After finishing 2-9 a year ago, the Simon Kenton Pioneers have battled back to go 9-3 in 2012 and will be playing a Class 6A Regional title next week after knocking off the Campbell County Camels 29-21.
It will be the second time in three years that the Pioneers will be playing for a regional championship. It has been quite a turnaround for head coach Jeff Marksberry and his team.
"The difference was made during the offseason," Marksberry said. "Our kids worked so hard in the offseason to improve. They were they were athletic enough to compete in our district."
They did much more than compete on Friday night. Simon Kenton (9-3) mustered just 18 rushing yards on 16 carries in their regular-season loss to the Camels, but eclipsed that mark within their first three plays Friday night.
Junior quarterback Brenan Kuntz ran right up the middle through a gaping hole on the third play of the night for 54 yards and a touchdown as just like that the Pioneers were up 7-0.
Playing in what turned out to be the last game at Bob Miller Stadium, Campbell County (7-5) didn't let their home crowd down for too long as the Camels answered with a scoring drive of their own on the ensuing possession capped off by a 2-yard TD run by quarterback Tyler Durham.
From there the defenses would start to take over. After a pair of three-and-outs, Simon Kenton got the ball back and was pinned at their own 2-yard line. In perhaps what was the key drive of the game, Kuntz would lead the Pioneers 98 yards on a seven-plus minute, 15-play scoring drive that ended with his second rushing touchdown of the half and gave SK a 14-7 lead.
That is how things would stand until the final play of the half when with just 0.7 seconds left on the clock as junior Avery Wood connected with classmate Kyle Hoskins on a 4-yard TD pass as the first half came to an end with the game knotted at 14-14.
Durham would score another 2-yard rushing touchdown on the Camels' opening drive after the half and take their first lead of the game 21-14 with 7:47 left in the third quarter. However, it would be the team's final points of the night as the Pioneers' defense would take over.
They would hold Durham in check for most of the second half. The senior accounted for 259 of the Camels' 284 total yards (171 passing), but was limited 88 yards on 24 carries and two touchdowns. That was a far cry from the 222 yards and four touchdowns rushing versus SK in the regular season.
"He had such a huge night against thus the first time we played them and we didn't want that to happen to again," Marksberry claimed.
Jared Swanson's huge return on the ensuing kickoff put the Pioneers' in great position and Kuntz and the offense took advantage and moments later Grant Wassom pulled in a 15-yard TD catch and once again the game was tied.
The final score of the night would come on Simon Kenton's next possession as Jared Bowling would punch in a run from three yards out. A fake on the point-after attempt was successful as Jared Swanson, who was operating as the holder, tucked it in and ran on a sweep to the right side to make it 29-21.
Kuntz enjoyed a big night, leading the Pioneers by completing 12-of-13 passes for 106 yards and a touchdown and rushing for 64 yards on 15 carries and one more score. Running back Andrew Sampson turned in his second straight 100-yard playoff performance, finishing with 121 yards on 17 carries. Wassom led all receivers with 55 yards and a score in the win.
Up next, Simon Kenton will head to Scott County (11-1) with a spot in the state semi-finals on the line next Friday night. The Blue Devils have knocked off their two playoff opponents, Ryle and Henry Clay, by a combined score of 112-17.