KHSAA Playoffs – State Semifinal Round
HAZARD, Ky. (WYMT) -
We are now down to just four teams left in our coverage area that are still in the hunt for a state championship. Here is a preview of the matchups as Belfry, Johnson Central, Paintsville and Williamsburg look to punch their ticket to Kroger Field.
Williamsburg (6-2) vs. Kentucky Country Day (9-1) - 12/11, 7:30 PM
How Williamsburg Got Here: Defeated Lynn Camp 42-0 (First Round), Defeated Pineville 42-13 (Second Round), Defeated Nicholas County 26-6 (Region Final)
How Kentucky Country Day Got Here: Defeated Berea 62-8 (First Round), Defeated Eminence 57-13 (Second Round), Defeated Crittenden County 35-7 (Region Final)
The Yellow Jackets are back in the state semifinal for the first time since 2014. That season, Jerry Herron Jr. led his team to the 1A state title game where Williamsburg would lose to Mayfield. The Cardinals drove down the field to score a touchdown and connect on the PAT that would be the difference, 28-27. The Yellow Jackets have won at least six games for the fifth straight season.
The playoff journey for Williamsburg up to this point has been smooth sailing to say the least, winning each of their first three contests by at least 20 points. It was not Sydney Bowen’s best day throwing the football against the Bluejackets but the sophomore enjoyed a pretty good day on the ground as the Quarterback racked up 99 yards and a rushing TD. Despite the rough day through the air, Bowen did rack up a passing touchdown as well. Gavon Thomas was the recipient of Bowen’s lone passing touchdown as the senior caught two passes for 104 yards and a score. This is the third time in the last four games that the black and orange have held their opponents to less than double figures in scoring.
Kentucky Country Day made it to this exact spot last season before Paintsville manhandled them in Louisville, 44-20. KCD’s only loss up to this point came against Bullitt East by seven. The Bearcats have outscored their playoff foes, 154-28. Matt Jones’ squad tallied only 199 total yards of offense against Crittenden County but the Bearcats had five takeaways in the contest with the Rockets. The Bearcats are second in total rushing yards in 1A with 2,210 while their 221 YPG on the ground slots them into eighth in class.
Kentucky Country Day’s duo of Nathan Caldwell and Eric Dickerson (that’s a pretty good name for a Running Back) have racked up 32 rushing scores between them. Caldwell’s 19 TDs put him in second in 1A while Dickerson’s 13 scores position him in a three-way tie for seventh most. Dickerson scampered for 91 yards and a touchdown in last week’s action against the Rockets. Caldwell and Dickerson both had a pick six as well. KCD’s 42 PPG is tops in the class while the 12.9 PPG that they are surrendering is second. Kentucky Country Day is also winning by an average margin of 29.1 PPG, topping the charts in that category as well. The district three champions have 14 interceptions this season. Only Russellville, Pineville and Crittenden County have more.
Newport Central Catholic (8-2) vs. No. 10 Paintsville (8-2) - 12/11, 7:30 PM
How Newport Central Catholic Got Here: Bye Week (First Round), Defeated Ludlow 45-7 (Second Round), Defeated Holy Cross (Louisville) 42-21 (Region Final)
How Paintsville Got Here: Defeated Betsy Layne 55-8 (First Round), Defeated Raceland 28-21 (OT) (Second Round), Defeated Hazard 39-7 (Region Final)
The Thoroughbreds are back in the “final four” for the first time since 2015. That team, coached by Dan Wagner, made it to the 2A state final where they would lose to Mayfield, 17-7. Stephen Lickert has led Newport Central Catholic to at least eight wins in the last two seasons after going 5-7 in his first year on the job. The Thoroughbreds have either won handily or been blown out in all of their games with the exception of one in 2020. The only game that was decided by one possession was their 17-14 win against Newport. NewCath’s two losses have come at the hands of 2A Beechwood (45-0) and 4A Holmes (20-0). Newport Central Catholic does not have a player that is in the top 15 in passing, rushing or receiving in class but they have a player that is ninth in sacks in senior Jack Greene (4.5) and a player that is ninth in interceptions in sophomore Luke Runyon (three). Offensively, the Thoroughbreds have been solid as they are averaging the 12th most points per game in 1A at 29.4 PPG but they have been impressive on defense. NewCath is giving up just 15.4 PPG, good enough for fourth best in the class. The Thoroughbreds are also ninth against the run, allowing 132 yards per game while giving up the tenth fewest passing yards per game at 88 YPG in the class.
Paintsville is now just one step away from getting back to Kroger Field. Joe Chirico has led the Tigers to their second consecutive state semifinal berth and three out of the last five seasons. After losing their final two regular season contests, Paintsville has regained its groove. The big bugaboo was getting past their district rival in Raceland but the Tigers gritted things out against the Rams and have bookended that victory with decisive wins against Betsy Layne and Hazard. Karsten Poe continues to orchestrate the offense behind center as the senior had another strong outing with 92 rushing yards and two touchdowns against the Bulldogs. Sophomore Harris Phelps led the team in rushing with 120 yards and two scores while senior Luke Hyden put up great numbers in his own right with 91 yards and two TDs. Defensively, the Tigers had five takeaways and held Hazard’s offense to just 58 total yards. In all of their victories this season, Paintsville has scored at least 34 points with the exception of the Raceland matchup two weeks ago.
No. 3 Belfry (8-3) vs. Ashland Blazer (9-0) – 12/11, 7:30 PM
How Belfry Got Here: Defeated Magoffin County 54-12 (First Round), Defeated Lawrence County 1-0 (Forfeiture Due to COVID-19) (Second Round), Defeated Bell County 42-0 (Region Final)
How Ashland Blazer Got Here: Defeated Greenup County 47-0 (First Round), Defeated Russell 10-7 (Second Round), Defeated Fleming County 42-0 (Region Final)
Philip Haywood has brought the Pirates back to the state semifinal for the second season in a row and the tenth time in the last 12 seasons. Even though Belfry has three losses this season, they are one of only three teams in 3A with an unblemished record against teams within class (Elizabethtown and Ashland Blazer are the other two). It has been total domination and obliteration by Belfry in the first two games they have played in the postseason, outscoring Magoffin County and Bell County by a combined score of 96-12. The Pirates are also one of five teams to go undefeated in district play. Isaac Dixon was outstanding yet again for Belfry as the senior ran at will against the Bobcats. The Running Back generated 204 yards on the ground to go along with five scores. Senior Seth Mounts and junior Brayden Rash also found the red paint for the Pirates. Belfry eclipsed the 40-point mark for the fifth time this season.
The Tomcats are back in the state semifinal for the first time in 30 years. The 1990 squad went on to take home the hardware in 3A, knocking off Lincoln County in the state final by the final score of 35-13. This is also Blazer’s sixth state semifinal appearance overall. Tony Love’s crew has matched its best start from two seasons ago as the Tomcats also won its first nine games in 2018 before Johnson Central handed them their first loss. The Golden Eagles also eliminated Ashland Blazer from the postseason as well in a 50-14 affair in the region final. Blazer dominated Greenup County to start their playoff run. However, the Tomcats narrowly escaped against Russell in the district final after obliterating the Red Devils by 34 in the regular season. The Tomcats were in control from start to finish against Fleming County last week while pitching its fourth shutout of the season in the process. Like Belfry, the Tomcats rely on the ground game on offense as senior Keontae Pittman is third in class in rushing yards per game with 136 YPG. Pittman’s 21 rushing touchdowns slot him into a tie with Pike Central’s Matt Anderson for second most in 3A. The Tomcats are one of three teams in 3A to run for more than 300 yards in 3A and are third in class in rushing yards per game at 314 YPG (only Pike Central and Belfry are averaging more). For as great as they have been rushing the football, the Tomcats have been even better stopping it as they lead the class in rushing defense, surrendering only 71 YPG.
Belfry and Ashland Blazer met in last season’s region final. The Pirates downed the Tomcats in that matchup, 41-7 at CAM Stadium.
Franklin County (8-1) vs. No. 1 Johnson Central (10-0) – 12/11, 7:30 PM
How Franklin County Got Here: Defeated Shelby County 41-12 (First Round), Defeated Central 42-6 (Second Round), Defeated Allen County-Scottsville 48-14 (Region Final)
How Johnson Central Got Here: Defeated Harlan County 46-8 (First Round), Defeated No. 8 Letcher Central 50-0 (Second Round), Defeated No. 5 Corbin 28-14 (Region Final)
After going 5-6 in 2017, the Flyers have shown improvement under Head Coach Eddie James in each season. In 2018, Franklin County produced a ten-win season for the first time since 2013. The Flyers backed up that 10-3 mark with an 11-1 campaign last season before getting bounced by Central in the district final. This season, the District Four Champs have walloped everyone they have faced with the exception of those same Yellow Jackets. Central prevailed in the first meeting, 18-16 back in October but the Flyers avenged that loss with a 42-6 drubbing two weeks ago. Franklin County is led by Quarterback Nick Broyles. The senior has been sensational this season, hurling 24 touchdowns passes versus zero interceptions. Broyles’ 279 passing yards per game is second in the state behind Scott’s Gus Howlett. In their last contest against Allen County-Scottsville, Broyles recorded 336 yards with his arm to go along with three touchdowns. Senior Fred Farrier leads 4A in touchdown receptions with 11. Farrier tallied his fifth 100-yard receiving performance against the Patriots as the Wide Receiver caught five passes for 108 yards and a score. The Flyers have playmakers on the defensive side of the ball as well as senior Phillip Peiffer leads the state in sacks with 10.5 while junior Zach Claudio’s six interceptions ties him for second statewide. Claudio has returned three of those six interceptions for touchdowns. The Flyers are third in 3A in scoring at 42.1 PPG while they have allowed the fourth fewest points per game at 10.4 PPG.
The Golden Eagles carry a 25-game win streak into this contest and look to get back to the state final for the sixth straight season. Jim Matney’s squad had their closest game of the season against Corbin but was still in control against the Redhounds for the most part. As usual, Johnson Central had their way up front to the tune of 384 rushing yards including 193 yards and three touchdowns by Dylan Preston. The senior also led the team in total tackles with seven. Junior Grant Rice also scampered for 110 yards in the victory. Sophomore Mason Lawson ran for 69 yards and a score. For the first time this season, the Golden Eagles did not reach the 30-point mark. However, the reigning 4A State Champions’ 46.1 PPG is seventh in the state while the 8.5 PPG that they are allowing is fifth best statewide.
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