KHSAA Class 5-A State Playoffs: John catches game-winner as South tops Fairdale 33-27

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Zaubi leads late drive for first quarterfinal appearance since 1992

By Elliott Pratt

CRESTWOOD — Trips Left 81 Keanan Stick.


South Oldham last ran that play a year ago against Conner, but not since then. It’s three receivers left and Keanan John, South’s top receiver, on the backside to the right of the field.

It was a common theme all game: John facing one-on-one coverage with no safeties over the top and quarterback Drew Zaubi would let it fly hoping his man would make the play.

But Zaubi had never ran Trips Left 81 Keanan Stick in his short career as a sophomore quarterback. And John hadn’t won that one-on-one battle on a route down field all night.

Then coach Jamie Reed called the play that finally broke a 23-year streak.

With the Dragons trailing by one with 28.1 seconds left in the game, Zaubi completed a 37-yard game winning touchdown pass to John to lift the Dragons over Fairdale 33-27 in the second round of the KHSAA Class 5-A State Playoffs Friday night in Crestwood.

South Oldham (10-2) will host Fern Creek (11-1) next Friday.

The win breaks a three-year second round losing streak and marks the first time South advances to the third round of the state playoffs since 1992.

“Honey Hush” was the first phrase from Reed in the team huddle after the game.

“That means something good happened,” Reed said. “Something unbelievable happened.”

The Dragons led 26-14 at the start of the fourth quarter and looked in control to win the game before quarterback Dylan Garcia led a late charge.

Fairdale cut the deficit to 26-21 with five minutes left and got the ball back at its own 1-yard line with 2:49 to play. After the Bulldogs converted on fourth down, receiver Anthony Smith burned John down the right sideline where Garcia placed a perfect pass for a 77-yard touchdown to take the lead on a 99-yard drive.

“They got a deep pass on Keanan and that never happens,” Reed said. “It’s almost like, ‘Here we go again,’ but I said a long time ago the difference is that these kids fight.”

South not only fought, but John got redemption a few moments after it seemed the second round got the best of the Dragons once again.

Trailing 27-26 with 1:15 to play, South got the ball at its own 35 yard line with all three timeouts.

Zaubi completed a 14-yard pass to Drake Silcox and a nine-yard pass to John. On 3rd-and-1, Zaubi found John again on the right sideline for a six-yard completion to the Fairdale 37-yard line. Another incompletion and Fairdale called timeout with 28.1 seconds to go.

That’s when Zaubi learned a new play. Trips Left 81 Keanan Stick.

“I had no idea what he was calling,” Zaubi said. “He said take two steps to the left and fire it at Keanan. I didn’t know what Keanan was running, he said fire it at Keanan, so I did.”

John took six steps then completed a post route.

Zaubi took two steps left, stepped into the pocket and threw it deep to John, who was just a step ahead of defensive back Tyler Koch, who got his hands on the ball before John came down with the catch with 19 seconds to play.

Garcia fired two Hail Mary passes down the field before South claimed victory.

Zaubi, who finished the game with 135 passing yards, threw for 66 of those yards on the game-winning drive.

Honey Hush.

“We try to protect him because he’s a sophomore,” Reed said. “Sometimes you get put in unfortunate situations and you have to hope a kid can grow up fast. Obviously, he showed tonight that he can lead our team.”

Both teams played a tight first half with Fairdale holding a 14-10 advantage at halftime before each team’s strengths broke loose in the second half.

South rushed for 138 yards in the second half and held Fairdale to just nine yards of offense in the third quarter and forced three turnovers.

That signature defense allowed South to score 16 unanswered points to build a 12-point lead.

Shane Wilson took 25 carries for 124 yards — which put him over 1,000 yards rushing this season — for two goal line touchdowns to start the third and fourth quarters.

South’s run game, which was without Starr Thompson for another week, took a hit in the second quarter when sophomore Brandon Elsbury left the game with a left leg injury.

Two plays after Elsbury’s exit, third-stringer Caan Thornsberry caught a 21-yard touchdown pass from Zaubi, which cut Fairdale’s lead to 14-7 with 5:51 left until halftime.

Thornsberry left the game in the second half, which brought up fourth-stringer Dylan Smith to grind out carries late.

“We’re decimated by injuries,” Reed said. “We’re playing against a good team that’s well coached and we find a way to grind. I think that shows what kind of fight our kids have.”

Fairdale jumped out to a 14-0 lead with a first quarter five-yard keeper from Garcia and a 22-yard touchdown pass on a fourth-and-11 play from Garcia to Jaylain Trotter early in the second quarter.

Garcia’s large frame and quick strike passing ability brought a different dimension of quarterback South’s defense had yet to face, but the Dragons sacked Garcia three times, Austin Kern earning two of them.

“Oh my gosh,” Kern said. “You get pressure on the quarterback and he’s a big body and not going to move very fast. We knew we had a good chance of getting him.”

Garcia still threw for 222 yards and three touchdowns, but the Bulldogs only rushed for 20 yards in the second half.

Senior kicker Drew Koch made two of three field goal attempts from 30 and 32 yards.

The last time South advanced to the third round, the Dragons went all the way to the state semifinals in 1992.

“It’s great to make your mark in your school’s history,” Kern said. “That 1992 sitting on the banner in the gym, we want to put 2015 on there. It’s great to leave our mark, but we’re not done yet.”


South Oldham     0  10  10  13 — 33 
Fairdale       7    7    0   13 — 27

First quarter

FD - 7:57 - Garcia 5 run (Cole kick)

Second quarter

FD - 10:51 - Garcia 22 pass to Cole (Cole kick)
SO - 5:51 - Zaubi 21 pass to Thornsberry (Koch kick)
SO - 1:07 - Koch 32 kick

Third quarter
SO - 9:06 - Wilson 1 run (Koch kick)
SO - 1:45 - Koch 30 kick

Fourth quarter

SO - 11:55 - Wilson 1 run (conversion failed)
FD - 5:12 - Garcia 22 pass to Trotter (Cole kick)
FD - 1:15 - Garcia 77 pass to Smith (conversion failed)
SO - 0:19 - Zaubi 37 pass to John (Koch kick)