Following Eminence’s 46-6 victory over North Hardin Christian late Monday night, Zach Raisor was handed a plaque for Defensive Player of the Game, Ed Berry received the plaque for Offensive Player of the Game and TJ Cooper and the rest of the Warriors hoisted the winning trophy in the air.
Although it wasn’t recognized by the Kentucky High School Athletic Association as a state title, the Warriors were once again the state champions in 8-man football. It was a fitting end to the regular season for a squad that once dominated 8-man play with six “official” state titles from 1996 to 2001.
This time around, they claimed the championship in the inaugural KHSAA State 8-Man Championship Series, which included four teams (Eminence, North Hardin Christian, Evangel Christian and Beth Haven), played games during the 11-man regular season and ended with the championship contest held at Georgetown College.
Not only did the Warriors come away with the convincing win, but they were able to leave Toyota Stadium with a few school records.
With starting quarterback Dre Banta out with a broken throwing hand, Ed Berry moved behind center and kept the ball 21 times for 283 yards rushing, surpassing the previous mark of 257 held by Marcus Wright in 1999. The senior also might have broken the school record for all-purpose yards, which is currently held by Wright at an even 400. To go along with Berry’s 283 rushing, he had 18 passing, 44 receiving and two punt returns that might have put him past the previous mark.
Also, TJ Cooper’s 17 carries for 160 yards helped the Warriors break the school record for total rushing yards with 443. The old mark was 398 by the 1999 squad.
“Overall, I thought we played very well,” Eminence coach Steve Frommeyer said the next morning. “We had a couple of spurts where I was concerned, but I thought North Hardin was a better football team than we were anticipating. We weren’t able to see them on tape so this was our first look at them. I thought they were very athletic, but we are just farther along than them as far as a football program.”
Banta injured his hand towards the end of Eminence’s loss to Frankfort 10 days before the North Hardin matchup, which moved Berry and sophomore Sean Armstrong to the quarterback position. Banta’s next doctor’s appointment is scheduled for Nov. 11, just three days before the Warriors’ playoff game against Ludlow. He might be released to play but his return is still questionable.
“With Banta out, we worked really hard on the spread offense,” Frommeyer said. “We didn’t do a lot of reading with a majority of our plays pre-determined. I thought we did a great job at running the ball. Cooper set things up with getting in some good runs, then Berry was able to keep the ball and go the other way with it. It was really effective.”
Also helping the running game become more productive was the offensive linemen, who controlled the line of scrimmage for much of the game. Gage Bohannon and Shiven Harris gave Eminence a big lift up front, Frommeyer said.
Defensively, Raisor led the way, along with Brad Tapia, JaCoby Moore, Tihon Durrett and Brock Roberts, who played as the team captain on the defensive side of the ball. Raisor was named Defensive Player of the Game for his six tackles, two interceptions, one breakup in the end zone against a 6-foot-10 receiver, and a few open-field tackles that saved would-be points. Tapia added six tackles, including four sacks and two pass deflections, while Moore, Durrett and Roberts also provided a spark.
“Anytime you allow just six points in an 8-man game, that’s very good defense,” Frommeyer said. “I thought we did a tremendous job of containing them.”
Berry got things rolling for the Warriors in their first play from the line of scrimmage with a big pick up to move the ball down to the red zone. Cooper then took the handoff to advance the ball closer to the end zone and Berry kept it on the third play of the quick drive to cross the goal line untouched. Armstrong lined up at quarterback and handed off to Berry for the 2-point conversion to put the Warriors in front 8-0 less than three minutes into the game.
Later in the opening quarter, Cooper carried the ball 3 yards into the end zone, which stretched the Eminence lead to 14-0. And during the second quarter, Berry scored on a 1-yard run, Berry scored on an 88-yard keeper and Armstrong passed to Berry, who scored on a 30-yard pass play as time expired. Eminence was comfortably ahead 32-0 at the half.
North Hardin managed to move the ball within 5 yards of the end zone twice during the first half but came up empty handed both time. Roberts intercepted a North Hardin pass in the end zone with a one-handed grab, and North Hardin turned the ball over on downs after getting in a first-and-goal at the 4-yard line situation.
With 7:16 left in the third quarter, Cooper scored on a short run and Hunter Hedges picked up a fumble in the end zone for the 2-point conversion to put the Warriors in front 40-0. Cooper then scored on a 42-yard run as time expired in the third. North Hardin’s lone score came with 7:30 left in the fourth quarter on a 15-yard run. North then recovered an on-side kick but neither team could score for the rest of the game as Eminence held its 46-6 lead until the final horn sounded.
Play got a little sloppy late in the third quarter when the two teams committed three turnovers in four straight plays. Eminence threw an interception, Mark Goodwin then intercepted a North Hardin pass, and Eminence followed with another interception. On the Warriors’ next drive, they fumbled the ball four times on a single play, which North Hardin eventually jumped on. Other than those few blemishes, the Warriors played a solid game in claiming the State 8-Man Championship Series.
Next season, Frommeyer expects a similar setup with 8-man games counted towards the 11-man regular season and a championship contest at Georgetown College. A few more teams might jump on board, though, which could eventually jump start another 8-man tournament for an official state title.
“I don’t think we’re going in that direction for the next few years,” Frommeyer said of the tournament his team used to dominate. “I think right now it’s just something where small schools will band together and have a little internal competition. It’s been so good for our program, and I can think of four or five other programs that have really benefited from 8-man. A lot of people in Kentucky just don’t understand 8-man or the benefits it offers.”
In 1996, the Warriors won their first of six straight 8-man state title, including an undefeated 13-0 season in 1999. They lost their first 8-man game in the 2002 state finals to Bethlehem, 14-12. The following season, 8-man football was dropped by the KHSAA.
Eminence eventually rejoined the 11-man playoff system last fall, when the Warriors advanced to the playoffs for the first time in school history. This year, they ended the regular season at 8-2, including 2-1 in district play, and will host the school’s first playoff game against Ludlow No. 14.
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