PINEVILLE — Boyle County outlasted Bell County 25-21 in a mud-splattered showdown in the semifinals of the Class 4A playoffs in front of an overflow crowd on Log Mountain Friday night.
Defending state champion Boyle County won its 29th game in a row to earn a spot in next Friday's finals in Bowling Green. The Rebels will play Allen County-Scottsville, a 20-16 winner over Western, as they go for their seventh title.
"This is the game we live for, to play in the mud and the cold, and get a chance to go back to the state championship," Rebels senior linebacker Lamar Dawson said after they spoiled Bell County's perfect season.
Boyle County Coach Larry French was delighted with the victory, but he worried about his team getting too high after beating the Bobcats.
"It feels good to get back to the finals, but we've gotta settle our guys down," he said. "Any time you beat Bell County, you get the feeling it's over. But it's not.
"The team we play next week is going to be tough."
Bell County, which beat Boyle County 17-15 in the semifinals here two years ago, won't get a shot at a third state title, and Coach Dudley Hilton will have to wait until next year to get his state-record 346th career victory.
"The game was like everybody said it'd be, and what they came to watch," Hilton said. "You like to win the classics, but sometimes you lose 'em."
Both teams pride themselves on strong running attacks, but neither had much luck on the ground Friday night. Boyle County rushed for 130 yards. Bell County had only 79, with more than half of those coming on a late run by Cory Davenport.
"The defenses were unreal," French said. "Bell County's run defense was great, and ours was pretty good too."
Turnovers were the difference. Bell County had four, including three costly fumbles.
After giving up an early safety, Boyle County jumped to a 14-2 lead thanks to quarterback Devon Hale.
He scrambled free to fire a 51-yard TD pass to Jarrod Harrington midway through the first quarter to put the visitors ahead.
After Bryan Ferrell intercepted a Bell County pass, the Rebels scored again, this time on a 7-yard scamper by Hale.
Bell County, in dire need of a spark, got one when John Dudley Hilton picked off a Hale pass, giving the hosts the ball at the Boyle County 18. On the next snap, Ben Madon hit Cody Davenport with a 14-yard TD pass.
The Bobcats then executed a perfect onside kick that Davenport recovered at the Boyle County 33. Three plays later, Madon and Davenport hooked up again, this time for a 14-yard TD. Hilton's extra point made it 15-14.
Boyle County managed to edge ahead by halftime, however. Hale again came up big, throwing a 20-yard pass to Blake Mason on fourth down. That set up Chris Cook's 1-yard TD, and Cook tossed a two-point conversion pass to Steven Talbott.
"That gave us a lot of momentum and motivation," Hale said.
The second half was mostly a wrestling match in the mud. But after Bell County fumbled away a punt, Boyle County capitalized thanks to Will Harris' 22-yard field goal that made it 25-15.
Bell County wasn't dead yet. Madon and Cody Davenport hooked up for their third TD pass play of the game to make it 25-21, but the Bobcats botched the extra point with four minutes left.
But Boyle County sealed it after that by keeping the ball on a long, clock-killing drive, and for the second year in a row the Rebels' ended Bell County's title hopes.
Boyle County 7 15 0 3—25
Bell County 2 13 0 6—21
BELL—Safety (Boyle snap out of end zone). BOYLE—Jarrod Harrington 51 pass from Devon Hale. (Will Harris kick). BOYLE—Hale 7 run (Harris kick). BELL—Cody Davenport 18 pass from Ben Madon (pass failed). BELL—Davenport 14 pass from Madon (John Dudley Hilton kick). BOYLE—Chris Cook 1 run (Steven Talbott pass from Cook). BOYLE—Harris 22 field goal. BELL—Davenport 25 pass from Madon (conversion failed).
Records: Boyle County 14-0; Bell County 13-1