Blue Devils Survive Scare, Defeat Hendersonville 22-21


Last updated 11/18/2019 at 4:23pm

Keishon Couch streaks past the coverage team on his way to a 65-yard punt return TD in the second quarter. Couch also had one interception on the night. (Times photos by Jeremiah Reed)

Welcome to playoff football.

On a night that featured a little bit of everything, the Brevard Blue Devils and the Hendersonville Bearcats went back in forth in a first-round playoff contest that included four lead changes in the second half.

In the end, Brevard used some explosive plays on offense and leaned on their defense for a late stand to come away with a 22-21 win.

The Blue Devils led 13-0 in the third quarter before two quick scores gave Hendersonville a 14-13 lead. For the rest of the night, the two sides traded blows, with a field goal from Parker Grant ultimately giving Brevard the win.

Blue Devil head coach Craig Pritchett knew Friday's game would be close, and while the Bearcats left everything they had on the field, Brevard did just enough when they had to in order to survive and advance.

"I'm never going to count our guys out," said Pritchett after the win. "Hendersonville came out and put 14 on us quick in the second half, but our guys showed their grit and showed that they can win ugly. This is playoff football. It doesn't matter how much you win by; if you win, you get to play again next week."

There weren't many fireworks in the opening quarter. Brevard's offense produced two three-and-outs, while a nearly seven-minute drive from Hendersonville amounted to nothing after a missed field goal.

The Blue Devils went three-and-out again on their first drive of the second quarter, but flipped the switch on their fourth possession.

Starting at Brevard's 35-yard line, quarterback Baxter Swicegood picked up 27 yards on a first-down carry to get the ball into Bearcat territory. On the very next play, Isaiah Rathbone took a handoff and found a huge lane, racing 48 yards for the game's opening score.

The PAT was off the mark, leaving the score 6-0 with 8:19 left in the first half.

After the defense forced another Bearcat punt, Brevard doubled their advantage as Keishon Couch took the ball off the bounce and sprinted past the coverage team 65 yards to make it 12-0.

Parker Grant hit the PAT to make it 13-0 with 5:21 to go in the half.

Couch came up with another big play, intercepting a pass in the end zone in the closing seconds of the quarter to secure Brevard's 13-0 lead at the half.

Hendersonville got the opening kickoff to start the third quarter, but quickly went three-and-out.

However, the Blue Devils had an unforced error, mishandling the punt return and giving the Bearcats possession at Brevard's 38.

Hendersonville promptly made them pay, moving the ball inside the five before scoring on an option toss.

The PAT was good, leaving the score 13-7 with 8:07 left in the third quarter.

After a three-and-out from Brevard, the Bearcats struck again, blocking a punt and recovering the ball in the end zone for a touchdown.

The PAT was true and, just like that, Hendersonville went from trailing by two scores to leading by a point in less than two minutes.

The Blue Devil offense couldn't respond on the ensuing drive, and it looked like the Bearcats were on the move once again.

But just when they needed it, the defense turned the tide, as Graham Phillips snagged an interception off a deflected pass, setting Brevard up at the Bearcats' 39 with 1:15 left in the third quarter.

As the game entered the fourth quarter, the Blue Devils faced third-and-12 from the 41 when Swicegood found John Pickford completely uncovered down the seam, and connected for the go-ahead TD.

Brevard failed on the two-point conversion, leaving the score 19-14 with 11:52 left to play.

Hendersonville answered immediately, picking up big chunks of yards on their next drive through the air.

Quarterback Woodson Hunter connected with Dorian Allen for a pair of big receptions covering 55 yards that set up a short TD run on third-and-goal moments later.

The Bearcats nailed the PAT, making it 21-19 with 9:09 left in the game.

Just like a heavyweight prize fight, Brevard responded with a haymaker.

On second-and-short from just inside the Blue Devils' 30, Rathbone broke free again and picked up 62 yards, moving the ball all the way to Hendersonville's 5-yard line.

Brevard tried to pound it in on the ground, but to no avail, leaving Grant to knock down a 21-yard field goal that gave the Blue Devils a 22-21 lead with 6:56 left to play.

The Bearcats kept going to the air, but their next drive stalled out behind two costly penalties. After a punt, Brevard started at their own 15 with 3:52 to play.

A false start and a short carry set up second-and-14 before Rathbone came up with his third huge run of the night, rumbling 47 yards to get the ball to Hendersonville's 42.

But the Bearcat defense stood tall again, forcing Brevard into fourth-and-four at the 35. Pritchett kept the offense on the field, but Swicegood couldn't convert on the option rush, giving Hendersonville one last chance with 1:45 to play and no timeouts.

The Bearcats managed to move the chains near midfield before spiking the ball with just over one minute left.

Two straight incompletions brought the season to its boiling point. Hunter tried to bide time and find a receiver downfield, but his final pass, which wouldn't have counted due to a holding penalty, was off the mark.

The game didn't have the look of a shootout in the first half, but both offenses came alive down the stretch, combining for 30 points over the final 20 minutes.

Brevard didn't put together many long drives, but made the most of the big plays, scoring two offensive TDs of more than 40 yards and gashing the Bearcats' defense for big gains in several key spots.

Pritchett said his coaches knew Hendersonville was trying to play fast and found some spots that provided the perfect opportunity to counter.

"Hendersonville was so aggressive on defense that they gambled a few times and our coaches made some adjustments and found those holes," he said.

Rathbone had a monster night with over 150 yards rushing – including three carries that went for 152 yards and one score.

Defensively, Brevard did its best to shut down the Bearcats' aerial attack.

Garrett Swicegood flew around the field all night, coming up with several tackles in the backfield.

"Garrett's had a motor all year," Pritchett said. "But it's definitely a group effort. The defensive line had a great night tonight."

Pritchett's decision to go for it on the late fourth down showed a lot of confidence in his team on both sides – counting on the offense to pick up four yards and put the game away or relying on the defense to protect a one-point lead, should they fail.

Ultimately, the defense held up their end of the bargain when they had to.

"I trust our boys. I thought we had a chance to end the game right there, and if not, our defense has played great all year and we know we can trust them to come up with the big plays," Pritchett said.

With the win, Brevard (10-2) advances to the second round, where they will host Chase on Friday.

The Trojans (10-2) are in the middle of the their best season in nearly a decade, and defeated Draughn 41-34 in their first-round contest.

Garrett Swicegood was a menace for Brevard's defense, swarming the ball and coming up with tackles all night.


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