GOODY, Ky. – The Belfry Pirates (8-2) will play host to Knott County Central (2-8) Friday night in the first round of the Class 3A playoffs in the Bluegrass State.
The two teams are at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to football programs.
Knott Central’s only two wins came against Jackson County and Jenkins. They lost 46-32 to Allen Central last week and 54-0 to a tough Breathitt County team the week before. The Patriots have struggled the past few seasons.
Belfry is coming off a big 17-12 win at Johnson Central. Coach Philip Haywood said he likes to see his team tested before heading into the playoffs. The road game against a good Class 4A Golden Eagles squad did just that.
“We were pleased with how we finished,” Haywood said of the regular season. “The last half of the season and the last couple of weeks we were making progress and felt like we’re getting better.”
“It may not have showed in some areas, but we did some good things, even in our last game,” Haywood continued. “Our defense was playing fundamentally sound. We have been physical all year, but fundamentally, we could have been better.”
“Our special teams were sound and offensively we made plays when we needed to make them – but our continuity is not where it should be,” Haywood added.
But with that said, Haywood sees improvement with the Pirates. “Once we looked at the game film – we saw where we were doing some of the little things better than we have been.”
Junior Trinity Carr is now the team’s leading rusher with over 900 yards in 10 games. He passed previous leader, junior Justin Johnson, who has been out since the Ashland Paul Blazer game with a concussion.
Carr has also kicked 33 extra points and booted a field goal against Johnson Central last week.
Johnson’s status for the first round playoff game is listed as probable and he should return to the field. He had rushed for 746 yards and 12 touchdowns before the head injury.
Even though Belfry has some depth in the backfield, Haywood and his staff will be glad to have Johnson back this week.
“That will help us, he is certainly a good back,” Haywood said of Johnson. “He knows our offensive scheme and he is also a good blocker. We definitely missed having him in the backfield.”
“Our kids are working hard to get better and that is exciting,” Haywood said. “A lot of teams have already reached their peak, but I think we are just now hitting ours. We are not even close to what we can be. If we can just keep improving at the level we have been, hopefully we will hit our stride.”
Senior Josh Robinson, along with sophomores Keaton Taylor and Austin Hatfield, have also stepped up for the Pirates. Robinson has eight rushing TDs, two receiving scores and one punt return so far this season. These players give Belfry plenty of depth in the backfield.
Junior quarterback Sani Warren is also capable of keeping the pigskin and gaining yardage and his passing has also improved the last couple of games giving Coach Haywood and his staff offensive balance.
When Warren throws the ball he has big 6-4 senior tight end Tony Messer as a target, along with senior split end Eli Huddle who has caught three TD passes and junior Cam Johnson. He also has the multitude of backs he looks for on screen passes, which has helped Belfry’s air attack. Taylor, Johnson, Robinson and Carr have all been targets at time this year out of the backfield.
Defensively Belfry has been led by senior linebacker Madison Ghormley, Messer at defensive end and linebacker Payton Mullins. Mullins leads the team in tackles, while Ghormley is second in stops. In the secondary Robinson leads the way with five interceptions, while Johnson has picked off three passes.
Belfry’s huge, strong offensive and defensive linemen have been a big key to their success.
Knott County Central is a young team, according to Haywood. This is their first playoff appearance in a while and he said they will be coming into Belfry hungry.
Even though earlier in the week there was some inclement weather and school was canceled on Tuesday, Haywood said this has now disturbed practice.
“At some point you want to see a measured improvement,” Haywood said of his team. “We’re pretty excited about where we are right not. I feel like we are just hitting our stride heading into the playoffs.”