Jason Morris jokingly said he was trying to hold back tears, but he was only partly kidding. The Owensboro Catholic head coach was nearly at a loss for words after his Aces stunned Owensboro for a 45-32 victory Friday night at Steele Stadium.
All Morris could think about was how proud he was of the team.
“I haven’t been more proud in my 16 years of coaching,” he said. “It’s as proud as I’ve ever been of a team. This is a gauntlet of a schedule for us, and our kids have not one time gotten down (mentally). They’re a resilient bunch. It’s just a special group of kids that I’m super proud of.”
OCHS (1-2) came out executing from the opening kick. They had to overcome a few turnovers and back-to-back second-half scores by the Red Devils (2-1), but the Aces had all the right answers throughout the night.
In a game that had been all about OCHS staying out front, the score changed in a hurry early in the second half. Holding a slim 21-19 lead with 7 minutes to go in the third quarter, the Aces’ Drew Hartz was picked off by Ethan Avery, whose pick-6 was called back due to a penalty.
It turned out not to matter, though, as OHS quarterback Will Warren tossed a 35-yard touchdown to Ben Flaherty on the next play. The Aces lost a fumble on the first play of the ensuing drive, and it again took a single play to score. Running back Monte Owsley took a reverse handoff 37 yards for a score and a 32-21 lead for Owensboro.
The Aces defense didn’t give up any more points, while the offense went on to score four more times.
“We got down, and we talked about how we were going to fight through this together,” Morris said. “That’s exactly what we did, and I’m so proud of my guys.”
The first half was mostly an even match but slightly favored OCHS, who took a few big risks that paid off.
On the first drive of the game, the Aces’ Ya Ya Gray broke loose for a 51-yard run before he was caught, though he fumbled it away to Owensboro. The OCHS defense stepped up to force a 3-and-out, setting up a scoring drive.
Using a mix of ground attack from Von Williams and some pass-and-catch from Hartz to Nick Mills, the Aces marched down the field. Williams found the endzone for the first time midway through the quarter to gain the early lead.
Owensboro head coach Jay Fallin said he expected the Aces to come out swinging, and he knew that they had a talented roster.
“We spent the week trying to convey to our team that (OCHS) was a very good team despite their record,” he said. “The teams that they’ve lost to are very good football teams. We tried to communicate to our guys that (OCHS) had an advantage that we didn’t have, and that was that their backs were against the wall and they had to come out playing like it.”
It took less than 2 minutes for Owensboro to answer with an 80-yard drive, with all but 18 yards coming from the dynamic Owsley. He got his first touchdown with a 5-yard run to tie the game.
Neither team scored again until the Aces used a big gain from Mills to set up another short rushing touchdown by Williams. The Red Devils again had an immediate answer, taking only five plays to go 60 yards. Owsley broke off gains of 21 and 14 yards before Tre Green was able to cash in on a 3-yard score, but OHS missed the extra point.
With 7 minutes to play before halftime, the Aces faked a punt from their own 42, converting the first down and driving all the way to the 1-yard line. A 21-yard field goal attempt was missed, so the halftime score was 14-13 in favor of Owensboro Catholic.
The teams traded scores to begin the third quarter. Green took a pitch 28 yards for a touchdown on 4th-and-3 for the first Owensboro lead of the night. OCHS receiver Jace Kessler then began his strong second-half performance with a catch that he converted into a 43-yard score.
After giving up the pair of quick scores to Owensboro, Hartz led back-to-back scoring drives to retake the lead at 33-32 early in the fourth quarter. Jayden Hall then got the first OCHS interception of the night to set up another touchdown, this one by the Aces’ Harold Hogg.
On 4th-and-10 with about 2 minutes to play, Warren threw his second interception, and it was Kessler who came down with the ball. Williams added a final touchdown for good measure on a 40-yard rush up the sideline, putting the game totally out of reach.
Fallin said Owensboro simply wasn’t ready for the punches that were thrown their way.
“We got it in our heads that there was just no way we could lose this game,” he said. “I’m not going to say we had a bad week of practice. We didn’t. The guys worked hard to try to have a good week of practice. Ultimately, we didn’t make the plays we had to make. We couldn’t get stops all night.”
While Fallin was sure to give credit to the opposing coach, Morris was quick to pass on the praise to others.
“This has absolutely nothing to do with me,” he said. “I’ve got the greatest coaching staff in the world. They have worked their behinds off to make sure that we’ve stayed on course and just worried about ourselves.”
The Aces have another home game next week, when they host South Spencer (Rockport, Ind.) at 7 p.m. Friday. Owensboro will also be on their home turf for a 7 p.m. Friday meeting with Bowling Green.