Belfry brought a battering ram to Houchens/L.T. Stadium on Sunday, doing what it does best, perhaps better than it’s ever done before.
The Pirates (14-1) rushed for 396 yards en route to a 43-0 win over Lexington Catholic in the Class 3A Russell Athletic/KHSAA Commonwealth Gridiron Bowl. It was the most points and largest margin of victory for Belfry in any of its five title wins.
More importantly, it grounded an offense that had produced more than 200 yards per game through the air, limiting the Knights to just 71 passing yards.
The Pirates won their third straight championship, becoming the first team from Eastern Kentucky to accomplish that feat since Pikeville went back-to-back-to-back from 1987 to 1989. A senior class playing in its fourth straight title game wanted to become the latest team from Pike County to pull that off, Belfry Coach Philip Haywood said.
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“They said they’d been down here and won two. They wanted to make it three. I’m really happy for them.”
Belfry persevered through several ups and downs early in the season — including a 49-7 loss at West Virginia power Cabell Midland in October — which Haywood said helped open his players’ eyes to what it’d take to three-peat.
It’ll wear you down. It gets you tired and gets you a little frustrated sometimes. ... That’s what we believe in. It fits our kids and fits our community. We’re a bunch of blue-collar people.
Belfry Coach Philip Haywood on his team’s rushing attack
“You don’t like it, but sometimes a loss is good for ya,” Haywood said. “ ... We had to go to the drawing board and dig a little bit deeper.”
Eastern Kentucky as a region improved to 2-1 in the finals this season. Pikeville defeated Beechwood 42-28 on Thursday, but Johnson Central fell 36-6 to South Warren late Sunday in the Class 4A championship game, preventing a mountain sweep.
“It’s a great win for us (but) great for our community, too,” Haywood said. “We’ve really been hit hard by the coal industry and, gosh, people getting laid off right and left. This is something our community’s been able to rally around.
“I’m not sure how they scraped up enough money to make it down here, but it was a fantastic crowd for us tonight.”
All five of Belfry’s crowns have come under Haywood. The Pirates coach earlier this season became the first in state history to reach 400 wins.
Belfry trotted out a three-headed monster at running back: Andrew Fletcher led the Pirates with 125 yards and two TDs; Derek Wellman had 89 yards and two scores as well; Xondre Willis managed 89 yards and a TD. Pirates quarterback Noah Corbett rushed 10 times for 63 yards and a score, too.
Belfry outgained Lexington Catholic 396 to 117, every inch of the Pirates’ production coming on the ground.
Belfry outgained Lexington Catholic 396 to 117, every inch of the Pirates’ production coming on the ground. They attempted one pass in the first half, their only one of the game. Said Haywood of his team’s meat-grinder of an offense:
“It’ll wear you down. It gets you tired and gets you a little frustrated sometimes. ... That’s what we believe in. It fits our kids and fits our community. We’re a bunch of blue-collar people.”
Lexington Catholic (11-4) lost in the finals for the first time. It won in 2005 and 2007.
“They were clearly the better football team tonight,” Lexington Catholic Coach Mark Perry said. “ ... We may not have played our best but they had a whole lot to do with that.”
Perry said the Knights got beat at the line of scrimmage all night, a fact evident not just in their allowed rushing yardage but also what they gained — 46 on 16 carries. That disadvantage was seen, too, in the battle of possession: Lexington Catholic had the ball a little under 17 minutes to almost 30 for Belfry.
Lexington Catholic tackled one hurdle — it reached the finals for the first time after an eight-year drought. Now it’s got to regroup to become a champion.
“We absolutely just got whipped tonight,” Perry said. “They had a great plan and came out and executed it. … We’ve gotta learn from this and carry this over into next year so that when we get here we play a little better than we did tonight.”
Lexington Catholic 0
B—Andrew Fletcher 5 run (Austin Woolum kick); B—Derek Wellman 5 run (Woolum kick); B—Xondre Willis 56 run (Woolum kick); B—Noah Corbett 1 run (Woolum kick); B—Wellman 5 run (Wellman run); B—Fletcher 18 run (Blake Mendoza kick).
Records: Belfry 14-1, Lexington Catholic 11-4.