To call the matchup between Belfry and Lexington Catholic a clash of styles would be a gross understatement.
Lexington Catholic reached the Class 3A championship for the first time since 2007 by using an air-raid offense that produced nearly 5,000 yards (2,938 through the sky). Along the way, it’s used three quarterbacks — Legend Brumbaugh, Kirk Fagot and most recently Andy Thompson — who have gotten the job done when under center. They’re a combined 204-for-306 on the season with 35 touchdowns.
Belfry barely threw it at all —16-for-36 on the season — en route to a sixth straight appearance in the state finals. The Pirates (13-1) got here doing what they’ve done best for so long: run, run, run. All told, 12 rushers have accumulated 4,268 yards on the ground, led by Xondre Willis’ 1,254 on 91 carries. That’s nearly 14 yards a touch.
Knights Coach Mark Perry, in his second year at the helm, knows what’s in store for his team when they arrive at Houchens/L.T. Smith Stadium on Sunday.
“They’re big up front and they’ve got a lot of weapons in the backfield,” Perry said. “ … Their running backs can make big plays. It poses a big challenge for us.”
Lexington Cathoilc can hold its own in the big-play department, too. Senior receivers Donnie Morris and JJ Ogbogu are certain to keep the Pirates’ secondary on its toes. Between the two they’ve assembled 681 receiving yards and 10 TD catches since the playoffs began.
Ogbogu expects the Knights to take a few shots downfield and maybe even break out a new play or two against Belfry. Of course, he wouldn’t reveal what such a package would entail — that would conflict with the mission at hand.
“We’re not just settling on getting to state,” Ogbogu said. “We’re gonna go there and we’re gonna get that ring.”
While Lexington Catholic would have to put on an immaculate showing to reach the 3,884 passing yards managed by its 2005 title team, it will send out a quarterback who’s done something no Knights signal-caller had done since Justin Burke that year. Thompson, who’s assumed primary passing duties in the playoffs, threw six TDs against Garrard County in the second round of the playoffs.
Opposing defenses still have to watch out when he’s not chucking it. Thompson is the Knights’ second-leading rusher behind Jaylen Jones and their third-leading receiver. He broke the school record for return yardage in a career this season, too.
Thompson recognizes the special opportunity in front of the Knights after they bowed out to Highlands in the state semifinals the last four seasons.
“Not many people get to play,” Thompson said. “ … You cherish that. It’s an honor and you’ve got to go out and practice each day because it’s your last.”
Both teams come in off relatively easy wins in the previous round. Belfry upended Corbin 42-14 while Lexington Catholic went on the road to unseat previously undefeated Elizabethtown 35-14. Jones said the Knights ‘played with more heart’ last week and will have to do so again this week against a Pirates team whose only loss was to Cabell Midland, a state semifinalist in West Virginia’s largest class.
We’re not just settling on getting to state. We’re gonna go there and we’re gonna get that ring.
JJ Ogbogu, Lexington Catholic wide receiver
Belfry’s more recent rendezvous with title glory can’t hurt them, Perry said, but his kids are more than capable of producing in big situations on the big stage.
“I don’t think they’ll do anything different on Sunday either.”
Thompson hopes a big crowd’s on hand to see LexCath attempt to go 3-for-3 in the finals.
“You only get one state championship for us,” Thompson said. “Only one chance. Let’s go take it.”
Lexington Catholic vs. Belfry
Kickoff: 5 p.m. EST Sunday at Western Kentucky University’s Houchens/L.T. Smith Stadium in Bowling Green
Cantrall Ratings: Lexington Catholic 84.0, Belfry 82.6
Final AP ranking: Belfry No. 1, Lexington Catholic No. 6
Previous championship appearances (record): Belfry 11 (4-7), Lexington Catholic 2 (2-0)
Belfry facts: While they might have only connected on 16 passes this season, the Pirates have made them count — 11 went for touchdowns. With a win, Belfry would become the first mountain team to win three straight crowns since Pikeville did so from 1987 to 1989. Belfry lost in its first three trips to the finals — 1979, 1985 and 1986 — before winning back-to-back crowns in 2003 and 2004. After losing four times to Central in the final game from 2007 to 2012, the Pirates ended the Yellowjackets’ reign with a 14-7 win last season. Belfry’s total rushing to passing yardage in its last two championship games? 640 to 9.
Lexington Catholic leaders: Andy Thompson (785 passing yards with 12 TDs/one interception; 662 rushing yards with five TDs; 311 receiving yards with two TDs), Jaylen Jones (1,010 rushing yards with 13 TDs; three TD catches), JJ Ogbogu (1,186 receiving yards with 14 TDs), Donnie Morris (920 receiving yards with 11 TDs), Zack Newcomb (four interceptions, one returned for a score), Jack Fagot (105 tackles; two fumbles recovered; one interception), Andy Hickey (86 tackles; two fumbles recovered, one returned for a TD); one interception)
Belfry leaders: Xondre Willis (1,254 rushing yards with 15 TDs; 235 receiving yards with five TDs), Andrew Fletcher (792 rushing yards with 12 TDs), Cameron Catron (602 rushing yards with seven TDs; 115 receiving yards with two TDs; 88 tackles; three fumble recoveries), Derek Wellman (578 rushing yards with 10 TDs; 96 tackles; one interception), Noah Corbett (451 passing yards with eight TDs/four interceptions; 357 rushing yards with eight TDs), Devin Varney (six interceptions, two returned for TDs; 60 tackles), Nate Sanger (98 tackles),
Lexington Catholic (11-3)
Coach: Mark Perry
at Boone County, 51-13 (W)
Ryle, 31-24 (L)
Johnson Central, 42-28 (L)
Covington Catholic, 15-14 (W)
at Madison Central, 41-0 (W)
at Cooper, 28-0 (L)
Western Hills, 49-14 (W)
at Boyle County, 31-24 (W)
Garrard County, 28-16 (W)
at Southwestern, 43-14 (W)
Bardstown, 55-13 (W)
Garrard County, 59-26 (W)
at Central, 14-13 (W)
at Elizabethtown, 35-14 (W)
Coach: Philip Haywood
Tates Creek, 55-38 (W)
at Harlan County, 43-0 (W)
Newport Central Catholic, 28-10 (W)
Pikeville, 34-8 (W)
Knoxville Catholic (Tenn.), 38-14 (W)
at Cabell Midland (W.Va.), 49-7 (L)
Lawrence County, 27-23 (W)
at Sheldon Clark, 52-6 (W)
at Pike County Central, 49-16 (W)
Johnson Central, 41-0 (W)
Bath County, 62-0 (W)
Russell, 42-12 (W)
Lawrence County, 52-12 (W)
Corbin, 42-14 (W)
Coach Haywood: “They’re a very talented football team and that creates problems. They’ve got athletes, it seems like, at every position on both sides of the ball. They’ve got explosive guys at the quarterback and tailback position and guys that can really run at the receiver position. Their linemen are athletic. They’re capable of scoring from anywhere on the field at any time, which puts a lot of pressure on your defense. It’s gonna make us work. But that’s also the kind of thing you expect in a championship game. …
“From an offensive standpoint we feel like we’re pretty balanced. It’s hard to single out any one player that’s ‘the guy’ that you look to. We’ve got a bunch of backs that run the ball and we can kind of go to any one of them at any time. We’re kind of an offense that will take what you give us. That’s always been our philosophy. Yes, we don’t throw the ball much but we can throw it. We feel like we throw it fairly effectively. We’ve thrown quite a few touchdowns and a lot of our passes are for big plays so I think people oughta know that we can put the ball downfield on ya. We’ll take what you give us and just do what we do.”