More than 50 years after its last undefeated title run in 1964, Male put together another wire-to-wire finish capped by a 41-14 championship game win over Lafayette in the Class 6A Russell Athletic/KHSAA Commonwealth Gridiron Bowl.
It was Male’s first championship since 2000 and seventh overall. Lafayette (13-2) fell to 0-3 in finals games, having also lost in 1960 and 1985.
“It’s really hard to put into words the competitiveness and the brotherhood of that (senior class),” Bulldogs Coach Chris Wolfe said. “You don’t see that every year. I really wanted it for them.”
One of those seniors, Keion Wakefield, finished with two TD catches — one to put Male up 20-7 midway through the second quarter and another as the third approached its end. But at the end of the night, as was the case all season, it was the Bulldogs’ defense which left a lasting impression.
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Male allowed only 93 points all year. After giving up a 55-yard TD run by Lafayette quarterback Walker Wood in the second quarter, the Bulldogs clamped and only allowed one more TD — a Wood pass to Quinten Brown — in the dwindling moments of the game.
Lafayette became the third team to reach double digits in scoring against the Bulldogs. It actually finished with a narrow edge in total yardage (382 to 379), but miscues initiated by a frenetic Male team short-circuited any chance of a Generals comeback once they fell behind 13-0.
After Wood’s run cut the Male lead in half in the second period, the Generals forced a three-and-out. Lafayette punted on the following possession before holding the Bulldogs out of the end zone once again.
On Lafayette’s next play from scrimmage, Male’s Paul Blincoe forced a fumble recovered by his teammate Tony Smyzer. From there, Hayden Shelton found Wakefield for his first score.
“Turnovers are a son of gun,” Coach Eric Shaw said.
The Generals got the ball to start the second half and put together a drive from their end all the way to the Male 13-yard line. A tipped pass from Wood ended up in the hands of Male’s Zachary Hall and took with it any momentum Lafayette had left.
“That changed the game,” Shaw said. “Turnovers can doom you and it’s kind of hard to come back from that.”
Lafayette advanced past midfield three times the rest of the way — their final three possessions with Male holding a 35-7 advantage. The first such drive ended in an Demetrius Holt interception returned for a score. The next saw Male keep the Generals out of the end zone on four straight goal-line carries.
The final one started at the Male 10-yard line following a pick — Shelton’s third of the night — and finished with the Wood-to-Brown connection.
Wood finished with 229 yards on 22-for-36 passing. The junior UK commit led the Generals with 136 rushing yards.
For Lafayette, the season ended like it did in 1960 and 1985 — with a loss — but Shaw was buoyant about the future of a team returning several starters on both sides of the ball.
“I am so excited about the direction that we’re in,” Shaw said. “I don’t care if you lose by one or you lose by 30, it don’t make a difference. To have an opportunity to play in this game is an accomplishment.”
The Generals were the first Lexington school to play in a football championship game since Bryan Station in 1999. Henry Clay was the last one to win it all in 1981.
They went from 3-8 in their first season under Shaw to state finalists in his third. Absorbing this hit will be another crucial element to the evolution of Lafayette football.
“We just came up short in a football game and it happened to be the state finals,” Shaw said. “That’s gonna be some extra foundation for us to move forward.
“I want my kids to feel what they feel in their gut right now. That’s life. Being able to adjust and fix those things and grow and get better from them. That’s what this is about. I’m not disappointed in them. They played their butts off all year.”
M—Devin Gentry 4 run (kick blocked); M—Zackery Smith 53 pass from Hayden Shelton (Erik Sorensson kick); L—Walker Wood 55 run (Colton Duprey kick); M—Keion Wakefield 19 pass from Shelton (Sorensson kick); M—Wakefield 22 pass from Shelton (Sorensson kick); M—Ethan Britt 54 pass from shelton (Zachary Hall pass from Shelton); M—Demetrius Holt 81 interception return (pass failed); L—Quinten Brown Wood (Duprey kick).
Records: Male 15-0, Lafayette 12-3.