PARK HILLS – Although significant injuries continue to pile up, the Central football team has shown no signs of being rattled during another deep push into November postseason play.
The Rebels delivered steady run defense, and scored 14 points off two big interceptions while easily securing their sixth consecutive district crown on Friday night.
Senior Jace Bland accounted for three passing touchdowns, ran for another, and logged a clinching pick six to help propel unbeaten Central past Salem 42-3 in the Class 3, District 1 title game.
Will Hopkins caught two touchdown strikes, and senior Jake Glenn made a game-high 11 tackles while running for another score.
Central (12-0) will look to clear a historic roadblock next Friday at Lutheran South after failing to move past the state quarterfinal round in each of their last five tries.
Bland connected on his first five throws, and was 9-of-14 overall for 214 yards. He was also the leading rusher for the Rebels with 61 yards on 12 carries.
A defensive front that had already lost captain Triston Campbell and Ezra Sidebottom to knee injuries grew even thinner when two-way lineman Tanner Friend hurt an ankle on the initial series.
Special teams standout Dawson Day was also out with a broken hand, and sophomore Dylan Corcoran watched from a wheelchair along the sideline following an appendectomy.
But the Rebels still kept the visiting Tigers from ever reaching the end zone, and unofficially compiled a decisive 396-158 advantage in total yardage.
Salem began its second possession at the Central 45 after stuffing a fourth-down run, and earned the game’s first points when Nick Holiday nailed a 37-yard field goal.
That 3-0 lead lasted for only 18 seconds, however, as Hopkins caught a long pass from Bland and broke a tackle along the right sideline before sprinting out an 80-yard touchdown.
Salem was forced out of its running comfort zone on an ensuing third-and-long situation, and Hopkins intercepted a pass from quarterback Cameron Camden.
Bland followed with a 23-yard pass as Jake Casey cut back toward the middle for a greater gain, then went the last 15 yards on a keeper for a 14-3 lead late in the first quarter.
Salem was able to stop the next Central drive, but could not capitalize on a 19-yard run by Chandler Gray, as Bland made a big tackle behind the line of scrimmage.
The Rebels needed only two plays to land a pivotal touchdown after taking over at their own 30. Casey caught a long pass behind his defender, and accelerated for a 64-yard score.
Tyreece Welch delivered the longest run of the night for Central by gaining 31 yards on a burst through the middle, and his team quickly reached the red zone to begin the third quarter.
The threat nearly stalled at the 8-yard line, but Bland rolled to his left on fourth down and hit a wide-open Hopkins toward the pylon for a 28-3 margin.
The teams traded quick punts after Salem defensive backs Lawson Toman and Gray made nine plays to break up dangerous throws, but Tanner Smith gave the Rebels a solid 35-yard return.
Glenn shrugged aside one potential tackler to finish a 23-yard touchdown run with 1:11 remaining in the third quarter, and Bland returned a pick 29 yards to cap the scoring just 16 seconds later.
Camden finished 4-of-13 for 53 yards for the Tigers (8-4), including a late 26-yard completion to Toman.
Aaron Dooley added five tackles, and Holden Mayberry recorded a sack as the Rebels reached 12-0 for the third time in school history.
Casey had a game-high 110 yards on four receptions, and Smith added three catches.