should’ve (scored on the two-point conversion). That was my fault,” Johnson Central coach Jim Matney said. “That was a bad call there. We had a myriad of plays. I just didn’t have a play ready. The ball was wet and we missed that extra-point, it went through our holders hands. We missed that field goal. We had a chance. I’ve been in that position a thousand times and I’ve pulled it out 999 times, I just didn’t pull it out there. I can’t say enough good things about our kids. They’re wonderful young men. The obstacles that some of our players overcome would crush all of us. They’ve really done a great job, I can’t say enough. If you overcome some of the obstacles these kids overcome, you’re a special person and they’re special people.
Franklin-Simpson got on the scoreboard first as Tre Bass scored on an 88-yard TD run with 5:00 left in the opening quarter to give the Wildcats a 7-0 lead.
Johnson Central answered, though. Joe Jackson scored on a two-yard TD run with 11:01 left in the first half. The Golden Eagles mishandled the ball on the extra-point and Johnson Central trailed Franklin-Simpson 7-6.
Johnson Central had a chance to take the lead late in the first half. Jake Headley attempted a 34-yard field goal and just missed with 4:48 left in the first half.
Franklin-Simpson attempted a field goal at the end of the first half and missed as well; the Wildcat field goal attempt was from 43 yards out.
Bass struck again for the Wildcats in the third quarter. He scored his second TD of the game from 15 yards out with 4:02 left in the third quarter to push the lead to 14-12.
Jackson scored Johnson Central’s final TD with just 57 seconds left, but the Golden Eagles couldn’t convert on the two-point try.
“It was a tough game,” Matney said. “We had three touchdowns called back. Seemed like things just didn’t go our way tonight. Sometimes things just don’t go your way and they sure weren’t going our way tonight. Joe Jackson got hurt in the semifinals and played gutsy tonight. We didn’t even know if he was going to be able to play. Sometimes you just have to give your opponent credit. We just made some mistakes. I have to see them on film, but one of the touchdowns on one of the field goal returns, I don’t know. We’re just going to have to watch it and see exactly what happened, but it’s hard to overcome three touchdowns getting called back. It’s tough, but our kids did the best they could. Again, you have to give the other team credit. They have a heck of a team and they have some great athletes. Our kids did their best and I feel like they represented the mountains about as well as anybody could.”
Franklin-Simpson lines up in field goal formation on its punts. This almost cost the Wildcats twice.
On the kickoff after Bass’s first TD, Ryley Preece returned one to the house, but it was called back for a block in the back.
The Wildcats dodged another bullet in the fourth quarter when Preece returned another one to the house, but this time it was called back for an illegal block.
Jackson rushed for 112 yards and a TD for the Golden Eagles. Bryce Tackett also added 112 yards rushing for the Golden Eagles.
Preece was one for five passing for 69 yards. He added nine yards on the ground.
Bass led the way for the Wildcats with 135 rushing yards and two TDs. Carlos McKinney added 66 yards on the ground. Luke Richardson was five of seven passing for 56 yards.
Johnson Central had 305 total yards of offense, while Franklin-Simpson had 247 yards of total offense in the game. The Golden Eagles turned the ball over once, while the Wildcats didn’t have any turnovers.
Johnson Central finished the season with a 13-2 record. This was the Golden Eagles’ fourth straight trip to the state championship game. This is the third straight year Johnson Central faced Franklin-Simpson and the second straight loss to the Wildcats.