BOWLING GREEN — Hazard earned its biggest sports victory in almost 60 years by upsetting Mayfield 24-6 to win the Class A football championship Friday afternoon in WKU's L.T. Smith Stadium.
It was the Bulldogs' first state title in football, and the school's most prestigious athletic achievement since Hazard won the 1955 Sweet Sixteen basketball championship.
Coach Mark Dixon wasn't sure of the historical significance of the Bulldogs' victory. "All I know is we'll take a trophy back home and these boys will walk out of here happy. That's what really matters."
B.J. Combs, a senior tight end/linebacker, said it was "amazing to be the first Hazard team to win the state. It will be with me the rest of my life, and all of us seniors will be together forever."
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Hazard dominated Mayfield from start to finish on an unseasonably warm December day. It was a stark contrast to last year's finals when Mayfield blasted the Bulldogs 47-6 in brisk, chilly conditions.
Dixon said the memory of last year's embarrassing loss motivated Hazard all season.
"These kids wanted to get the hurt out of their hearts they had when they walked off this field last year. That gave us the desire all season.
"And I saw a focus in these kids today I hadn't seen before. What a way to end these seniors' career."
Hazard's defense was the key in ending Mayfield's 29-game winning streak. The Cardinals' scores were a pair of first-half field goals by Luke Wyndstra. It marked the first time Mayfield was held without a touchdown since a 27-0 loss to Danville in the 2006 playoffs.
"Coach preaches defense because defense wins championships," senior standout Zack Blanton said as he pointed at the scoreboard.
Hazard intercepted Mayfield sophomore quarterback Jake Guhy five times by five players — Blanton, Austin Johnson, Jordan Olinger, Nathan Higgins and Combs.
Combs returned the last one 24 yards for a finishing-touch TD in the closing minutes.
Mayfield had only 26 yards rushing on 18 attempts. Guhy completed 15 of 36 passes for 191 yards but had those five interceptions.
"I've been saying all year our defense rocks," Combs said.
Dixon agreed: "We're physical and we hit hard. We pride ourselves on defense like every good team does."
Hazard's offense did just enough to help win the game. Blanton was the primary weapon. Operating out of the wildcat formation a lot, he ran 25 times for 67 yards, and passed for 36 yards, including a 28-yard TD to Johnson.
Quarterback Evan Whitaker had a 4-yard TD run, and Eric Mason's 26-yard field goal on the last play of the first half pushed Hazard's lead to 10-6.
Mayfield was denied its ninth state title, and settled for its ninth runner-up finish.
Coach Joe Morris said there was no secret to Hazard's success.
"We never could get anything established because they got the best of us up front."
Hazard is the first mountain team to win a state title since Belfry won back-to-back 2A titles in 2003-04.
"It's a totally different feeling than last year," Hazard senior lineman Jordan Hampton said. "This feeling is something else."
This was Hazard's third finals in four years. It lost to Beechwood in its first title game appearance in 2008, and to Mayfield last year.
Dixon said "the only sad part" of the Bulldogs' championship was "I don't get to coach these seniors anymore. I love them all. I love them dearly."