‘We out-physicaled them.’ Cooper avenges playoff loss to Scott County to advance in 5A.

The visiting Cooper Jaguars came up with a big fumble recovery on Scott County’s opening drive of Friday night’s tension-filled KHSAA Class 5A football playoff game.

And immediately, the tone was set exactly the way Cooper wanted — a complete shift from the 2022 postseason when Scott County ended Cooper’s season with a 56-20 victory in the first round of the playoffs.

Besides that fumble recovery being a confidence builder for the rest of the game — during which Cooper would also register two interceptions via Isaac Brown and Ryker Campbell and a pair of pass breakups and one sack compliments of junior tight end/linebacker Austin Alexander — the presence established on that first defensive stop reflected just how far this Cooper team has come in its quest for contending for a state title.

“We feel like we out-physicaled them,” head coach Ryan Borchers said. “And you can’t say that much when you play a Scott County football team, so I’m really proud of our guys for that.”

The result was a 49-21 second-round playoff victory for ninth-ranked Cooper (10-2) over third-rated Scott County (9-3).

While the Cardinals’ season comes to an end, Cooper continues on to face No. 6 Southwestern (9-3) — on the road again — in next week’s Class 5A quarterfinals.

Scott County had difficulty creating any momentum Friday night, struggling to convert when it mattered and maintain its confidence and composure when adversity struck. The Cardinals finished with 12 penalties called against them, and had a player ejected in the fourth quarter. There was also a scrum in the handshake line after the game.

Cooper had an answer for everything and stayed focused, which made Borchers very proud.

On Sept. 22, Cooper gave up more than 500 rushing yards in its 58-51 loss to Highlands. It was both the Jaguars’ second loss of the season and a wake-up call. On Friday, Cooper’s defense held the Cardinals to 164 rushing yards. And, in all-purpose yards, the Jaguars outgained Scott County 377-272.

Directly following the early fumble recovery, Cooper found the end zone on its first three possessions of the first half. And its defense forced Scott County to punt twice, pulled in its first interception of the game and caused a turnover on downs, leaving the Jaguars with a 21-7 lead at the half.

The Cooper defense came up with a fumble recovery, two interceptions and a sack in Friday’s 49-21 victory over Scott County.
The Cooper defense came up with a fumble recovery, two interceptions and a sack in Friday’s 49-21 victory over Scott County.

When Alexander, who accounted for three touchdowns on 148 receiving yards, was asked what worked, he said, “Really, everything.”

“We wanted to be physical and disciplined on defense,” he added. “And we did that. Of course, we had a few blunders, giving up a few big runs, some scores we didn’t want to give up. But then, offensively, just being able to pass it and run it.”

Sophomore running back Keagan Maher finished with 156 rushing yards, leading the Jaguars and more than doubling the net yardage of any Scott County player. He also hauled in three scores, including the first and final touchdowns of the game.

Cooper quarterback Cam O’Hara said that, though Cooper is known for its passing offense, weapons like Alexander and Maher open up the option for multiple plans of attack.

“We established the run early and developed the pass,” O’Hara said. “I’m sure they probably thought we were gonna pass the ball a lot because that’s what we do. But the run was working, so we just stuck with that.”

O’Hara finished with 211 yards and three touchdowns on 12 of 17 pass attempts — including a 70-yard TD pass to Alexander early in the third quarter. He also rushed for his own score mid-second quarter, answering Scott County’s first score of the game (an Andrew Hickey QB keeper) at the end of the first.

Only a sophomore, O’Hara was first asked to take the starting job last season. He said he’s worked to build trust with his teammates so he can lead the team to success. Borchers said O’Hara has also grown on the field, becoming poised in the pocket and picking up his running game.

“Until probably week two or week three,” Borchers said. “He really didn’t run the ball that much. And now he’s kind of picking and choosing when he decides to pull it. But it’s usually in big situations, and he’s making big plays for us.”

Scott County’s Hickey finished with 108 passing yards and one touchdown. He also rushed for another. Senior fullback Jacob Fryman and senior running back Ellis Huguely also scored for the Cardinals.

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