LEXINGTON, Ky. --The Belfry Pirates made the trek down the Mountain Parkway to Kroger Field in Lexington, Kentucky on Friday night and claimed the school’s seventh State Championship with a 30-20 win over No. 1 rated Bell County in the UK Orthopaedics/KHSAA Commonwealth Gridiron Bowl.
“I’m just so proud of our kids and so happy for them, we’ve faced a lot of adversity in a sense. We lost a couple of games in a row earlier in the year and the news media, our fans, and other coaches kind of wrote us off and kept saying ‘well this isn’t one of Belfry’s better teams,” coach Haywood said after claiming his 449th career win. “But both of those teams, one of them won a state championship earlier today (Pikeville) and the other is playing for a title up in Ohio (Archbishop Alter). And then Johnson Central popped us at the end of the year, but we had a lot of injuries and illness and all kinds of things that slowed our progress.
“But our kids were just so patient. We came in the locker rooms after those losses, and the kids they just had this attitude and said ‘We’re going to be better on Monday.’ We talked the first week in the playoffs…I said ‘guys every team in the state is pretty good, but they are peaking right now and we’re not even close to playing as well as we can play. We’ve just got to play long enough before we can play our best.’ And man, these past three weeks we have turned it on, these guys have played great. Which is what I envisioned for them the first of the year, it just took a little longer than usual. I’m just so happy for them and proud of them.”
The Pirates (11-3) got on the board first as they found the end zone on their second drive of the game when Isaac Dixon scampered in from 30-yards away with 3:12 left in the first. Grayson Cook’s PAT split the uprights, and Belfry took the 7-0 lead.
Dixon carried the Pirates on the night as the junior ran 15 times for 228 yards and three touchdowns and was named the Most Valuable Player of the game by the KHSAA. He was nearly at a loss for words after the game trying to describe the feeling it meant to claim the school’s seventh title, all coming since 2003.
“I don’t really know what to feel right now, I feel everything,” Dixon said “This is what we’ve worked our butts off for all year and we came here and took what we deserved.”
After punting on their first two drives, the Bobcats (14-1) started moving the ball and advanced all the way to the Belfry one-yard line after a 34-yard scramble on third down by Bell County quarterback London Stephney.
Two-plays later, Stephney bobbled the snap but still was able to pick it up and sneak into the end zone to get the Bobcats on the board. Jason Jones lined up for the PAT, but it was wide left, and Haywood’s squad held on to the lead at 7-6 with 10:11 left in the first half.
On the ensuing Pirate possession, Dixon broke free on just the second play of the drive as he sprinted untouched 69-yards to the end zone to bring the Pond Creek Nation to their feet. Cook’s PAT split the uprights and once again and Belfry pushed their lead to 14-6 with 9:14 remaining in the half.
The back-and-forth affair continued as coach Dudley Hilton’s squad mounted a long drive on their next possession that was capped off by a five-yard touchdown run up the middle by running back Hunter Bailey. After eating up nearly five minutes of the game clock, the Bobcats trimmed the Belfry lead to 14-12 following the unsuccessful two-point conversion with 4:19 left until halftime.
The Pirates mounted their first lengthy drive of the game on their next possession as they moved the ball methodically down to the Bell 10-yard line and had a first and goal. Dixon found the endzone for the third time in the first half on the next play, but a holding penalty negated the score and moved the ball back to the 20-yard line with just 26 seconds left in the half.
After a Ben Bentley run on an option and a run up the middle by Peyton Hensley moved the ball inside the Bobcat 10-yard line, the Pirates were forced to call their final timeout with 11 seconds to play to stop the clock.
Coming out of the timeout Belfry dropped back to throw their first pass of the game as quarterback Brett Coleman rolled out to the left, but his pass fell incomplete in the end zone with eight seconds left. Coach Haywood brought the field goal unit on the field to try and add to their lead going into the half and Cook knocked it through from 24-yards out to give the Pirates the 17-12 lead going into the break.
Belfry’s power running attack was moving the ball at will in the first 12 minutes of action as they totaled 212 yards on the ground compared to Bell’s 90. The Bobcats added 74 yards passing for a total of 164 yards in the half.
On the first Belfry drive of the second half the Pirates had moved the ball into Bell territory but committed the first turnover of the game as a fumble was forced by Chase Huff and recovered by Brandon Baker to give the Bobcats the ball at their own 45-yard line.
The Cats took over and moved it deep into Belfry territory but saw their drive come to a halt after a fumbled snap knocked them back seven yards and pushed them behind the chains as the Belfry defense was able to force a turnover on downs.
Coach Haywood’s squad took over deep in their own territory and went back to the ground as they mounted a long drive down the field into the Bobcat red zone, converting several third downs along the way.
The drive turned out to be fruitful for the red-and-white as on second and goal from the eight-yard line Dixon took an option pitch to the right from Coleman and waltzed into the end zone to give the Pirates to 23-12 lead. Cook’s PAT was wide right, and the score remained the same with 9:59 left in the game.
On the next Bell County possession, the Bobcats faced a fourth and five from their own 25-yard line coach Hilton decided to go for it trailing by two scores.
The Pirate defense made a stand as they tackled Stephney short of the line to gain to force a turnover on downs and take over at the Bell 29-yard line.
“We’re pretty quick defensively and we thought that if we could just keep him (Stephney) in front of us. And he got us a couple of times, but we thought that overall, that if we could keep him in front of us, keep those long passes from happening we would be okay…and most of the time we kept him in front. We did that with a lot of speed, because our guys run well. This guy was fast. He’s a great player. He’s the best we’ve played in two or three years, but at the same time it wasn’t something that we haven’t played before.”
After a pair of first downs moved the Pirates inside the 10-yard line, they added their final score of the game as Bentley pushed into the end zone from two yards away. Cook’s PAT was good this time and the Pirates took their largest lead at 30-12.
The Bobcats would tack on a late score as Stephney scrambled in from six yards away with 2:42 to play to trim the lead to 30-20 but it was all for naught as the Pirates recovered the onside kick and ran out the remainder of the clock to bring the second championship of the day back to Pike County.
“Normally we are favored in a lot of these things anymore, but this time we’ve been underdogs since the region on,” Haywood said. “It’s kind of nice for a change, but we said, ‘we’re going to get off that bus with a chip on our shoulder this week.’ One of our players said that and I picked up on it, we said it all week long that that’s the way we’ve got to play. And that’s the way we played all through the playoffs, like we’ve got a point to prove.”
Belfry out gained the Bobcats 379 to 291 on the day with every single yard coming via the ground. The Pirates offensive line continued opening holes throughout the game and wearing on the Bell County defensive front.
Dixon’s 228 yards and three scores led the Pirates while Hensley rumbled for 98 tough yards on 19 carries on the night and Bentley followed him with 52 yards on 12 attempts and the late score.
“Isaac can play a little bit now,” coach Haywood said of Dixon. “See he was out for about six weeks this year…right now I don’t even know if he’s at 100%, but he still played pretty good tonight…but this was a team effort, our guys blocked all game for each other and its hard just to key on one of our backs. Any of those guys can take it to the house.”
Stephney, who has offers from Army and Navy, ran for 104 yards and two scores on the ground but was held to only 150 yards passing and no scores as the Belfry defense kept the Bell County quick strike attack at bay.
Dixon and Bentley were amazed at the support of the Pond Creek Nation (PCN) as they had a large contingent of fans clad in red-and-white at Kroger Field supporting their beloved Pirates.
“All these fans, I’ve never played in front of a crowd like this,” an emotional Dixon said after the game. “For these fans to come down here, for everybody that came out for three hours to watch us play it is just amazing.”
“That’s Pirate Pride, it’s something special,” Bentley said. “To have that many people drive that far to support us with us being underdogs its just no better feeling.”
The game was a match up of the two winningest coaches in the history of the Bluegrass State as Haywood secured his 449th win and Hilton remains with 393 career victories. After the loss Hilton said that his program has come a long way in the past three seasons after being 4-7 in 2016.
“We were 4-7 just three years ago,” Hilton said. “For this team to be back in the state championship playing against Belfry I feel pretty darn good about a bunch of kids that worked hard to get the Bell County football program back to where it once was. “
For coach Haywood, who had just completed his 45th season as a head coach on the sidelines in Kentucky, he said his seventh state championship felt just as sweet as when they won the school’s first state title back in 2003. The longtime coach went on to say how fortunate he is to have been the coach at Belfry’s all these years, after finishing his 36th season at Belfry and 45th overall.
“I’ve been so fortunate to be at a great school with great coaches and great players. And I’ve just been blessed, God has blessed me, and I really appreciate that. The older I get the more I appreciate just walking on a practice field with guys like these coaches who put so much into it, and these players…I am a fortunate, blessed guy.”
The win for Belfry caps off a decade of dominance for the Pirates in Kentucky’s Class 3A as they have played in state title game in eight of the past 10 years and claimed the title in five out of those eight appearances.
Score by quarters
BHS (11-3): 7 10 0 13 — 30
BCHS (14-1): 0 12 0 8 — 20
BHS: 30-yard run Dixon (Cook PAT Good) 3:12
BCHS: 1-yard run Stephney (Jones PAT No Good) 10:11
BHS: 69-yard run Dixon (Cook PAT Good) 9:14
BCHS: 5-yard run Bailey (Run No Good) 4:19
BHS: 24-yard Field Goal Cook 0:05
BHS: 8-yard run Dixon (Cook PAT No Good) 9:59
BHS: 2-yard run Bentley (Cook PAT Good) 4:31
BCHS: 6-yard run Stephney (Pass good) 2:42