FLEMINGSBURG Only fitting that a day a full moon settles in provides a wild football game.
That was the case Friday night in Flemingsburg.
Rowan County stopped a Fleming County two-point conversion with under a minute to play and escaped with a 21-20 victory.
The Vikings can point to special teams for the victory — blocking two punts, returning a long kickoff to Panther territory, hitting a 28-yard field goal and then the two-point stop to win it.
“We had to be good in all three phases in the game. We were pretty good at two of them and then finally our offense kicked in and gave us a chance,” Vikings coach Kelly Ford said. “Special teams were immaculate tonight. Going into the game, we felt like we could win that aspect of the game.”
Early on, it looked as if the Panthers were going to run away with it. Rowan County did nothing offensively in the game’s first 24 minutes, extending its touchdown-less quarter streak to 10 as Fleming County took a 14-0 lead into halftime.
An Austin Trent 4-yard run got Fleming County on the board in the first. Nate Ruark hit Landon Johnson for a 77-yard strike and score in what has become a weekly occurrence to make it 14-0 on the first play from scrimmage in the second.
The Vikings had negative-6 total yards at the break, with quarterback Zach Menard sacked seven times.
“Give credit to coach Ford and his guys, but we felt like we should have won the ball game. We felt like we didn’t finish some things that we needed to finish. At halftime, we should have had a bigger lead than 14-0,” Panthers coach Bill Spencer said.
Rowan County regrouped. It started with a Braden Birchfield long kickoff return to open the second half, and then two plays later, Menard hit Louis Hayes for a 41-yard touchdown pass.
Meanwhile, the Panthers went backwards in the second half, mostly thanks to the yellow flag. Fleming County had 12 penalties for 155 yards.
“We’ve had some games where we had some aggressive style penalties. And those don’t bother you. I mean, people probably don’t like to hear that, but when you’re playing hard and kids are playing aggressive, that’s what you want them to do,” Spencer said. “In football, you want kids to get after it. You can live with some aggressive penalties.
“The penalties that frustrate me are the penalties where you do silly things like the blocks in the back or roughing the passer. We made some of those tonight and it came back to haunt us.”
Another Fleming County miscue got the Vikings within two when Rowan County’s Deshawn Watson intercepted a Ruark pass and returned it for a score on the first play of the fourth.
A blown coverage then gave the Vikings the lead. Menard hit Hayes again, this time for 51 yards on third-and-7 to make it 18-14 Vikings.
“Coach (Samuel) Whitehead made a great call on our fox play, where we do the screen delay, and it was wide open,” Ford said.
Rowan County lived in Panthers territory for pretty much the entire second half. Weston Maxey gave the Vikings a 21-14 lead on a 28-yard field goal with 3:43 to play, thanks to the Vikings’ second blocked punt of the night that had them starting at the Panther 29. Four of the Vikings’ six second-half possessions started on the Panthers side of the field.
The Vikings’ second interception looked like it might have sealed it, but Fleming County remained stout on its defensive front, forcing the Vikings backwards and getting the ball back with 1:17 to play on the Rowan County 39.
Two plays later, Ruark hit Johnson again, this one from 17 yards out to make it 21-20 with 58 seconds remaining.
There was no doubt what the Panthers would do next.
“Even before we got the football back I told (assistant) coach (Jordan) Fritz to get a play in your head you want to run, because we’re going to score and go for the win. It’s one of those things where you score and get it and everyone says it’s a wonderful call. Then if you don’t, everyone asks why you didn’t kick it,” Spencer said. “We’re playing to win and we’re going to give our kids the opportunity to do that, and that’s our mindset.”
But it came up short. Ruark rolled out looking for Caleb Igo, but the Vikings intercepted the attempt to preserve the victory.
The Vikings found a way despite finishing with negative-42 rushing yards. The Menard-to-Hayes connection accounted for 113 of Rowan County’s 146 passing yards.
“They had a great game plan,” Ford said. “They knew we were young in the backfield and everyone is attacking our run game. They’re making us force it and filling up the box. We made some adjustments at halftime, throw some quick stuff to try and lighten it up, and a couple of them broke.”
Ruark threw for 239 yards and two scores, both to Johnson, who finished with six catches for 140 yards. Caleb Igo added six receptions for 53 yards.
The Panthers couldn’t find much room in the rushing department, finishing with 31 rushing yards.
The loss is the Panthers second by one point this season, falling 34-33 to Greenup in the opener.
“We’re a couple points away from being 4-0, but we’re not. We’re not feeling sorry for ourselves because we’re 2-2. We know we’re still a good football team. We’ll put some things together and big things are going to happen and that’s our plan,” Spencer said.
ROWAN COUNTY – 0-0-6-15 — 21
FLEMING COUNTY – 7-7-0-0 — 14
(FC) Trent 4-yard run (3:24) Sills kick
(FC) Ruark 77-yard pass to Johnson (11:49) Sills kick
(RC) Menard 41-yard pass to Hayes (10:55) Kick failed
(RC) Watson 26-yard interception return (11:52) Pass failed
(RC) Menard 51-yard pass to Hayes (7:59) Run failed
(RC) Maxey 28-yard FG (3:43)
(FC) Ruark 17-yard pass to Johnson (:58) Pass failed
Passing Yards: Rowan 146 (Menard 11/21), Fleming 239 (Ruark 15/31)
Rushing Yards: Rowan -42 (Drake 5-23, Hayes 6-3, Hill 9-(minus) 19, Menard 10-(minus) 49), Fleming 31 (Trent 9-36, Igo 2-(minus) 2, Ruark 7-(minus) 3)
Receiving: Rowan (Hayes 5-113, Smith 1-17, Birchfield 1-9, Kappes 2-8, Lilley 1-2, Hill 1-(minus) 3), Fleming (Johnson 6-140, Igo 6-53, Morgan 1-37, Farrow 1-2)
Penalties: Rowan 7-60, Fleming 12-155
Turnovers: Rowan 2, Fleming 0
Records: Rowan County 2-2, Fleming County 2-2