John Hardin coach Mark Brown was surprised that the Bulldogs were able to be as physical as they were with Boyle’s offensive line.
“We knew how good they were and we were worried. They’re such a physical ball club, and just control the game, run it and control the ball,” Brown said. “So that’s what we worried about the most, and I was real pleased with our defense, they did a good job.”
Jeremy Harness, a 5-7, 165-pound senior, ran through and around the Boyle defense for 84 yards on 17 carries and had a 41-yard reception to set up his 4-yard touchdown run that gave the Bulldogs a 14-0 halftime lead.
John Hardin (4-0), ranked No. 2 in Class AAAAA, had 188 rushing yards on 44 carries and 278 yards of offense against Boyle (2-2).
“(Harness) is probably one of the best running backs that we’ve seen in a long, long time. He runs hard, he’s got speed,” French said. “They did the things they needed to do to win a football game, and we did everything we could to lose a ball game. We’ve got a lot of growing to do.”
Boyle’s lack of a running game put that much more pressure on quarterback Casey Whittle to get it done through the air. Whittle was 8 for 24 for 99 yards with two interceptions, but French pointed out he was given little time to throw.
“We tried to throw tonight and we couldn’t throw it,” French said. “We couldn’t get our tackles to block (linebacker Jalen Fleming). He had free reign in there.”
Neither team was generating much offense early. Fleming sacked Whittle for an 11-yard loss on third down, and the resulting punt gave John Hardin the ball at the Boyle 45-yard line late in the first quarter.
John Hardin then went on a nine-play, 45-yard drive, capped when quarterback Eli Mitchell rolled right but could not find and open receiver, then tucked the ball and went in from 9 yards out to give the Bulldogs a 7-0 lead with 8:14 left in the first half. Boyle helped keep the drive alive by jumping offsides on a fourth-and-1 from the 15.
After another Boyle punt, John Hardin put together another long drive. Harness’ second effort from 4 yards out got him in the end zone to finish off an eight-play, 73-yard drive as the Bulldogs took a 14-0 lead.
Tommy Hastings intercepted Mitchell to start the third quarter, but Boyle was again forced to punt. John Hardin then put the game away with a 14-play, 72-yard rive that took 7 minutes, 5 seconds off the clock. Harness got his second touchdown of the night when he went around right end and beat the Boyle defense to the corner pylon.
Nothing John Hardin did came as a surprise to French.
“It was just a matter of we couldn’t stop them. They executed well, and they were big and physical and had the quickness to go with it,” he said. “And you’ve got to do things right when you play a team like that. We didn’t attack when we needed to, and didn’t keep our outside arm free sometimes and didn’t set the edge sometimes. But overall, defensively we didn’t play as poorly as what the offense did.”
Brown agreed that Boyle’s defense was pretty good.
“Their defense is so tough, we couldn’t break anything long,” he said. “We’re used to breaking long runs, and we couldn’t against them. They made us work for everything. I’m very surprised. It was a very even game, we were just lucky to make the plays at the right time. They made us do some things differently to move the ball.”
Boyle mounted a good drive on its next series, and Whittle’s 11-yard keeper gave the Rebels their first rushing first down of the game.
Seph Burke ran for 24 more yards on the drive, but the scoring chance evaporated when Whittle’s pass was hit at the line of scrimmage and flew high in the air and Fleming came down with the interception at the John Hardin 28-yard line early in the fourth quarter. Burke finished as Boyle’s leading rusher, gaining 21 yards on eight carries.