PARK HILLS – The Central Rebels won their season opener on Friday night, but they had to work extremely hard for it. A late touchdown pass from Matt Martin to Frank Walton with 8:27 to play, stood as the game winner as the Rebels held on for an 18-12 victory over the pesky Berkeley Bulldogs.
Martin completed 5-8 passes for 67 yards, but his final one made the difference in the final score. Both teams were content to run the ball on nearly every play. Donald Williams was the first-half workhorse for the Rebels, carrying 14 times for 38 yards.
Unfortunately for Central, Williams suffered a knee injury on the Rebels’ second play from scrimmage in the second half, and did not return to the lineup. Sam Lawson picked up where Williams left off, finishing the game with 74 yards on 17 carries.
Berkeley had an excellent running back of their own, and he made several big plays during the game. Tony LaGrone carried the ball 14 times for 122 yards, and two pivotal touchdowns in the third quarter.
The Rebels wasted no time getting on the scoreboard. Berkeley tried to surprise Central with an onside opening-kickoff, but the ball was not kicked far enough, giving the Rebels excellent field position at the Berkeley 47.
Central ran the ball on 10 straight plays in its opening drive. The Rebels converted twice on third down, setting up a first and goal from inside the 1-yard-line. Williams plunged in from there to give the Rebels a 7-0 lead.
Berkeley moved the ball pretty well on their opening drive, but the Central defense held, forcing a punt by the Bulldogs. However, Central fumbled the ball, and Berkeley recovered at the Rebels’ 30.
On the very next play, Bulldogs’ quarterback Robert Bishop scrambled all the way to the Central 1-yard-line, setting up a first down and goal situation. The Central defense stepped up in a huge way, stuffing the Berkeley running game on three straight plays. The Bulldogs lined up for a field goal attempt, but it was a fake. LaGrone dove for the goal line, but a gang of Rebels denied him.
After a Central punt, Berkeley got the ball back at the Rebels’ 25. David Barker came up big for the Rebels on defense as he broke up a lateral pass, resulting in a fumble, which Teddy Thomure of Central recovered.
The two teams traded turnovers on their next possessions. Central began their final drive of the first half at their own 42. A 10-yard run by Bryan Pinson moved the ball to Berkeley’s side of the field. A huge pass interference call gave the Rebels a first down. Central cashed in on their opportunity when Lawson connected on a 36-yard field goal on the final play of the half to give the Rebels a 10-0 lead.
The start of the second half was disastrous for the Rebels, as they quickly surrendered the lead. Berkeley scored on its first play from scrimmage in the second half, when LaGrone took a hand-off down the right sideline for a 55-yard jaunt, cutting the Bulldogs’ deficit to 10-7.
The Rebels went three-and-out on the ensuing possession, forcing a punt. Nick Brown made a big play for Berkeley as he blocked Grayson Clark’s punt. Berkeley recovered the ball at the Central 15.
A holding penalty pushed the Bulldogs back to the 25-yard-line, but it didn’t matter as LaGrone broke several weak tackling efforts by the Rebels’ defense to scamper 25 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. The two-point conversion try failed, but the Bulldogs held their first advantage at 12-10.
Central trailed by two until the fourth quarter, when they engineered the game winning drive, beginning at their own 46. One of Central’s biggest offensive plays occurred when the Rebels faced a 3rd and 8 situation at the Berkeley 42.
Martin rolled to his right and found David Kennard downfield for an 18-yard gain to continue the drive. Lawson carried the ball on four of the next five plays, setting up a 3rd and 3 at the Berkeley 4.
Central Coach Mike Gotto made a gutsy call, fooling the Berkeley defense with a passing play. After a play fake, Martin found Walton in the back corner of the end zone for a 4-yard TD pass. The Rebels made the two-point conversion, when Martin hooked up with Kennard, who made a sliding catch on a crossing route.
The Rebels were back on top at 18-12. A late fumble gave the Bulldogs one last chance late in the fourth quarter, but the Rebels’ defense shut them down once again. The Rebels ran the final 3:30 off the clock to hold on for the win.
Central (1-0) will play their first road game of the season next Friday night, when they travel to Perryville for a tussle with St. Vincent (0-1).