ASHLAND, Ky. – Two of Ashland’s greatest running back duos met in Putnam Stadium on Tuesday night and, as could have been predicted, it was a shootout.
But, in the end, it came down to one defensive play.
Safety David Hicks of the 1987 Tomcats pulled down 1997 Tomcat great Jason Nichols just shy of the goal-line on a 2-point conversion attempt that would have tied the game with 3:39 remaining in the TOMCAT TALES simulated battle.
With the 1997 Tomcats trailing 38-36 after Nichols scored his fourth touchdown of the game, coach Vic Marsh called on his star running back one more time to try and tie it up.
Nichols took the handoff on a counter, saw the hole was plugged, and bounced it outside. Hicks stretched out the play and dove for Nichols’ ankles at about the 5 and held on tight. Nichols pulled him to the 1 before being going down.
The 87 Tomcats then turned to bulldozing Mike Johnson to run out the clock with some chunky running to preserve the 38-36 victory. He gained 230 yards on 22 carries with two touchdowns. Ryan Blake, his speedy running mate, had 114 yards on 19 carries.
Nichols (172 yards on 27 attempts) and Jack Smith (123 yards on 18 carries) combined for 295 yards rushing.
“These were my kind of teams,” Marsh said. “They showed why again tonight. Running backs like these four guys didn’t come along often but when you had them, it sure was fun. The fans had to love watching big Mike run again and nobody in Tomcat history probably ran any harder than Jason Nichols. Probably nobody makes that defensive play that David Hicks made either. What a huge stop.”
Nichols had eight runs of more than 10 yards and ran for first downs on 14 occasions. Johnson ran for 15 yards and had 11 runs of double figures with a long of 27.
The game itself was a shootout of high-powered running attacks. The 87 Tomcats broke ahead 14-0 on a pair of touchdown runs from Johnson but it wasn’t long until Nichols and Smith put the 97 Tomcats on the scoreboard.
The game was tied at 14 early in the second quarter and the 87 Tomcats held a 24-20 halftime lead. The second half was a little better for the defenses.
Nichols scored on a 9-yard run five minutes into the third quarter, capping a four-play 49-yard drive, to put the 97 Tomcats in front for the first time at 27-24.
On the first play after the ensuing kickoff, the 87 Tomcats fumbled, setting up a 31-yard field goal from Kevin Hammonds as the lead stretched to 30-24.
The 87 Tomcats turned back to Johnson and Blake, who carried four times apiece on a 57-yard drive that culminated with Art Boyd plunging into the end zone on a 1-yard run. Stewart’s extra point made it 31-30 and the 87 Tomcats never trailed again.
Blake snared a 20-yard touchdown pass from Hicks to make it 38-30 until Nichols scored his last touchdown.
Hicks said he was fortunate to bring down Nichols on the crucial 2-point conversion.
“If you watched the game, Jason hardly ever went down without two or three of us hitting him,” he said. “I reached for his ankles and wouldn’t let go. My fingers were getting stomped on but I finally was able to trip him up. That was probably the best tackle of my life.”
Marsh, who was the head coach of both teams, called plays for teams from the press box.
“Well, I gotta tell ya, that was fun,” he said. “I don’t think our defensive coaches would agree with that statement though.”
There was plenty of defense played. Joe Avila racked up 13 tackles and Stewart 11 for the 1987 Tomcats. Eric Broomall (16), Scott Wilson (14) and Dustin Stakely (10) led the 1997 Tomcats.
Ashland’s 1987 team finished 8-5 behind the rushing of Johnson (1,480 yards) and Blake (1,398 yards). They combined for 24 TDs.
Ashland’s 1997 team finished 6-5 with Nichols having a season to remember after Smith went down with an injury early in the season. Nichols had 2,103 yards and 24 touchdowns.
1987 ASHLAND 14 10 7 7 – 38
1997 ASHLAND 7 13 10 6 – 36
1987 – Mike Johnson 3 run (Barry Stewart kick)
1987 – Johnson 15 run (Stewart kick)
1997 – Jack Smith 8 run (Kevin Hammonds kick)
1997 – Jason Nichols 19 run (Hammonds kick)
1987 –Stewart 28 FG
1997 – Nichols 19 run (kick failed)
1987 – Bill Keaton 13 run (Stewart kick)
1997 – Nichols 9 run (Hammonds kick)
1997 – Hammonds 31 FG
1987 – Art Boyd 1 run (Stewart kick)
1987 – Ryan Blake 20 pass from David Hicks (Stewart kick)
1997 – Nichols 8 run (run failed)
1987 RUSHING: Johnson 22-230, Blake 19-114, Hicks 13-54, Salyer 4-29, Keating 90-2, Keaton 2-16.
1997 RUSHING: Nichols 27-172, Smith 18-123, Boyd 16-52, Stakely 8-27, Messer 1-8.
1987 PASSING: Hicks 5 of 7 for 56 yards.
1997 PASSING: Messer 3 of 3 for 48 yards.
1987 RECEIVING: Blake 3-43, Hyre 1-5, Hall 1-8.
1997 RECEIVING: Broughton 1-13, Wilson 1-15, Frazier 1-20.