LOUISVILLE — A snowstorm that blanketed the mountains kept some Hazard football fans from making the trip to Louisville to watch the Bulldogs play Beechwood in the Class A title game Friday.
Beechwood's defense, meanwhile, blanketed Hazard most of the cold day at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, enabling the Tigers to hold on for a 14-7 victory and their 11th state championship.
It was Beechwood's second title in a row under Coach Noel Rash, who has maintained the Tigers' tradition established by predecessors Bernie Barre and Mike Yeagle.
"As long as I'm standing we'll continue the lunch-pail, blue-collar work ethic set by Mike and Bernie," Rash said.
"It's not a weight you feel, but a responsibility, and it's gratifying when you can keep it going."
Hazard, in its first finals, gave Beechwood a tougher fight than most people expected.
Down 14-0, the Bulldogs cut the deficit in half on quarterback Tyler Olinger's quarterback sneak with four minutes left.
After forcing Beechwood to punt, Hazard got the ball back on its own 17 with 1:52 on the clock.
"We were a little nervous, a little shaken, but we didn't fold under the pressure," said Tigers' star Brady Slusher.
Sure enough, Beechwood's defense delivered. A fourth-down pass by Olinger was intercepted near midfield by Alex Downton, clinching the title.
"Hazard was a lot better than we thought," Slusher said. "But we were able to do what we came here to do."
Hazard Coach Mark Dixon saluted his team.
"That was a monumental effort by our kids," he said. "They played their hearts out against the top program in Class A and showed we deserved to be on the field with them."
The Bulldogs' defense was terrific as it forced four turnovers and frustrated usually sure-handed Beechwood.
"Our defense played well all day. We got turnovers from Beechwood, and that speaks worlds about our defense," Dixon said.
Rash said his team's three fumbles and an interception could have been disastrous.
"(Turnovers) can absolutely cost you a game," he said. "As much as we dominated that game, up front, on the side and everywhere in between, it was 14-7.
"That'll tell you how bad turnovers can hurt you."
Beechwood's offense generated just enough yards and points, thanks in large part to Nieco Teipel. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound senior shook off a couple of injuries to rush 25 times for 128 yards. He also caught a touchdown pass.
Quarterback Matt Rigdon was clutch, too.
His 7-yard scramble on fourth down set up his short scoring run that gave the Tigers a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
Beechwood's offense sputtered after that because of turnovers, but it clicked at the right time.
On fourth down at the Hazard 3, Rigdon flipped a TD pass to Teipel on the last play of the first half.
"That ended up being a game-changer," Dixon said.
And, ultimately, another title for Beechwood.
"This is 11 state championships," Teipel said. "There were many before us, we got this one, and we hope there'll be more to come."
Hazard, which managed only 8 yards of offense in the first half, finished with 142. Half of those came on passes from Olinger to Michael Campbell, who had six catches for 71 yards.
Dixon said he hopes the title game experience will pay dividends in the future.
"We got a taste of it," he said. "And I hope all the young kids coming up in this program realize Hazard is right there, and we can be the kind of program we want to be."
Hazard 0 0 0 7— 7
Beechwood 7 7 0 0—14
B—Matt Rigdon 6 run (Cullen Burke kick); B—Nieco Teipel 3 pass from Rigdon (Burke kick); H—Tyler Olinger 1 run (Austin Delpont kick).
Records: Hazard 11-4; Beechwood 14-1.
First downs 10 18
Rushes-Yards 32-43 51-246
Passing 99 50
Comp-att-int 10-25-1 7-11-1
Return yards 18 56
Punts-avg. 6-34.7 3-33.0
Fumbles-Lost 2-0 4-3
Penalties-Yards 5-50 5-45
Time of possession 23:25 24:35