GOODY, Ky. — The Belfry Pirates and coach Philip Haywood secured a spot in the UK Orthopaedics/KHSAA Commonwealth Bowl Class 3A Semifinals for the first time since 2016 on Friday night as they cruised past visiting Ashland Blazer by a final score of 41-7 at CAM Stadium.
“We haven’t been able to really put it together all season long, and I felt like it was time” coach Haywood said following the win. “It had to be tonight or it wasn’t going to happen. I felt like that tonight we came close to the way we have been capable of playing all year. Our injury situation is much better. I’m just really proud of the way our kids played tonight.”
The Pirates (9-3) dominated the Tomcats from the opening kickoff as they scored on all four of their offensive possessions in the first half and jumped ahead to a 28-0 lead going into the halftime locker rooms.
Fullback Peyton Hensley had a big opening half for Belfry as he found the endzone three times on the ground, coming on a pair of 1-yard runs and a 2-yard plunge. He also tacked on a 51-yard sprint in the opening half to set up his second score.
The Pirates also added a rare score via the air, as junior quarterback Brett Coleman rolled out to the left and found fellow junior Isaac Dixon for a 76-yard touchdown pass on a third and 15.
Belfry continued the onslaught in the second half as they took the opening kickoff and mounted a long, clock-chewing drive capped off by a 6-yard run by Dixon with 6:36 left in the third quarter. They went for two to try and set up a running clock, but the run was no-good, and they took the 34-0 lead.
The Tomcats (10-3) desperately needing a score on their next possession to stay in the game went to the air but disaster struck as junior QB Jake Gregg was picked off by Belfry defensive back Isaiah Birchfield and he returned it 47 yards to the house for the Pirate score. Cook’s PAT split the uprights and they extended the lead to 41-0 with 5:19 still left in the third and set up the running clock.
Coach Tony Love’s squad finally mounted a scoring drive on their next possession as they hit pay dirt when Gregg floated a 35-yard pass to the endzone and found No. 17 J.T. Garrett for the Tomcats score. The PAT was good, but the Pirates still led 41-7 with 11:30 to play.
With the running clock still in effect, the time left on the clock quickly elapsed as the Pirates secured the Class AAA Region IV Championship and returned to the state semifinals.
“These kids have battled through a lot of adversities this year with injuries and a couple of tough losses to a couple of local rivals and so forth,” Haywood said. “But through it all they have been able to keep their heads up and come to practice, they work hard, they’ve played hard even though sometimes we had two, three or even four guys out on our offense or defense.
“Then these last 2-3 weeks they were able to kind of start gelling a little bit you know because we had everybody back out their on the field. Our young guys do a great job with the scout team and our coaching staff they do a great job with our kids. This was a great team effort, big win for us, big win.”
Belfry piled up 410 yards of total offense, while holding Ashland to only 170 total yards. The Pirates amassed 324 of those yards on the ground and 86 via the air while the Ashland run game was shut down and held to only 44 yards.
The Pirate defense did a tremendous job limiting star running backs Blake Hester and Keontae Pittman who both entered the game will well over 1,000 yards rushing. Hester had 47 yards on 11 carries while Pittman gained only one yard on four attempts.
Youngstown state commit Ben Bentley led the three-headed Pirate attack in rushing as he totaled 139 yards on 12 carries while Dixon added 89 yards on the ground, 76 receiving, and two scores. Hensley totaled 84 yards on 13 carries to go with his game high three scores.
Coleman finished a perfect 3-3 passing for Belfry for 86 yards and the score while Gregg hit 12-16 passes for 126 yards for the Tomcats but threw two interceptions compared and only one TD.
The loss for Ashland sees their season come to a close in the Region IV final at 10-3 as they were looking to return to a state semifinal for the first time since 1991 in their first year back in Class AAA after competing in 4A for recent years.
The win for Belfry improves them to 9-3 on the year and is win No. 447 in the legendary career of coach Haywood and playoff win No. 91.
He will be looking to lead Belfry to the 13th state championship game as head man of the Pirates and 14th overall in the history of the Belfry football program as they are back in action on Friday night at 10-3 Desales High School.
“You kind of get used to being here every year and after a couple years of not making it you start to say ‘Hey what’s going on here,” Haywood said about making back to the state semifinals. “It was a huge win for us tonight and this entire community.”
Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. against the Colts on what will be “black Friday” in Louisville.
Score by quarters
ABHS (9-3): 0 0 0 7 — 7
BHS (10-3): 14 14 13 0 — 41
BHS: 1-yard run Hensley (Cook PAT Good) 4:51
BHS: 76-yard pass Coleman to Dixon (Cook PAT Good) 2.6
BHS: 2-yard run Hensley (Cook PAT Good) 5:20
BHS: 1-yard run Hensley (Cook PAT Good) 29.5
BHS: 6-yard run Dixon (Run no-good) 6:36
BHS: 47-yard interception return Birchfield (Cook PAT Good) 5:19
ABHS: 35-yard pass Gregg to Garrett (Slone PAT Good) 11:30