KHSAA football championship three-peat saved on senior’s interception
A senior’s heroics guaranteed a third straight state title for Beechwood in an incredible opening game in the Class A KHSAA Commonwealth Gridiron Bowl state football finals at Kroger Field in Lexington on Friday. The last stages of the fourth quarter played out like a film script for the Tigers, with senior defensive back John Odom starring in the lead role.
With Beechwood clinging to a two-point lead, Odom got beat for a 25-yard touchdown pass from Pikeville quarterback and Mr. Football finalist Connor Roberts to Christian Billiter. After Roberts ran for the two-point-conversion, Pikeville led 20-14 late in the third quarter.
Beechwood took a one-point lead after quarterback Cameron Hergott pounded home a 1-yard keeper in the fourth. That set the stage for Odom’s redemption arc.
After Pikeville converted 4th-and-14 on a sensational sideline catch by Billiter, the Panthers were in position to spring the upset. With just over a minute to play, Pikeville again tried to beat Odom. Roberts unleashed a bomb, but Odom outjumped Billiter and snagged a game-clinching interception in the end zone with 1:09 left, sealing a 21-20 win for Beechwood and the program’s 14th state championship in its final season in Class A.
So what was going through Odom’s head as that final pass hung and the air and the Tigers’ season hung in the balance?
“I better not screw up twice,” Odom said. “(Billiter) made a hell of a play on that first (touchdown) he caught over us in double coverage, and I just couldn’t let him do that to us twice. I wasn’t gonna let him do that to our team.”
Beechwood Coach Noel Rash was not the least bit surprised that Odom was able to rebound and make the play that secured the title.
“John Odom making great plays is not something unusual to us. He comes from a great family and he’s a great young man so it makes sense that that happened,” Rash said. “I really couldn’t believe they were trying to pick on him.”
Beechwood quarterback Cameron Hergott was similarly unsurprised by Odom’s heroics.
“He’s a great (defensive back), and (Billiter) made a couple good catches on him, but John came out with the win on him and it was awesome,” Hergott said.
While Odom provided the storybook ending, it was Hergott who authored the all-important build-up to Friday’s finale. The sophomore was named MVP after navigating the Tigers through a roller-coaster of a game that saw Pikeville strike for several huge plays on offense.
In addition to the lead-seizing TD bomb to Billiter, Roberts hit Jackson Hensley for touchdowns of 57 and 66 yards. In fact, Odom’s interception was about the only blemish on a nearly flawless game by the Panthers’ signal caller. Roberts completed 10 of 15 passes for 243 yards and three perfectly-tossed touchdowns..
But Hergott always had an answer, showcasing a calm resolve that belied the sophomore’s youth. The three scoring marches he led were methodical, clock-killing drives that took 15, 11 and 12 plays, respectively. Beechwood converted 17 first downs, including six of 13 third-down attempts and three of five fourth-down tries.
Hergott rushed for 105 yards and the eventual game-winning TD and completed eight of 11 passes for 74 yards and one touchdown apiece to Logan Castleman and Luke Bolger.
“He’s another incredible young man who has great composure,” Rash said of Hergott. “I’ve seen him throw two picks and he stays even-keeled, and I’ve seen him throw three touchdown passes back-to-back-to-back and he stays like that. He’s got a great demeanor and he’s a winner. He’s an absolute winner.”
Odom agreed that Beechwood is in good hands with Hergott under center for the next two years as the school navigates its jump to Class 2A.
“I love Cameron, he works his butt off,” Odom said. “Its awesome to watch him and it was awesome to be his teammate. He’s a great kid and he’s going to go on to do great things here.”