High School Football

They gambled for two again. This time they took down a No. 1 team.

After No. 3 Lexington Christian’s 35-34 home win over No. 1 Somerset Friday night, the rest of the Class 2A competition can take note: The Eagles will not quit and do not play for ties late.

LCA quarterback Jayden Barnhardt hit Will Vernon on a 31-yard slant to set up a potential tying score with 2:25 left in the fourth quarter. But just as he did against Lexington Catholic earlier this season, LCA Coach Doug Charles called for a two-point conversion for the lead.

“It really comes down to that we weren’t stopping them and momentum had gone on the other side and, if you follow sports, a lot of time when momentum switches to the other side, it doesn’t like to come back,” Charles said. “We did feel like we had to seize momentum, and I told our coaches, ‘when we score … guys we’ve got to get our best two-point play because I’m going for two.’”

Barnhardt took the snap on an option left, kept the ball and cut around the end for the go-ahead conversion.

“I have no doubt in my guys,” Vernon said of LCA’s fearlessness in big games. Vernon scored LCA’s first touchdown of the night on a 52-yard run in the second quarter. He added a 6-yard TD catch midway through the fourth. “We’re going to come out and play our game every single Friday night for 48 minutes.”

LCA backed Somerset into a hole on its final possession. Kicker Andrew Dobbs, who scored two field goals earlier in the game, placed a perfect kickoff deep in Somerset territory where the returner mishandled it and got tackled at his own 16. A sack and a false start backed up the Briar Jumpers to the 11. A rattling Mattie Lebryk sack of Somerset’s Kaiya Sheron on second down put them at the 3.

“I was watching him all game and, at that point, in that one spot, he stopped in the pocket and I just smacked him,” Lebryk said.

Somerset turned the ball over on downs to set up LCA’s victory formation to run out the clock.

LCA led what looked to be a low-scoring affair 13-6 at halftime. It remained that way until midway through the third quarter when Somerset capitalized on a Barnhardt interception at midfield and drove to tie the game at 13 at the 6:31 mark on a 5-yard Mikey Garland run.

Somerset (7-1) then forced a punt and took the lead 20-13 on a 47-yard pass completion to Carson Guthrie with 58 seconds left in the third.

Less than a minute later, though, Xavier Brown answered for the Eagles with a 48-yard scamper, breaking tackles and tying it at 20.

“It felt really good, said Brown, who finished with 138 yards rushing. “It was really big and kept the momentum going, and it shows what we can do all season. We’re tough, man. It’s going to be hard to take us down.”

The two exchanged TDs again with Jase Bruner scoring from 6 yards out for the Briar Jumpers and Vernon getting his second of the game.

On the first play following Vernon’s score, LCA gave up what looked to be a back-breaking 79-yard touchdown pass from Sheron to Kade Grundy with 4:45 left in the fourth quarter. Grundy shed two LCA tacklers on the bomb.

But that only served as prelude for Vernon’s final score and the game-winning two-pointer.

“We’ve been preparing for games like this,” Vernon said. “We’ve scheduled a hard schedule with Catholic and Belfry, you know. You don’t get better playing weak opponents.”

Sheron, a junior who has Division I offers from Kentucky and Marshall, went 13-for-21 for 264 yards and two TDs passing and 26 yards and a TD rushing. LCA’s Barnhardt, a senior, went 8-for-18 for 111 yards and two TDs, as well, with 79 yards rushing..

LCA (7-1) faces Danville next week to close out its district schedule before taking on Class A power Paintsville in the regular-season finale.

Beating Somerset puts LCA in the driver’s seat both in District 4 and potentially in the Kentucky High School Athletic Association’s new Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) where the Eagles ranked No. 1 before taking down the Briar Jumpers and figure to keep that spot.

“It’s a great win and it’s huge for our program because it means that we get to have home-field advantage maybe all the way till we get to (the state finals at) Kroger Field,” said senior linebacker Andrew Long. “It’s great to be able to play this team once because we’re going to know what we’re going to have to adjust on to beat them again in the playoffs.”

If both teams win their final district games and their first-round playoff games, they’ll meet back in Lexington in the district championship (round two).

“That’s all we wanted,” senior wideout DeAirious Smith said. “We’re going to have our crowd, our student section, our family, everybody here to help us get the win.”

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Jared Peck, the Herald-Leader’s Digital Sports Writer, covers high school athletics and has been with the company as a writer and editor for more than 19 years.
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