LOUISVILLE — After the Belfry Pirates and coach Philip Haywood defeated Ashland Paul Blazer 41-7 on Friday night to win the KHSAA Class AAA Region IV Championship and advance onto the state semifinals, most of the Belfry fans and players initially thought they would be heading to Bell County to face the undefeated Bobcats.
It wasn’t until well after the game while they were “dancing under the red lights” on U.S. 119 that they found out about Taylor County upsetting No. 2 Paducah Tilghman, which completely shifted the RPI ratings.
With Paducah’s loss, Belfry jumped up to No. 3 in the RPI ratings from No. 4 and will now face DeSales High School, who jumped from No. 3 in the ratings up to No. 2. Bell County remained No. 1 in the ratings with their win and will now host Taylor County, who landed at No. 4 in the final RPI.
DeSales is a private, Roman Catholic school for boys located in Louisville, Kentucky, and this is their first season in Class AAA after competing in Class AA in recent years. This will be the first time they have faced the Pirates on the gridiron.
“We’ve talked a little bit in the past off-and-on about playing a game but I really don’t know much about them, other than from the film we’ve watched,” coach Haywood said of his semifinal opponent. “They’ve got a good football program, they won a couple of titles in 2013 and 2014 in AA, now they are in AAA. They are a private school, so that gives them a few advantages as we all know.”
The Colts are 10-3 so far in 2019 and are led by head coach Harold Davis, who is in the midst of his eighth season leading the program. He has guided them to an impressive 81-16 record during his tenure at DeSales and he says his program has a lot of respect for the powerhouse Pirates.
“They are a program that is known throughout the state,” coach Davis told the WDN. “I’ve known about them, I’ve always known that they had a very good program. Coach (Philip) Haywood, although I don’t know him personally I know he is an outstanding coach, obviously being the all-time winningest coach in Kentucky (447 wins). We have a lot of respect for them, we know that they are used to being in this position, so this isn’t really anything different for them.”
The Colts have used a pair of quarterbacks this season in junior Jayden Scroggins and senior DeMarcus Avery, but Davis wouldn’t commit to which one we would see against the Pirates.
“We don’t necessarily use two quarterbacks in every game, it just depends on whatever the game plan is,” Davis said. “Both are capable of leading the team, they each bring a different dynamic. One is a true quarterback, doesn’t run a whole lot, but the other one can throw the ball and he’s tough to deal with because he can run.”
Scroggins, who is the son of former Louisville Central head coach and current DeSales assistant Tyrran Scroggins, started the previous game against Bardstown and went 2-3 passing for 23 yards before leaving with an undisclosed injury. Avery came in and finished the game, going 3-4 passing for 82 yards and two touchdown passes while adding 92 yards rushing and two scores on the ground.
Avery has 739 yards passing and nine touchdown strikes on the season while Scroggins has 660 yards passing and 12 touchdowns, but has thrown eight interceptions. Avery has also added 432 yards rushing and eight more scores on the year.
Leading rusher James Johnson, who has 1,361 yards rushing and 18 scores on the season, led the Colts in their Region final matchup with 138 yards rushing and two scores.
“Their offensive line is good, they come off the ball and they get their bodies on you. It’s a little different style than maybe what we do,” coach Haywood said. “But they get their bodies on you and then they’ve got great skill. They throw the ball, they mix it up well and then they’ve got a big tailback. They are a pretty well rounded offensive football team.”
Defensively the Colts only give up an average of 15.8 points per game and are stout on that side of the ball, particularly on the defensive front.
“They’ve got an outstanding front four on defense, I mean these guys are big and fast,” coach Haywood said of the Colts defensive line. “They have created people problems all year. They are giving up about 40 yards rushing per game, so they’ve got some really good personnel defensively.”
Defensive lineman Demetri Scott (71 tackles, 23 TFL), DeJaun Watkins (68 tackles, 16.5 TFL) and Mekhi Lewis (57 tackles, 12.5 TFL) have led a group that only allows 36.8 yards rushing a game according to the KHSAA website.
“Our defensive line, all four of them are seniors and three of them have been playing for us for the past three years,”Davis said of his front four. “One of them even played some as a freshman. We are pretty solid there. It’s probably the strongest part of our defense. We were expecting big things from them this year and it turned out they delivered.”
Coach Davis knows his defense will have their work cut out for them this week trying to slow down the three-headed running attack of the Pirates that comes in averaging 334 yards per game on the ground this season.
The Pirates boast three runners with at least 800 plus yards on the ground and 10 touchdowns on the seasons. Fullback Peyton Hensley has racked up 1,161 yards and 15 touchdowns on the year, both of which lead the team, and senior Ben Bentley is right behind him with 1,068 yards and 13 scores.
Junior play maker Isaac Dixon adds 833 yards rushing and 10 scores to go with seven receptions for 185 yards and three scores despite missing the better part of four games due to an injury midway through the season.
“We have to stop them and their run game which is what they are very, very good at. We have to be very disciplined with our assignments on defense because of that triple option, everybody is going to have an assignment and they are going to have to take care of that assignment. We’ve got our work cut out for us, we are going to have to be very disciplined defensively.”
Junior quarterback Brett Coleman also adds 225 yards rushing and six scores on the season for the Pirates while passing for 395 yards and six touchdowns compared to only one interception.
Defensively, the Pirates have been superb this season as they come in allowing only 13.6 points a contest and have only allowed 14 total points in three playoff games.
They are led by senior linebacker John Ashurst who has had a big senior season for the “Big Red” defense with 88 total tackles, including four sacks, and four TFL. Fellow linebacker Seth Mounts also has four TFl.
Senior defensive lineman Jonathan Stepp has also flourished this season adding 67 tackles along the front while Air Force commit Grayson Cook has tacked on 48 tackles.
Senior defensive back Isaiah Birchfield has 44 tackles and leads the team with four interceptions. He has picked off a pass in two of the three playoff games.
Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Friday night at Paul B. Cox Stadium, which has been the home of the Colts since 2016.
Both head coaches expect a big crowd on hand, with a berth in the Class AAA Championship game at Kroger Field on the line.
“I would expect us to have a pretty big crowd, when we were in the semifinals before and had to travel to Mayfield one year and Murray another year we had a lot of fans there,” coach Davis said. “I would expect since its at home and its the first time we have ever hosted a semifinal game I would expect that their will be a lot of people here, on both sides. I hear Belfry usually brings a lot of fans as well.”
According to DeSales Athletic Director Don Bowers, the bleachers at the stadium seats around 3,000 people but he said there is also plenty of standing room around the stadium. He said that parking close to the stadium is limited, as the schools campus is nestled in a residential area, so fans should try to arrive as early as possible.
“Traditionally our people travel very well, especially for the semifinal games and the championship games,” Haywood said. “So hopefully our people make a trip to the city, find a place to park, and get in there and cheer us on.”