Boone County High School hosted one of its biggest football games of the past decade Friday night, welcoming in rival Conner for the Class 5A, District 5 opener for both teams.
The atmosphere was worthy of the occasion on Homecoming night, with a nearly full bleacher section on the Rebels side.
The visiting Cougars went back to Hebron with a 34-7 win at Owen Hauck Stadium to improve to 4-2. Boone County dropped to 3-3, which is already its most wins since 2011.
Both head coaches – Conner’s David Trosper and Boone’s Bryson Warner – were standout players for Hauck, Boone County’s former head coach who died in 2016.
Warner, the former longtime Ryle head coach, is in his third season at his alma mater. Coming into this season, the Rebels had gone 10-86 in their previous nine campaigns.
“They’re an improved football team,” Trosper said. “Bryson has done a great job turning them around and getting them to where they can be competitive. They have a couple of bumps in the road to get over and they will.”
The game was the lid-lifter for what is one of the deepest and most competitive distircts in Kentucky in any class. In addition to these combatants, the district has all-time historic heavyweights Covington Catholic and Highlands, and an improved Cooper squad that lost to CovCath in four overtimes Friday night.
“Top to bottom, no doubt,” Trosper said. “There are only four that make it (to the playoffs). If you lose that first one, you’re battling to get through it. You got to get that first one. If you don’t, you’re fighting an uphill battle. We just got to keep that momentum and keep moving.”
Hauck’s teams at Boone County were known for having outstanding running backs, most notably Shaun Alexander, the record-setting back who had outstanding careers at Alabama and with the Seattle Seahawks.
Friday's battle at Owen Hauck Stadium was a clash of two talented running backs.
Boone County junior Jeremiah Williams struck first blood as the Rebels scored off the opening kickoff. Boone drove 80 yards, most of it with Williams’ feet. He had a 24-yard run to the Conner 22, then scored from 17 yards out with 8:28 to play in the first quarter for Boone’s only touchdown.
Conner went three-and-out on its first two drives, then got untracked in the second quarter.
Thompson had four rushes of 13 or more yards in Conner’s first scoring drive, totaling 63 yards. He finished the drive from two yards out, and the score was 7-7 with 8:29 to go in the half.
“I knew we had to score, just to build the momentum for our team, get us back in the game,” Thompson said. “We didn’t want to let down, we just tried to stay up.”
On Conner’s next drive, senior quarterback Alex Castrucci completed a 13-yard pass to Terry Phillips, then had a 23-yard run into Boone territory before completing a TD pass to senior Cody Crawford.
On Conner’s last drive of the half, Castrucci completed a 25-yard pass to Cody Crawford to the Rebels 5, but the Rebels blocked a Nick Keller field goal at the halftime buzzer, and Conner led 13-7.
The Cougars came out for the third quarter determined to build on their lead.
On Conner’s first drive, Thompson had a 40-yard run after using nifty footwork to evade several tacklers near the line of scrimmage, then sprinting deep into Boone territory. Castrucci ran for a touchdown and Keller’s PAT made it 20-7.
On Conner’s next drive, Castrucci faked a handoff to Thompson. Most of the Rebel defenders swarmed to Thompson while Castrucci took off untouched for a 44-yard TD.
“It’s actually designed for our running back and I decided to be an athlete and keep it,” Castrucci said. “You love to see an open field like that. That’s why I like Alijah back there. He’s such a threat in the backfield. When you start giving him the ball, he gets five, six yards a carry. They start keying on him, and that opens up opportunities for other guys in the offense.”
Behind Thompson and Castrucci, the Cougars rushed for 302 yards in the game. Castrucci had 121, and Thompson had 181 to put him over 600 for the season.
“(Thompson) brings everything,” Trosper said. “Guts, courage, he’s not afraid. He’ll do anything you ask him to do. When you have a two-headed monster (with Castrucci) like that, that makes it better.”
Thompson also had a 41-yard fumble return on defense.
Said Thompson. “I had to be there for the team. The team depends on me to run like that and I do it for my boys.”
The Cougars also clamped down on defense. After allowing Boone 119 yards in the first quarter, the Cougars gave up 52 the rest of the game.
Carter Lindemann led the team with nine tackles and the Cougars had three sacks.
Conner will have its hands full in District 5. Conner will play at Highlands next week while Boone plays at CovCath.
“Our district is one of the best in the state,” Castrucci said. “Boone has improved a lot. I really think we can make a run if we keep working.”
CONNER 0 13 14 7-34
BOONE COUNTY 7 0 0 0-7
B – Williams 17 run (kick good)
C – Thompson 2 run (Keller kick)
C – Crawford 18 pass from Castrucci (kick blocked)
C – Castrucci 4 run (Keller kick)
C – Castrucci 44 run (Keller kick)
C – Thompson 25 run (Keller kick)
Records: C 4-2, 1-0 5A D5; BC 3-3, 0-1.