3A Notebook: Big Three Advance along with a Surprise
Boyle County Win over Belfry Worth the Wait
On May 13, 2014, the Kentucky High School Athletic Association released the final copy of the football alignment for 2015-18. In Class 3A, the obvious change was the addition of Boyle County, who had won seven state titles at that point, to the existing dominance of Belfry, who had won four titles at that point and would go on to win two more. Much discussion was had about who would be the best team in Class 3A: would it be Belfry, dominant for so long? Or would it be Boyle County, who'd toiled in Class 4A for the better part of a decade but was now coming to exert their rule over the rest of the "smaller" schools?
A funny thing happened on the way to answering that question, though. Nothing happened. Boyle County fell in the second round to Central in both 2015 and 2016 while Belfry won state championships in both seasons, against the Rebels' hated rival Lexington Catholic in 2015 and that same Central team that had eliminated Boyle in 2016. Meanwhile, in 2017, Boyle County won their first championship since 2010, but it almost seemed incomplete because Belfry had been eliminated in the regional final round.
Due to cross-bracketing, however, this season all but assured a Boyle/Belfry matchup and Friday night didn't disappoint. Belfry scored first behind a 30-yard run from Isaac Dixon and then tacked on a field goal to make it 10-0 early. A Belfry turnover on their next drive, one of five by the Pirates on the evening, allowed Boyle a short field and they converted with a Reese Smith touchdown catch, one of four scores for Smith on the evening. A second Smith catch from Reed Lanter gave Boyle County a 13-10 halftime lead.
"We stayed true to what we had practiced and what we knew and to our reads and our keys," Boyle County Coach Chuck Smith told the Lexington Herald-Leader. "We ended up making the plays we needed to make to get the stops when we needed the stops. I’m really proud of our offense. Once we got it felt out, they started hitting the big plays." (Boyle County at Belfry high school football game recap November 16, 218 | Lexington Herald Leader)
In the third quarter it was still back and forth, with Boyle scoring first on a Reiley Colwick 56-yard touchdown catch. Brett Coleman scored for Belfry, then Lanter hit Smith again, this time from 59 yards out. A 99-yard Ben Bentley kickoff return pulled Belfry within three points at 27-24 but that would be as close as the Pirates could get.
Smith scored his final touchdown of the night, a 39-yard pass from Lanter, with just over a minute to go in the third quarter and then Tanner Crawford iced the 41-24 Boyle County victory with a one-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth.
For Belfry (10-3), the loss marked the first home playoff defeat since 2009. For top-ranked Boyle County (13-0), the win was the first of what could be three consecutive games against teams ranked 2nd (Corbin), 3rd (Central), and 4th (Belfry).
"There hadn’t been many people come into Belfry and win here," Chuck Smith said. "It’s a tough place to win and they’ve got a great football team, but y’know, the Boyle County Rebels found a way to get it done. That’s all that matters." (Boyle County at Belfry high school football game recap November 16, 218 | Lexington Herald Leader)
Entering Friday night Corbin had defeated rival Bell County eight consecutive times. A ninth straight win would assure Corbin of a fourth consecutive regional title and an opportunity to play Boyle County again after falling to the Rebels in last year's Class 3A state championship game. With it all on the line, Corbin played one of their best games of the season.
"It’s a region championship game—it’s a big game,” Corbin coach Justin Haddix said to the Corbin Times-Tribune. "I feel like we’re going to line up and play whoever it’s against. We’ve got a bunch of competitors on our team and we come out and compete every day. Offense, defense, special teams — they all did well and we’re just excited for this win." (Corbin wins fourth straight region championship with win over Bell County Friday | Local Sports | thetimestribune.com)
Compete they did, scoring once in the first quarter on a Christian Gosselin run and twice more in the second quarter to take a three touchdown lead. Bell County (11-2) would dent the scoreboard just before the break to make it 21-8 but the Bobcats would get no closer. Two quick third quarter scores effectively put the game out of reach and the Redhounds would prevail, 42-16.
The win for Corbin (12-1) means Boyle County will visit Campbell Field on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Corbin has hosted Boyle County twice in the postseason, winning in both 1982 and 1992. But fresher in the memories of all is Boyle's 40-21 victory in last year's state final. The challenge is difficult but so is the excitement of playing again this late in the season.
"Boyle County is a quality football team," said Haddix in the same article. "We’re excited about it — we’ve just got to get to work and get after it." (Corbin wins fourth straight region championship with win over Bell County Friday | Local Sports | thetimestribune.com)
In retrospect the expectations might have been too high for Larue County. After finishing the 2017 season with a 10-2 record and ranked 10th in Class 3A, the graduation losses for the Hawks were significant. However, the return of Louisville-signee Anthony Adkins was enough to warrant a 9th place ranking in the Bluegrasspreps Class 3A preseason poll. But expectations have to be fused with at least a little bit of hope.
In a conversation with the 3A Notebook on the eve of the postseason, Larue County coach Josh Jaggers said "there are a couple positive facts that I still think give us a fighting chance at these first couple rounds. 1) We can run the ball. 2) We play pretty good defense despite our kicking game not helping us out much. There are silver linings of hope everywhere if you look close enough!"
Elizabethtown (8-5), the thorn in Larue's side for many years, roared out to a 32-12 lead and it appeared to be yet another E'town regional championship. But the Larue kicking game, so rarely used on extra points, became the catalyst for comeback with two successful onside kicks.
"We’re known to kick onside balls," Adkins told the Elizabethtown News-Enterprise. "The last couple games we’ve kicked them and gotten them. They should have known it was coming. Every time we kick an onside kick we say, ‘Bust your tail. Go get that ball’ and we did. Silas is the king of onside kicks. He might not be able to get a touchback, but he’ll get the onside." (PREP FOOTBALL: Onside kicks lift LaRue | Sports | thenewsenterprise.com)
A Jeremiah Belton 43-yard touchdown run followed by a 5-yard Adkins score tied the game at 32. One more Adkins run, this time from 13 yards out with thirty seconds to go, gave the Larue County (8-5) their first and only lead of the night, winning 40-32.
After scoring six touchdowns on the ground and recovering two onside kicks, that silver lining is shining awfully bright in Hodgenville this weekend.
It didn't come quite as easy as the first two playoff victories, but for Central the end result was just the same, shutting out Russell, 26-0, and advancing to the state semifinals for the eleventh time in the last thirteen seasons.
Central scored twice in the first quarter, first on a 30-yard pass reception from Malik Goodall to U'Kari Baker and then on a short Goodall touchdown run to give the Jackets a 14-0 lead. It was up to the stingy Jacket defense to hold down the Red Devils from that point on and the "Dark Side Defense" (as they've taken to calling themselves) didn't disappoint. Central held Russell (8-5) to 75 yards rushing and 66 yards passing, posting their third consecutive shutout and seventh on the season.
"Russell is a good team, obviously because they are a district champion," Central coach Marvin Dantzler told the Ashland Daily Independent. "And when you put nine in the box, it makes it even tougher. They did a good job of making sure that if we were going to score, it wasn’t going to be running the football. That’s fine because I think we can throw the ball a lot better than people think we can." (https://www.dailyindependent.com/spo...649c84cdf.html)
That passing game bore fruit again in the third quarter as Goodall again connected with Baker, this time from 82 yards out to make it a three score game. Takaius Linton scored the final touchdown on a 58-yard touchdown run late in the fourth. On the evening for Central (11-2), Goodall was 4-7 for 136 yards through the air while Linton led all rushers with 88 yards.
State Semifinals - Friday, November 23
Larue County at Central
Boyle County at Corbin