HOWARD — Bryce Downs had a first half for the ages, but East Knox’s Peyton Lester and Shane Knepp were able to make the final play.
Lester’s 35-yard touchdown pass to Knepp with 38 seconds left lifted No. 4 East Knox to a stunning 35-28 victory over No. 5 Trimble on Saturday in a Division VII, Region 27 quarterfinal game.
The Tomcats were trying to advance to the regional semifinal round for the 10th season in a row, but saw their season end with an 8-3 record.
Trimble led 28-27 in the closing minutes of the game when East Knox (10-2) got a defensive stop to get the ball back.
The Tomcats nearly ended the game when Tabor Lackey hit Lester for a sack, forcing a fumble.
A Bulldogs’ lineman was able to jump on the fumble though, giving Lester another chance on a third-and-long play.
Lester looked for his favorite target in Knepp. He lofted a deep ball toward the end zone.
A pair of Tomcats were there, but Knepp was able to come down with the football in the end zone.
East Knox had its first lead of the game at 33-28, then recorded the 2-point conversion for the seven-point lead.
It was a difficult defeat for the Tomcats, who had leads of 14-0, 21-7 and 28-14 in the first half.
Downs, Trimble’s senior tailback, had a first half to remember. He put Trimble ahead 7-0 with a 67-yard touchdown run, weaving around defenders before racing to the end zone.
The lead went to 14-0 with 58 seconds left in the first quarter on Downs’ 26-yard touchdown run.
East Knox made enough plays in the passing game to mount the comeback. Lester’s first touchdown pass was a 27-yard strike to Dillon Moreland with 9:15 left in the first half, cutting Trimble’s lead to 14-7.
Downs had another answer, his 64-yard touchdown run pushing Trimble to a 21-7 lead with 9:05 left in the second quarter.
Knepp’s first touchdown reception from Lester was from 25 yards out, allowing East Knox to trail 21-14 with 7:37 left in the second quarter.
The shootout continued. Downs’ fourth touchdown of the first half came from 58 yards out, giving Trimble a 28-14 lead with 6:20 left in the first half.
Blake Guffey was successful on all four of his extra point kicks.
Downs rushed for 277 yards on 23 carries with four touchdowns. He averaged 12.0 yards per carry. He gained 215 of his yards on his four touchdowns runs, averaging 53.8 yards per score.
However, the Bulldogs were able to shut the Tomcats out during the second half, giving their offense a chance at the comeback.
Lester’s 29-yard touchdown pass to Knepp with 3:14 left in the second quarter allowed the Bulldogs to trail just 28-21 at halftime.
Lester connected with Knepp for 26 yards to cut Trimble’s lead to 28-27 with 4:32 left in the third quarter. The extra point was blocked, keeping the Tomcats ahead by a point in the final seconds.
Lester completed 24 of 36 passes for 353 yards and five touchdowns, throwing one interception.
Knepp caught nine passes for 184 yards for four touchdowns, with Moreland catching four passes for 64 yards and a touchdown.
East Knox finished with 472 yards of total offense, with Trimble gaining 366 yards.
Lackey added 78 yards on 15 carries for Trimble. He also completed 3 of 9 passes for 11 yards. Austin Wisor caught two passes for 11 yards for the Tomcats.
Wisor also had an interception on defense for the Tomcats.
Cole Delaughder led the Bulldogs in rushing with 60 yards on 13 carries.
East Knox will face No. 1 Newark Catholic at Marengo Highland Covrette Stadium on Saturday at 7 p.m. in a regional semifinal.
It’s the end of the season for the Tomcats. Trimble’s senior class was part of an overall record of 40-7 the last four years, including an appearance in the Division VII state championship game their freshman seasons.
The Tomcats won four Tri-Valley Conference Hocking Division titles and eight playoff games over the last four seasons.
Downs finished the season with 1,307 yards on 121 carries and 19 touchdowns. Lackey added 1,017 yards rushing on 130 attempts with 16 touchdowns.
Lackey also completed 75 of 148 pass attempts with 1,360 yards, 14 touchdowns and just four interceptions.
East Knox 35, Trimble 28
Trimble 14 14 0 0 — 28
East Knox 0 21 6 8 — 35
T — Bryce Downs, 67-yard run (Blake Guffey kick), 8:49, 1st
T — Bryce Downs, 26-yard run (Blake Guffey kick), :58, 1st
EK — Dillon Moreland, 27-yard pass from Peyton Lester (Peyton Lester kick), 9:15, 2nd
T — Bryce Downs, 64-yard run (Blake Guffey kick), 9:05, 2nd
EK — Shane Knepp, 25-yard pass from Peyton Lester, (Will Jensen kick) 7:37, 2nd
T — Bryce Downs, 58-yard run (Blake Guffey kick), 6:20, 2nd
EK — Shanke Knepp, 29-yard pass from Peyton Lester (Will Jensen kick), 3:14, 2nd
EK — Shane Knepp, 26-yard pass from Peyton Lester (kick blocked), 4:32, 3rd
EK — Shane Knepp, 35-yard pass from Peyton Lester (Carson Steinmetz pass from Peyton Lester), :38, 4th
First downs 13 26
Plays from scrimmage 47 61
Rushing (plys-yds) 38-355 25-119
Passing yards 11 353
Total net yards 366 472
Passes (cmp-att-int) 3-9-0 24-36-1
Fumbles (no-lost) 0-0 0-0
Penalties (no-yds) 10-90 3-25
Punts (no-avg) 3-26.7 1-29
Trimble — Bryce Downs 23-277 4 TDs, Tabor Lackey 15-78; East Knox — Cole Delaughder 13-60, Dillon Moreland 1-30, Tyree Skelton 1-15, Peyton Lester 9-11, Carson Steinmetz 1-3.
Trimble — Tabor Lackey 3-9-0-11; East Knox — Peyton Lester 24-36-1-353 5 TDs.
Trimble — Austin Wisor 2-11, Blake Guffey 1-0; East Knox — Shane Knepp 9-184 4 TDs, Dillon Moreland 4-64 TD, Cole Delaughder 2-49, Carson Steinmetz 8-44, John Mazza 1-12.