HAZARD — On a bitter cold night in the mountains, Hazard warmed the hearts of its football fans Friday by stunning Lexington Christian Academy 28-21 in the Class A semifinals.
Just four weeks ago LCA leveled Hazard 49-7, but the rematch belonged to the Bulldogs, who muscled their way to the state finals for the first time in school history.
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When the final horn sounded, Hazard fans flooded the field in celebration.
The Bulldogs (11-3) will face defending champ Beechwood (13-1) in the championship game Friday in Louisville.
"This is unbelievable," Hazard Coach Mark Dixon said. "These kids never cease to amaze me. They're amazing.
"We get mad at each other, we love each other, just like a family. And then something great like this happens."
Hazard quarterback Tyler Olinger orchestrated the upset. The bullish senior completed nine of 12 passes for 171 yards and a touchdown, but his running was the difference.
He carried 23 times for 91 yards and two touchdowns in the second half and finished with 31 rushes for 105 yards.
"It was on my shoulders," Olinger said. "I had to do it. I hadn't done good all season, so I had to pick it up and do it tonight for my team, the town and all of Eastern Kentucky."
Dixon credited his quarterback for carrying the load.
"He got his shoulder pads down and ran like we knew he could," Dixon said.
Hazard receiver Michael Campbell was another play-maker. He caught six passes for 120 yards, and each one seemed to come on crucial third downs.
"We had no answer for Campbell," LCA Coach Paul Rains said.
"He and Olinger basically went one-on-one against us, and we couldn't do anything with them."
Hazard's solid play in the first half indicated this game wasn't going to be like the blowout in Lexington.
The Bulldogs matched LCA 14-14.
Hazard's touchdowns came after long, time-consuming drives. Greg Adams capped the first with a 6-yard run.
Olinger connected with Josh Kidd on a 34-yard pass for the second score, and it came on fourth-and-19.
LCA got its points on a short run by Domonique Hayden and a 33-yard pass from Lucas Witt to Ben Hartley.
After Olinger put Hazard ahead to stay with a 1-yard run midway through the third quarter, the Bulldogs' defense made what turned out to be the play of the game.
Allan Fugate sacked Witt for a 16-yard loss at the LCA 4. After a short punt, Hazard took over at the Eagles' 27, and Olinger scored three plays later.
LCA pulled to within 28-21 on Witt's 23-yard pass to Branden Burdette with eight minutes left.
But Hazard's ball-control offense ate up all but the last 21 seconds by driving to the LCA 29.
The Bulldogs' defense limited LCA's high-powered offense better than anybody had this season.
Witt passed for 150 yards, and Hayden rushed for 53. That's wasn't enough offense to get the Eagles a return trip to the state finals.
"We had a great year and made a great run, but we got beat tonight," Rains said.
"Hazard came out and made the plays, and we didn't."
Lexington Christian 7 7 0 7—21
Hazard 7 7 14 0—28
LCA—Domonique Hayden 3 run (Chaz Witt kick); H—Greg Adams 6 run (Austin Delpont kick); H—Josh Kidd 34 pass from Tyler Olinger (Witt kick); LCA—Ben Hartley 33 pass from Lucas Witt (Chaz Witt kick); H—Olinger 1 run (Delpont kick); H—Olinger 13 run (Delpont kick); LCA—Branden Burdette 23 pass from Witt (Chaz Witt kick).
Records—LCA 10-4; Hazard 11-3