For the second straight season the KHSAA has been forced to adjust the state finals schedule as Western Kentucky hosts Louisiana Tech on Saturday at noon for the Conference USA championship. The state finals will now begin on Friday night with the 1A finals followed by 3A and 6A on Saturday night under the lights then 3 more games on Sunday. To begin our coverage of the state finals I will be previewing the first set of games that includes some serious star power along with some sleepers that will have your attention by weekend’s end.
Class 1A Finals – Beechwood (13-1) vs. Hazard (12-2)
Beechwood is making its second consecutive trip to Bowling Green as they’ve outscored their four post-season opponents 177-13, clinching a berth to Bowling Green in dominating fashion in a 35-0 win against Russellville last week.
Brayden Burch has been excellent for the Tigers under center this season completing 127 of 200 attempts for 2,018 yards and 23 touchdowns. Beechwood deploys an array of quick, shifty play-makers highlighted by Aiden Justice who leads the team in rushing and receiving with 1,011 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns along with 27 catches for 564 yards and 7 touchdowns.
Hazard clinched its spot in the 1A finals behind the legs of Cory Smith and a dominating defensive performance by the Bulldogs in their 20-7 win over Paintsville last week. The Hazard defense forced 3 turnovers and held Paintsville to just 10 passing yards and only 149 total yards.
Cory Smith continued his impressive season with a big-time performance in the semi-finals rushing for 216 yards and 2 touchdowns on 38 carries. The junior running back leads class 1A in rushing this season with 2,561 yards and 36 touchdowns on 263 attempts good for an average of 197 yards per game. It will be important for the Bulldogs to establish their run game early giving Smith every opportunity to break loose.
Eli’s Pick – Beechwood is the rightful favorite but I’m a strong believer that championships are won at the line of scrimmage and Hazard’s O-line has been dominate in recent weeks. The speed of Beechwood will take some adjusting to for Hazard but the big play ability of Smith will carry the Bulldogs home in this one. Hazard 21-14.
Class 3A Finals – Central (9-5) vs. Belfry (13-1)
Corey Johnson rushed for 151 yards and 2 touchdowns to lead Central past Elizabethtown and secure a rematch of the 2014 state championship. Johnson has been the Yellow Jackets workhorse this season rushing for 1,097 yards and 20 touchdowns in just 12 games. Head Coach Ty Scroggins endured a tough start to the season losing the first four games but as usual has his boys playing their best at the right time.
The Yellow Jackets have the formula to beat Belfry as the two teams have faced off 5 times in the last 10 years with Central leading the series 4-1 over that span. The Central defense faces a huge task in slowing down a Belfry offense that has been dominate all-season long but the Yellow Jackets have the size and speed in their front seven to make Belfry uncomfortable.
Belfry scored 42 unanswered points after Corbin ran out to a 17-0 lead early to clinch a state finals berth for the fourth straight year. Taveon Hunter carried the ball 6 times for 201 yards and 4 touchdowns in a breakout performance for the junior running back. The Pirates rotate an array of running backs as they rely heavily on quarterback Noah Corbett to make the correct reads in the triple option offense.
The stars of the Belfry roster make their money in the trenches with 6’7 320 pound UK Commit Austin Dotson and 6’5 305 pound UL Commit Cole Bentley leading the way. Look for Ray Horton to have a big influence on this game as he should be considered the best defensive player in the state of Kentucky.
Eli’s Pick – This battle will be won both on the field and on the sideline as both programs are led by outstanding coaches. I expect this to be an extremely competitive game but the size and strength of Belfry will ultimately prevail as the Yellow Jackets lack of size on the offensive line will be exposed by Ray Horton. Belfry 28-14.
Class 6A Finals – Lafayette (13-1) vs. Trinity (14-0)
Lafayette makes its second consecutive trip to Bowling Green as they defeated Scott County 48-47 in one of the most entertaining games of the season. UK Commit Walker Wood has been everything for the Generals this season throwing for 2,655 yards and 26 touchdowns in addition to 1,183 rushing yards and 26 more touchdowns. Cameron Morgan has emerged as an impressive running back for the Generals carrying the ball 152 times for 1,368 yards and 12 touchdowns in 13 games.
The Generals were man-handled at home by Trinity in a week 3 45-7 loss but Lafayette faithful would argue that the Generals have improved greatly since then. Wood must get his offense going early connecting on a few deep passes to up open running lanes while relieving some pressure from his defense’s shoulders.
Trinity has been the best team in the state all-season long and they have continued to prove it in the post-season defeating arch-rival St.X 24-14 to clinch a berth in the state title game. Spencer Blackburn hopes to be the superior quarterback on Saturday night as he has had himself an impressive senior season throwing for 2,168 yards and 30 touchdowns.
Rondale Moore, a junior that transferred in from New Albany, has proved to be another play-maker for the already stacked Trinity offense. Moore was ruled eligible just before the playoffs began and has made an instant impact for the Rocks catching 15 passes for 327 yards and 8 touchdowns in just 3 games.
Eli’s Pick – Trinity is the overwhelming favorite, rightfully so, but I expect this to be a closer game than the regular season match-up as Walker Wood was coming off shoulder surgery and Lafayette has improved vastly on both sides of the ball since then. I see Lafayette keeping it close for a little while before Trinity pulls away behind the star power of Blackburn and Moore. Rocks 35-14.