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INDEPENDENCE –– Bland County scored twice in the first 2:11 of the second half to break open a tight game and claim its first outright Mountain Empire District championship, knocking off defending champion Grayson County 29-14 Friday at Bill Strong Field.
The Bears (9-1 overall, 4-0 district), who earned a share of the MED title on two previous occasions, will enter the Region C Division 1 playoffs as the No. 1 seed while Grayson County ends its season at 0-10, 0-4.
Josh Shrader scored on two long runs as Bland County extended what had been a 9-6 halftime lead to a 29-6 bulge by the end of the third period. Both runs were on option keepers by the Bears quarterback, who finished with 158 yards on just 10 carries. Two plays into the second half, Shrader escaped the line of scrimmage on a keeper to the left side, racing 64 yards for a touchdown just 54 seconds into the third period. Cody Underwood blocked Jacob Leighton's PAT attempt, but Bland County still led 15-6.
A three-and-out and a 4-yard Grayson County punt gave Bland possession at the Blue Devil 39, and Shrader scored on the next play on the same option keeper, this time to the right side. Leighton's PAT was good for a 22-6 Bland County lead.
Bland's final touchdown drive of the night was as quick as the previous two as runningback Korey Kennedy carried twice from the Grayson County 49-yard-line. His 45-yard scamper up the middle put the Bears on top 29-6 with one second remaining in the third quarter.
Kennedy would carry 23 times on the night for 129 yards as Bland County rolled up 349 yards on 48 rushing attempts. Almost 200 of those yards came on four long touchdown runs.
Grayson County, which was held to a net 15 yards rushing in the first half, managed 101 yards on the ground after halftime. Ryan Hernandez capped the scoring for the Blue Devils with a little more than three minutes remaining, breaking off a 40-yard run to the Bland County 6 and scoring from there on the next play. Rusty Williams bulled over for the two-point conversion and the final margin. Williams finished with 71 yards on 12 carries while Hernandez rushed 16 times for 45 yards.
Bland County led 2-0 after the first quarter as Hernandez was sacked in the end zone by Ethan Jones. Shrader broke off the first of his three long runs midway through the second period, darting in from 45 yards out for a 9-0 lead with 8:14 remaining in the half.
Grayson County played a strong defensive first half, holding the Bears to 75 yards on the ground outside of Shrader's long run. Bland County threatened late in the half, but Eric Harvey turned the potential scoring drive into an opportunity for some Grayson County points, picking off a Shrader pass at his own 28 and returning it 52 yards to the Bland 26 with 1:18 left in the half.
Harvey turned the takeaway into a touchdown three plays later when he hauled in a Hernandez pass for a 31-yard scoring play with 33 seconds left in the first half.
The two-point try failed, but Grayson County trailed just 9-6 at intermission. Bland County was able to get as far as the Grayson County 25 late in the half, but a Ben Osborne sack helped keep the Bears out of the end zone.
“I thought we played hard, especially in the first half,” said Grayson County coach Brett McPherson. “We had them where we wanted them, then if we don't come out in the second half and give up two big plays.”
In a game that dragged out to nearly three hours due to a combined 21 penalties and 18 incompletions, the win ended Bland's string of 13 straight losses to the Blue Devils, although a Grayson County win in 1997 was later forfeited after it was discovered that the Blue Devils had used an ineligible player. The loss completed the first 0-10 season since the consolidation of Fries and Independence in 1988.
“The kids practiced hard and didn't give up,” said McPherson. “I was proud of their effort and we did some good things along the way. Bland's got a good football team. They play hard and play solid. I’m disappointed for our kids and our coaching staff, but we’ll come back. There's nowhere to go but up.”
Bland Co. 29, Grayson Co. 14
Bland County 2 7 20 0––29
Grayson County 0 6 0 8––14
BC–Safety, Hernandez sacked in end zone, 6:08
BC–Shrader 45 run (Leighton kick) 8:14
GC–Harvey 31 pass from Hernandez (pass failed) 0:33
BC–Shrader 64 run (kick blocked) 11:06
BC–Shrader 39 run (Leighton kick) 9:49
BC–Ko.Kennedy 45 run (Leighton kick) 0:01
GC–Hernandez 6 run (Williams run) 3:16
First downs 15 9
Rushes-yards 48-349 28-116
Yards passing 35 58
Comp-Att-Int 3-8-1 4-17-2
Return yards 53 111
Punts-average 3-52.3 5-25.8
Fumbles-lost 1-1 0-0
Penalties-yards 11-74 10-70
Rushing–Bland County, Shrader 10-158, Ko.Kennedy 23-129, Lambert 3-28, Ky.Kennedy 5-28, Kr.Kennedy 1-4, Kidd 6-2. Grayson County, Williams 12-71, Hernandez 16-45.
Passing–Bland County, Shrader 3-8-1-35. Grayson County, Hernandez 4-17-2-58.
Receiving–Bland County, Ky.Ken-nedy 1-16, Kr.Kennedy 1-11, Dalton 1-8. Grayson County, Harvey 3-52, Hash 1-6.