Thanks to their 28-21 win over Gallatin County Friday night, the Eminence Warriors will host a football game in the state playoffs for the first time in school history.
The seven-point victory left the Warriors at a perfect 5-0 as they continue their quest for the school's best 11-man season on record.
TJ Cooper led the Warriors in their history-altering contest with 30 carries for 227 yards and two touchdowns. His career numbers couldn't have come at a better time with the Gallatin Wildcats celebrating homecoming, Eminence playing its first game on the road, and a regular-season top two district finish on the line for both teams. Eminence is now 3-0 in Class A, District Four play with just Frankfort, scheduled for Oct. 24, remaining on its schedule.
"Our players played really determined," Eminence coach Steve Frommeyer said of the Gallatin win. '"I'm proud of this team. Our big goal this season was to take the next step in the playoffs. This year, we said from the beginning that we wanted to do better than just make it to the playoffs, so this was a big step for us."
After a scoreless first quarter, Eminence got on the scoreboard first when Ed Berry caught a 45-yard pass from Dre Banta early in the second quarter. Banta kept the ball on the 2-point conversion to put the Warriors ahead 8-0. Neither team scored again for the rest of the first half.
On the opening drive of the third quarter, Cooper scored on a 5-yard carry to stretch Eminences lead to 14-0. Gallatin (2-3 overall, 1-2 District Four) then managed to reach the end zone the following drive, and kicked the extra point to close the gap to 14-7. It set the stage for a wild and unpredictable fourth quarter.
With 10:45 remaining on the clock, Cooper broke through a hole, bounced off three defenders and got in the clear, where he raced 77 yards to the end zone. The long touchdown carry put the Warriors in front 20-7.
Gallatin scored on its next drive on a long pass, and was good on the kick to close its deficit to 20-14. Then, after Eminence was stopped on its next possession, Gallatin was primed to tie the contest before Mark Goodwin came up with what turned into a game-changing play. Gallatin completed a pass for a 35-yard gain before Goodwin, who came in at corner a few plays earlier, drilled the wide receiver just as he caught the ball to force a fumble. Berry picked up the loose ball and ran 35 yards on an ill-timed play for the Wildcats as they were threatening to take their first lead of the game.
Instead, the Warriors took back possession and Banta eventually broke loose on a 42-yard touchdown run. Berry ran in the 2-point conversion to put the Warriors comfortably ahead, 28-14, with just a couple of minutes left.
Eminence was whistled offsides on the ensuing kickoff, which forced the Warriors to kick again, allowing Gallatin to return the ball to the Eminence 45. The Warriors were then whistled for roughing the passer, which resulted in a big 15-yard penalty. The next play, Gallatins quarterback scrambled in the backfield - until Eminences defense broke down - and found a player wide open in the end zone. The kick was good, which closed the gap to just seven points with less than a minute left.
Gallatin tried an onside kick, but Eminence recovered the ball and ran down the clock in the closing seconds for what turned into a fourth quarter full of fireworks.
"We got a little banged up but our kids played through it," Frommeyer said of his team's gutsy performance that kept them undefeated after five games for the first time since 2001. "I've been really pleased with the character of this team during these first five games. They have been determined not to give up."
Banta finished the game 6-of-11 passing for 133 yards, one touchdown, one interception and three carries for 49 yards. Brock Roberts caught two passes for 33 yards and Berry caught four passes for 103 yards. As for Cooper, the team's offensive centerpiece during the perfect five-week stretch, he has now rushed for 100 or more yards during each game this season, accumulating with 227 in perhaps the most important win so far.
Defensively, Brad Tapia, Zach Raisor and Tihon Durrett led the Warriors with nine tackles each. Durrett was switched from corner to outside linebacker, which proved to be a good fit for the junior who also plays running back on offense.
Eminence finished with 298 yards rushing and 133 yards passing.
After the 5-0 start, the Warriors will be back in action this Friday when they travel four miles up the road to cross-county rivals Henry County. Game time is set for 7:30 p.m. against the Wildcats, who are 4-1 after Friday's loss to North Oldham.
Following the Henry showdown, the Warriors will play Evangel Christian, Bishop Brossart, Frankfort and North Hardin Christian before postseason starts. The Frankfort contest will determine the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the district tournament next month. Both teams are already guaranteed home field advantage in the opening round.
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