A game with no postseason implications for the home team sure had a playoff feel Friday night at Bowling Green.
The Purples (9-0) were playing for momentum and their long winning streak against Blackman (Tenn.), but the mission became survival in a 26-25 victory in the regular-season finale at El Donaldson Stadium.
Bowling Green took the lead with 35 seconds left on a 14-yard pass from senior quarterback Devin Hayes to senior receiver Nacarius Fant, and senior linebacker Austin Jones intercepted the Blaze (8-2) on their final drive to secure the Purples’ 39th straight win.
“This game didn’t mean a lot toward our playoff picture, but it meant a hell of a lot in our hearts,” Jones said. “For all the seniors to go out with a big bang in the last game of the regular season means a lot.”
BG trailed 17-13 at halftime and fell behind 25-20 with 4:18 left on a 47-yard pass from Blackman quarterback Jauan Jennings to receiver Ronnie Killings.
But Hayes connected with Fant for three receptions on the Purples’ winning drive, none larger than the TD pass to the Western Kentucky commit in the right corner of the end zone on fourth-and-11.
Jones and Fant both mentioned there were rumblings earlier in the week of Blackman players saying Bowling Green didn’t play physically.
“Earlier this week, we weren’t getting respect like we needed,” Fant said. “I think we’re a good ball team. I wouldn’t say we’re the best ever, but we’re a really good team. We put it all the line, and we made big plays.”
Added Jones: “They said they were coming in here, and that we didn’t play physical. We showed them what physical was.”
Blackman wasted little time on its opening drive, as Jennings scored on a 37-yard keeper at the 10:10 mark.
Bowling Green countered with an 11-yard touchdown pass from Hayes to Fant with 5:06 left in the first quarter, and the Purples forced Blackman to punt on its next three drives.
During that defensive stand, senior running back Blue Tisdale gave BG a 13-7 lead with a 1-yard run with 9:18 left in the half. The Purples missed the extra point.
The Blaze went back in front with 4:52 remaining before the break on an 8-yard pass from Jennings to receiver Styles Corder. They tacked on a 24-yard field goal by Blaine Burks with 23 seconds left to open a 17-13 halftime lead.
Things got chippy at the break as Blackman was called for a personal foul penalty after a Hayes interception. The Blaze also ran through the Purples’ entrance to the field before the game.
BG coach Kevin Wallace and members of the Blackman staff had words at halftime before heading to the locker room, and the Blaze were whistled for six personal foul or unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in the second half.
“It did affect the game,” Wallace said. “I’m just glad our guys kept their composure. We were the ones that kept our composure.”
Bowling Green started the second half by taking a safety on a botched punt to fall behind 19-13.
Blackman missed a 34-yard field goal on the ensuing drive, and at the end of the third quarter, the Blaze took two 15-yard penalties on defense. Tisdale finished that drive with a 1-yard TD run to open a 20-19 lead with 11:57 left in the game.
Blackman was called for its final unsportsmanlike conduct flag after the score.
“I was really surprised by those penalties,” Jones said. “That just shows you that we play with class; they don’t, and we’re better than them.”
It looked like Bowling Green’s win streak was slipping away with 4:18 left, when Jennings connected with Killings and the receiver broke free for his 47-yard score.
But the Purples marched 64 yards to victory, converting two third downs and the last fourth down for the game-winner.
Jennings’ interception on the last drive was his first of the night.
“If you’re going to beat us, you’ve got to drive a stake through our heart, because we’ve got some kids who have something special inside them,” Wallace said. “They can measure our height, they can measure our speed, they can measure our weight. They can’t measure what’s inside of us. We’ve got some guys with some good stuff inside of them.”
Blackman, ranked No. 4 in Tennessee’s Class 6A by The Associated Press, outgained Bowling Green 328-197.
Jennings – a four-star prospect whose offers include Auburn, Ole Miss, Nebraska and Ohio State -– finished 13 of 24 passing for 208 yards and rushed for 84 more with three total scores. Corder caught seven passes for 92 yards.
“In my 20 years of being a head football coach and upwards of 240 games, I have never seen such a disgraceful job by officials,” Blackman coach Philip Shadowens said. “We were flagged for 115 to 120 yards, and they were flagged for 5 to 10 yards all night.
“Both teams played extremely hard. It was a very physical game between two good football teams. Unfortunately, the officials had a huge effect on the game. It was absolutely disgraceful.”
Bowling Green finished with just 16 rushing yards despite Tisdale’s two touchdowns on the ground. Hayes was 16 of 26 passing for 181 yards with two TDs and a pick.
Fant caught nine passes for 87 yards with two touchdowns.
“It says we’re a big team in the state of Kentucky,” Fant said. “We didn’t get the respect this week, and we took that to heart. I feel like we showed everyone in the state we’re a legit football team.”
Bowling Green begins its quest for a third straight Class 5A title next week when it hosts Apollo in the first round.
And the Purples will do so still perfect.
“I think I’m kind of in a state of shock,” Wallace said. “Obviously, our kids made a great effort. That’s a great football team we just beat with a really special player at quarterback. I thought our defensive effort was magnificent.
“We got out of here with a win. Couple guys banged up. I hope none of them are too serious, but I think we’ll be OK. The main objective was to come out of here healthy, but this is a special night.”