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Chargers’ season ends in 1B quarterfinals

Central High School’s varsity football team produced some outstanding plays Friday night, Nov. 15, and even seemed destined to win at multiple points, but visiting Franklin High School was able to score a go-ahead touchdown with 1:27 left to win 24-19 in the Region 1B Tournament quarterfinals.

“We just got outplayed, out-coached,” Chargers Head Coach Will Thomas said. “… Kind of like the rest the season that we’ve had, when we’ve had a chance, (defensively,) third down has been our bane — we can’t get off the field. We make good plays, and we get them in third-and-long. We could go back to the last couple years. It’s a bad down for us. And then we didn’t play very well offensively.”

He did mention some highlights, however, noting the effort his seniors put forth, including senior T’zion Wilkerson, who played well on both sides of the ball.

Senior Darien Jones scored on a long run to help give the No. 4-seeded Chargers an early 7-0 lead.

The No. 5 Broncos responded quickly, using two long runs to lead to a 7-7 tie less than three minutes into the game.

Franklin went up 10-7 on a field goal near the start of the second quarter, and Central’s offense could not respond. But then the Chargers defense showed it could halt the Broncos’ momentum, forcing them to punt.

On the ensuing drive, Central sophomore Hunter Lacks connected with sophomore Nyjae Carter on a long touchdown pass with one minute, 20 seconds to go in the half.

“We’d run it a little bit this week, and I probably should have used it earlier,” Thomas said of the pass play. “(Hunter) made a great pass, and (Nyjae) made a really great catch.”

The kick for the extra point failed, but the Chargers went into halftime with a 13-10 lead.

The Broncos received the ball to start the second half, and Central’s defense was able to bottle them up again, creating a 4th-and-4 situation. Franklin went for it, and Chargers senior Kawonté Ragsdale recorded a crucial tackle to create a turnover on downs.

On offense, Central found itself in a 4th-and-4 situation of its own, but the offensive line created a hole for Lacks, who drove ahead for the first down. The drive was capped by a two-yard touchdown run from senior Daequan “Lee Man Lee” Lee, who was still recovering from an injury but played through the pain most of the night.

The Chargers’ two-point conversion throw failed, but they had taken a 19-10 lead with 11:56 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Franklin was not finding much success initially during its next drive, but then a big pass play turned things around, leading to a short touchdown run and a two-point conversion run that suddenly made the score 19-18 with 9:31 still left on the clock.

Central fumbled on its ensuing possession and turned the ball over. The Broncos were a second away from crossing the goal line with the ball to take the lead when the Chargers defense punched the ball loose and recovered it in the end zone, prompting an abrupt turnaround that gave Central the ball.

“It was unbelievable,” Thomas said. “That was a gift. … The offense didn’t capitalize. Right there, we could have put it away.”

Instead, Franklin received another chance to take the lead with a drive starting at the 5:48 mark. The Broncos twice survived fourth down on this drive, once because the defense committed a 5-yard encroachment penalty on a 4th-and-4 play.

“It’s unfortunately a theme of the season — we don’t play disciplined,” Thomas said. “We’re jumping offsides, missing tackles. I could go on and on and on, and that’s on me, man. We’ve got to find a way to do better. We’re just not getting it done. But the boys played hard. It wasn’t on them. We’ve just got to do a better job taking care of things.”

Central’s defense weathered the fourth-down setbacks to create a 3rd-and-14 situation with 1:38 to go after Jones and junior Mark Strigel II made a tackle in the backfield on first down and Franklin threw an incompletion on second down.

But the Broncos were able to complete a big pass up the middle on the next play for a touchdown to take a 24-19 lead with 1:27 on the clock.

Central tried to move the ball down the field through the air on its ensuing drive, but the Broncos were able to grab an interception to help seal their win.

The Chargers finished the season with an overall record of 5-6.

“It was a good group of kids,” Thomas said, reflecting on the 2019 squad. “They fought (hard), and we just couldn’t get it together. We tried. We did some things that we don’t usually do, and we had some sophomores that really helped us out. One of them we pulled up, played offensive line, did a great job all year.”

He noted this was Jacob Currin.

“We only had one returning starter from last year on the offensive line, so I knew that was going to take a while,” Thomas said. “We did well some games, but we never could get over the hump. … And a lot of that is … I’m used to having that front five all year.”

Injuries and discipline issues played a role in some changes to Central’s lineup during the year.

Thinking of the future, Thomas said, “We’ll get better. As a program, we’re going to do some things. We’ve got to change some things. We’ve got to throw the ball more.”