KENNETT, Mo. – Central suffered the effects of five separate turnovers after crossing midfield on Friday night, and Kennett celebrated like it was 1986.
Marsayv’aun Harrell rushed for 132 yards and three touchdowns, and added a massive kickoff return to the end zone in the third quarter as the Indians captured their first district title in 32 years.
Quarterback Bodey Ellis threw a touchdown pass while running for a late score, and Kennett avoided big mistakes while defeating the Rebels 42-20 in the Class 3, District 1 final.
Central was certainly the underdog despite entering the game as six-time reigning champions, and was seeking to snap the state-ranked Indians’ 10-game win streak.
The Rebels momentarily quieted an enthusiastic home crowd with a promising march to open the third quarter, calling upon freshman Dayshawn Welch for seven carries during a 10-play possession.
Dawson Day added a 19-yard catch from quarterback Dylan Corcoran before Welch notched his second touchdown of the night from the 2, and the 2-point conversion brought Central within 21-20.
But all of that work was immediately countered by Harrell, who received the ensuing kickoff and raced 89 yards to extend the Kennett lead and highlight his already superb effort.
The Rebels, who were slowed by nine accepted penalties, had an opportunity to respond after Jeremy Jones moved the next kick to his own 49, but were forced into a third-and-long situation.
A screen pass was behind the intended receiver, but Quaddre Sanders returned his interception down to the Central 21 for a significant shift in field position.
Central linebacker Will Hopkins provided a key stop in the backfield, and the visitors averted an initial bullet when a perfect throw by Ellis was dropped in the end zone on fourth down.
But the Rebels continued to self-destruct after making progress. Their next three drives also concluded with turnovers, including a fumble by Gage Manion that Elijah Lemons pounced on.
Kennett was called for unsportsmanlike contact following a 22-yard Ellis scramble, but Harrell moved the chains on a 14-yard scamper before scoring from the 2 for a 34-20 lead with 11:24 remaining.
Dawson Day broke a tackle to convert a fourth-down reception moments later for Central, but lost the ball and Indians sophomore Owen Ross alertly scooped it inside the Kennett 40.
Corcoran was 10-of-18 passing for 208 yards, but released his third pick to Joquan Williams with less than four minutes to play.
Ellis tacked on a 16-yard scoring keeper with 1:30 on the clock – one play after the Central seniors were removed from the defensive unit – and Carter Maddox threw the 2-point conversion to Williams.
Ellis completed 7-of-11 throws, and tallied 105 rushing yards. Kennett (11-1) will travel north for state quarterfinal action next week at Cardinal Ritter, which defeated Lutheran South in blowing snow.
Welch emerged as a secret weapon for Central with his game-winning touchdown burst in the semifinal win over Dexter, and gave his squad an ideal start some 2 ½ hours from home.
Following a three-and-out by the defense, Welch shot through the right side for a 48-yard touchdown sprint and 6-0 edge on the Rebels’ initial series. The replayed extra point was blocked after a penalty.
Harrell sparked Kennett with a 24-yard run, plus a 15-yard penalty, and easily broke the plane from the 2 after Central lineman Derontae Martin jumped offside on fourth-and-6 from the 10.
Jake Casey caught a 16-yard crossing route on the next possession to help Central reach the red zone, but a 28-yard field goal attempt never materialized due to a low snap.
The Indians instead converted a fourth-and-6 throw from Ellis to Andrew Spence, and Harrell split two defenders before cutting ahead for a 10-yard touchdown.
Will Hopkins used his speed to outrun the Kennett defense for a pivotal 83-yard touchdown that cut the margin to 14-12 after catching a swing pass and making the first man miss.
Kennett countered with a 5-yard toss from Ellis to Parker McClain after Harrell romped for a gain of 28, and entered halftime with a 21-12 advantage.
Corcoran neatly escaped pressure to final Tyler Murray down the right side for a 35-yard catch, but was intercepted by Jake Stewart on fourth down inside the final minute of the second quarter.
Welch finished with 93 yards on 16 carries, and Manion added 41 rushing yards for Central (6-6).
Evan Sidebottom made 10 tackles, including a sack, and Hopkins added nine in their final varsity games. Hopkins matched Day with three receptions each.