If Friday was indeed the last game in old Putnam Stadium, Ashland went out with a bang.
The Tomcats defeated Covington Holmes 41-14 before an appreciative and somewhat nostalgic home crowd in a Class 4A playoff opener at the 75-year-old stadium.
The stadium is scheduled to be razed when the season is completed as phase one of the restoration project begins.
Ashland is on the road for at least the next round against top-ranked Fort Thomas Highlands on Friday. Even a win in that one doesn’t assure a home game in the regional final.
Fireworks went off before the game when Ashland recognized five former head coaches (the late Rex Miller, Herb Conley, Vic Marsh, David Arthur and Larry Hall) and current head coach Leon Hart in a pregame ceremony.
But the real fireworks came during the game from quarterback Aaron Elam and running back Malik Massey.
“We want to play another game here before the season ends,” said Elam, who made sure the Tomcats advanced to the second round with a stellar performance.
The left-handed junior ran for 145 yards and threw for 94 yards. He accounted for two touchdowns rushing and one passing.
“It was awesome,” he said. “I love running behind my line.”
Elam and Massey, who rushed for 155 yards and scored three touchdowns, led a rushing attack that produced 341 yards.
Evan Yongue, a senior, did some hard inside running too and squirted loose for a 9-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
It could well be the last Tomcat touchdown in old Putnam Stadium.
“I thought about it all week,” Yongue said of the possibility that this could be the last game in the stadium. “I grew up here playing JFL and for Verity. This is like my second home.”
The Tomcats, 9-2 overall, made themselves at home this season with a 7-0 record.
Holmes (6-5) managed only 26 total yards in the first half and trailed 28-0.
Speedy Jonathan Scruggs never got untracked against the Tomcats defense, which stalked him sideline to sideline.
“Our whole game plan was stopping him,’’ Yongue said. “We wanted to stretch it out when he got the ball.”
Holmes had some skill players but they seldom got loose for big gains with the exception of receiver Dasean Peterman, who had 132 yards receiving with several circus catches.
“Our defense really played an outstanding game,” Hart said. “We kept him (Scruggs) from getting loose and did a good job of pounding the ball.”
Elam did much of the heavy lifting with inside runs from quarterback.
“He’s got to be the physical ballcarrier for us with the tailback situation what it is,” Hart said.
A rash of injuries at tailback — three players are sidelined for the season — has forced some adjustments.
Massey, making only his third start at tailback, found some running lanes again. He scored on runs of 6 and 5 and also hauled in a perfect 35-yard TD pass from Elam with 22 seconds to play before halftime.
That was the backbreaker for Holmes, which surrendered a pair of touchdowns in the last minute.
“Ashland has a great football team,” said Holmes coach Terry Liggins, who played for Hart at Eastern Kentucky University. “We knew they were a physical bunch.”
Holmes, which lost 57-28 to Highlands, couldn’t match up with Ashland’s strength up front.
“Highlands is one of the best teams in our state,” Liggins said. “Ashland needs to play mistake-free football and grind it out like they did tonight.”
Liggins was impressed with Putnam Stadium.
“This is my first time here,” he said. “Definitely a nice atmosphere.”
First and last?
George Stout, an 83-year-old Westwood resident, came to the game Friday to complete a cycle.
Stout also saw the first game in Putnam Stadium in 1937.
“Dutch Berry’s father brought me to the game,” he said. “I was 8 years old.”
Ashland defeated Ceredo-Kenova in the first game at Tomcat Stadium, which was what the stadium was originally named.
Hart said if it turns out to be the last game, his proud to have coached in it and was glad it was a win.
“From my perspective, it’s very important to win the last game,” Hart said. “They won the opening game here and it’d be a crime if they didn’t win the last one.”
MARK MAYNARD can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2648.