Central tried to put a scare into Belfry late, but ultimately the Pirates were able to depart with a 52-31 victory in the Class 3A Russell Athletics/KHSAA Commonwealth Gridiron Bowl state finals Saturday night.
Belfry won its fourth straight state title, becoming the first school from Eastern Kentucky to string together such a streak. Five programs — Beechwood, Boyle County, Highlands, Mayfield and Trinity — have won at least four straight trophies over their histories. Boyle County won five from 1999-2003 and Highlands owns the state record with six from 2007-2012. The previous best streak for an Eastern Kentucky school was three in a row by another Pike County program, Pikeville, from 1987-1989.
Pirates Coach Philip Haywood, who improved his state-record win total to 414, improved his finals record to 6-6. That tied him with Mayfield’s Joe Morris for the fourth most titles by a head coach; Trinity’s Bob Beatty, who was tied for first place with Highlands’ Dale Mueller with 11, had a chance to claim sole possession of the record in the Class 6A finals later Saturday night.
A senior class boasting four Division I linemen — Austin Dotson (UK commit), Cole Bentley (Louisville commit), Rayquan Horton (uncommitted) and Jordan Scott (uncommitted) — produced one of the most special victories Haywood’s ever been a part of, he said.
“I think any time when you can beat Central, that’s a huge win,” said Haywood, who had lost four final to the Yellow Jackets before beating them for the 2014 title. “ ... Beating them again to make four in a row, that’s big. I feel like this ranks very high.”
A pair of third-quarter interceptions by Devin Varney helped swing momentum in Belfry’s favor after Central secured a goal-line stop midway through the period. Varney picked off a pass by Central’s James Simpson, throwing from his own end zone, and returned it for a score to put Belfry ahead 24-7. Varney intercepted another Simpson pass two plays later which set up Derek Wellman for a TD.
The Yellow Jackets pulled to within 38-23 with three minutes left in the game thanks to an onside kick recovery and some Belfry penalties. Central couldn’t come up with a second onside attempt, after which Taveon Hunter scored his second TD of the night. Central scored again to draw back to within 45-31 but Belfry’s Cameron Catron returned the subsequent onside kick 44 yards for the game-capping TD with 25 seconds left.
Belfry’s 52 points were a team record in the finals, topping the 43 points it hung on Lexington Catholic last season. It was the second most points scored by a Class 3A champion and the most since Highlands defeated Waggener 56-7 in 1998. Belfry and Central, traditionally defensive-minded units, combined for what is believed to be the highest scoring Class 3A championship ever.
Wellman was named the game’s MVP after rushing for 195 yards and two scores on 26 carries. He also had five tackles on defense, two for a loss. Catron rushed for 106 yards on six attempts. Hunter finished with 92 yards and two scores on five rushes.