PAINTSVILLE — In a battle of unbeaten football powers, Belfry outmuscled host Johnson Central 21-13 on a rainy Friday night in the mountains.
Belfry (10-0) won out thanks to a successful fake punt that kept alive a key scoring drive, a defense that stuffed a potential game-tying two-point conversion by Johnson Central, and a toughness in the trenches all night long.
Belfry, which wasn't ranked in Dave Cantrall's Top 25, hadn't trailed all season until seventh-rated Johnson Central took a 7-6 lead in the third quarter, but the Pirates knew how to handle the situation.
"I thought the kids would respond," Belfry Coach Philip Haywood said, "and they did. This was the kind of game we've needed all year — a tough game. This is what we needed going into the playoffs."
Both teams came into the game averaging more than 40 points, but neither had faced the kind of defense they did Friday night. It was a showdown of smash-mouth styles, and Belfry prevailed.
"That's how we roll," Pirates senior Ivan Lee said. "Our offensive line is what makes it happen, and we just run and run."
Lee, a bruising 6-foot-1, 250-pound running back, gave Belfry a 6-0 lead with a 1-yard run midway through the first quarter.
That lead stood until Johnson Central put together an 82-yard, 15-play drive on its first possession of the second half. Every play was on the ground, with Nathan Dillon, Chase Richardson and Tanner Bratton chewing up the artificial turf.
But it was quarterback Dennis Dillon who capped it off with a 1-yard sneak for the touchdown. Trent Davis added the extra point to put the Golden Eagles ahead 7-6.
Belfry answered right back. The Pirates marched 65 yards in 16 plays to retake the lead. The biggest play of the drive came on fourth-and-four at their own 48. Haywood called for a fake punt. The snap went to Lee, who easily picked up the first down.
The Pirates went on to score, with quarterback Andrew Elkins sneaking in from the 1. Thomas Varney ran for the two-point conversion to make it 14-7.
Johnson Central, urged on by its home fans, came back strong. Thanks to a 38-yard pass from Dennis Dillon to Ian Welch, the Eagles moved quickly down the field. Nathan Dillon scored on a 3-yard run to cut the deficit to 14-13 with 5:27 left.
Johnson Central Coach Jim Matney initially sent his kicking unit onto the field to tie it up, but after hearing his players plead for the chance to go for the two-point conversion, he relented. The gamble didn't pay off. Nathan Dillon was stopped short of the goal line, and Belfry kept its lead.
The Pirates sealed the victory with another TD in the closing seconds, with Charlie Dotson scoring from the 1.
Belfry had a balanced running attack, with Lee leading the way with 82 yards, Varney had 78 and Dotson added 69.
The Pirates did not attempt a pass all night, which is Haywood's kind of football.
But Haywood did something Matney had never seen before — a fake punt. "That was the play of the game," Matney said.
The Eagles coach told his team after the game that he deserved the blame for going for the two-point conversion. He told his players they could someday "chisel on my tombstone, 'He went for two.'"
Belfry's defense did a solid job limiting Johnson Central's punishing running attack. The Eagles finished with just more than 200 yards on the ground, less than half their average. Nathan Dillon's 77 yards led the way. Richardson added 65.
The Pirates now head into the Class 3A playoffs, hoping for a return trip to Louisville. They lost to Central in the state finals last year. Johnson Central prepares for the Class 5A playoffs.
Belfry 21, Johnson Central 13
Belfry 6 0 0 15—21
Johnson Central 0 0 7 6—13
B—Ivan Lee 1 run (kick failed). JC—Dennis Dillon 1 run (Trent Davis kick). B—Andrew Elkins 1 run (Thomas Varney run). JC—Nathan Dillon 3 run (run failed). B—Charlie Dotson 1 run (Ivan Lee kick).
Records: Belfry 10-0; Johnson Central 9-1.