We are excited to have our friends at Kroger on board as we bring you high school football coverage this fall. Each week Kroger will present the KSR High School Game of the Week. We will travel to the featured game each week to bring you the best sights, sounds and incredible moments. Together we’re happy supporters of “KY Proud Products” and the “Kentucky Agricultural Development Fund.”
This week’s game is Belfry vs. Pikeville. KSR caught up with Pikeville radio color commentator Jim Williamson and Belfry play-by-play commentator Bobby Norman to preview tonight’s big matchup.
KSR: I have heard about this rivalry, the intensity of it. What makes it so intense? Is there an event that happened a while back that caused some hate? Or is it just because they are both so good and so close?
Jim Williamson: It is kind of like Kentucky vs. Louisville. You have two really good programs on their own. Pikeville dominated the series early, but Haywood got to Belfry and then Belfry won 13 in a row from 2000-2012.
Both teams would go to state but both teams wanted bragging rights. You want that year-long bragging rights to be able to brag to your neighbor from the other school. It really goes back and forth.
There is a lot of respect. You don’t have a lot of cheap shots or personal fouls. It is really high level football.
KSR: Pikeville got the win last year. Do you and Pikeville fans consider that to be an upset?
JW: I think it would still be considered an upset, to be honest with you. Although, over the last six years we have won two and they have won four. Belfry wins State so many years in a row. We haven’t been that competitive (with them) since 2000. (Last year) was obviously an upset, but now that it has happened twice in the last six years, when we went 13 years without (winning), I think Pikeville is getting back a little bit more on even ground.
Obviously last year’s (Pikeville) team was very special, one of the best we’ve had. Defensively we played well but Belfry’s best player last year (Dixon) did not play, he was hurt. Obviously, that was a factor. But (the win) was really a turning point in our season, that convinced our kids that they could play and play with anybody. It was an upset, but we feel like the gap is not as big as it used to be.
KSR: What is the scouting report for this year’s Pikeville team? I know a lot of seniors graduated from last year. Is it kind of expected that Pikeville will hit the ground running?
JW: We are a very young team. We only have five seniors and are only playing six regular season games this year. For a young team that really needs to play, that is dangerous.
Last week we beat Raceland, at Raceland. That is first time since 1956 that Pikeville has won at Raceland. So we were a little surprised by that. Defense still played well even though there are lot of young guys out there. Eight starters out of our defense graduated. So the fact that we shut them out for three quarters is surprising.
Hopefully that gives them some confidence. But Belfry is a whole different world. They are going to be very physical. We have a lot of freshman and sophomore outs there. It is going to be interesting to see how they react.
KSR: I understand that Belfry does not throw the ball very much. Is that the same every year or is that just because of their personnel the last few years? What are you expecting from Belfry? What kind of offense do they run?
JW: It is going to the same old Belfry. It is the veer option offense. No, they don’t throw it very much and they don’t have to. They are a physical team. Coach Haywood and Coach McNamee are similar in that they believe that they get better each week and that is their goal. Not going 10-0 in the regular season. Just get better. (Both teams) play really good competition.
They just want to wear you out. You know what they are going to do. They will get 3 or 4 yards a carry and by the 3rd quarter, especially a class A team without depth, once they run the ball that much, and the big guys on the line beat on you, you are worn out.
That pays off for them in November a lot and obviously early December. But if they (must) throw, that is really how we won last year. We got up on them and they got the ball late and were forced to throw. One of our linebackers intercepted a pass. That’s just totally out of their norm, so if you get them in passing situations you definitely have the hands up.
But (Belfry) will just wear you out. They are physical on both lines of scrimmage. They don’t play guys both ways. We have to play guys both ways. They just hope by the 3rd and 4th quarter they will turn it on and just wipe you out.
Here are highlights from our conversation with Belfry play-by-play commentator Bobby Norman.
KSR: Can you talk about the rivalry between the two teams?
Bobby Norman: This rivalry has always been good. Over the last 20 years Belfry is 17-3. A big part of what makes a rivalry is that both teams are really good and both teams kind of take their turns winning within the rivalry. Belfry has dominated in that sense but if you go back to 2014 the rivalry really got a big boost when Pikeville won at Pikeville 29-20. Belfry did go on to win the second of four straight state championships, but that really got some energy back into the rivalry. Ever since then it has been back at a fever pitch. Packed stadiums and everything that should go with what we think is the best rivalry in Eastern Kentucky.
KSR: Do you think there will be anything taken away from the atmosphere due to crowds being limited?
BN: Obviously, there is probably a little bit of atmosphere that will be taken away. But I think the intensity has really been ramped up the last couple of years with Pikeville making some state championship appearances and Belfry winning five of the last seven 3A titles. I think it is still going to be a great, great atmosphere. The fact that you guys (KSR) are going to be there and it there is going to be a pretty heavy media contingent, and three or four different radio stations. I think it is going to be a really, really good atmosphere.
KSR: I have always wanted to come to a Pikeville vs. Belfry game. I know this game is at Pikeville, but Belfry is certainly on my list places to watch a game at. Can you talk a little bit about what the atmosphere is like for a game at Belfry?
BN: It is one of the best big game atmospheres in the mountains and in the entire state. Those people love football. If you go back to the days that really built Belfry football, there wasn’t anything else to do. There’s still not a whole lot but you had no roads that were really open for easy travel to the outside. At the time, you had three mountains that you had to cross to get to Pikeville that was 25 miles away. The other direction was right over into West Virginia and it was not easy travel at all. So on Friday nights it became the thing to do.
This program is over 90 years old and it is still the thing to do on Friday night. It creates a special atmosphere. A small hometown school that has done very big and can really play. They have proven over the years that they can play with just about anybody.
KSR: I know Belfry is going to run the ball, but can you talk about some strengths and weaknesses of the team?
BN: That has always been their strength, running the football. I don’t have the exact stats right off hand, but I think in Belfry’s seven state title wins they have only passed for a total of 14 yards. If Belfry is throwing the football a lot they are either getting beat bad or they are winning very big and practicing some things. Even on 3rd and 8 or 3rd and 10 sometimes Belfry will just run the ball. They have dynamic playmakers that can still get the yardage. Even if they don’t (get the first down) they will just set up and play good defense. That is the other thing they hang their hat on: good, solid defense. In three straight state championship games starting in 2013, they did not allow an offensive touchdown. Defense wins champions and there is no doubt about that.
KSR: What is the game plan to contain Pikeville and what does Belfry expect Pikeville to do this year?
BN: Isaac McNamee, the coach’s son, is one of, if not the best junior quarterback in the state. They will throw short passes, they can throw long, but their key is can they run the football. They did that just enough last year at Belfry to really keep Belfry’s defense honest.
KSR: Talk a little about Belfry running back Isaac Dixon. What is his running style and what makes him special?
BN: We have seen him do stuff that not many players that have come through the program has done. He has averaged 13.3 yards per carry during his career. It’s incredible. His style is one of quickness, one of being able to change on a dime and change directions. He runs so hard. He burst on the scene last year in the state championship game. Gaining 200 some yards and scoring 3 touchdowns. He has that passion, that “it” factor that you don’t see a lot. Steve Mickey, our color commentator, said what he has seen out of Dixon he hasn’t seen a burst since David Jones played. The David Jones that helped lead them to back-to-back state championships in ‘03 and ‘04 and went on to play at UK.