PENDLETON — After last week’s heartbreaking overtime loss against rival Mt. Vernon, the Greenfield-Central Cougars were in need of a spark Friday night.
Junior kick returner Bryce Ratliff was more than willing to ignite the offense with two electrifying first-half kickoff return touchdowns.
But host Pendleton Heights put out the fire in the second half, scoring on four consecutive possessions to erase a 10-point deficit and rally back for a 31-24 win.
“Up front, they came out and gave it to us at the line of scrimmage,” Greenfield-Central head coach Roger Dodson said. “We didn’t really stop them. They brought the game to us, and we didn’t respond.”
The Cougars’ initial response came from Ratliff, who opened the game with an 89-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
Lightning struck again for Ratliff as the play-maker sprinted to a highlight-reel bookend with a 96-yard kickoff return touchdown to end the first half.
Ratliff’s first run back required two quick moves to the outside before he found a groove up the left side of the field, breaking two near tackles.
The second developed initially behind a wall of blockers and was enforced at the end with a stiff-arm to shed two would-be tacklers.
A 30-yard field goal by Trenton Pierce gave Greenfield-Central a 17-7 lead at halftime, but the offense fell silent until the game’s final three minutes.
The primary culprit was penalties. Whistled for 10 overall for 55 yards, including two crucial early in the first quarter that led to a drive-killing blocked field goal, the Cougars moved the ball but couldn’t find the end zone.
Jeremiah Fields passed for 131 yards on nine of 14 completions and rushed for 41 yards on 11 carries to lead the offense.
Ratliff racked up 191 yards in the return game, but it was Pendleton Heights that took control in the second half.
In only his second game back from a suspension, quarterback Jarrod Hubble passed for 179 yards and touchdown while rushing for another.
Logan Drye netted 62 yards on the ground, and Ashton Wilson added 63 and a touchdown as the Arabians amassed 192 yards rushing.
The running game wore down the Cougars’ defense in the final 24 minutes and ate up the clock systematically. The Cougars wouldn’t recover until a seven- play drive late in the fourth quarter as Fields connected with Lee Dullaghan on a 13-yard slant.
Pendleton Heights had 27 first downs compared to Greenfield-Central’s 11. Overall, the Cougars were limited to 220 yards of total offense (143 in the first half). The Arabians erupted for 371 after only mustering 112 in the first half.
The loss dropped Greenfield-Central (2-2) to .500 on the season and 0-2 in the Hoosier Heritage Conference standings.
“We’re going to find out what we’re made of this week,” Dodson remarked. “We need to clean things up.”
The Cougars won the HHC-rivalry game against Pendleton Heights, 34-21, during the regular season last season.
They later lost to Pendleton Heights 21-20 in the sectional after holding a 14-0 lead at one point.
In that game, their lead remained at seven points until the second half, when things began to unravel.