No, it’s not true. There are more than two football teams in Class 3-A. It just hasn’t looked that way since 2007.
For the fifth time in the past seven years, Central and defending champion Belfry will battle for the state 3-A championship, the next meeting beginning at noon EST Friday at Houchens Industries/L.T. Smith Stadium on the campus of Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green.
Central will be seeking its fifth consecutive victory over the Pirates and its sixth title overall under coach Ty Scroggins.
“Central’s got us 4-0, and that’s the one thing both teams are fully aware of,” Belfry coach Phillip Haywood said. “When we’ve played it’s usually been really close. We just have to play the game and see what happens.”
Central, after winning its first two meetings with Belfry 27-17 in 2007 and 46-7 in 2010, squeaked past the Pirates 15-14 in 2011 and 12-6 in 2012. Central bowed out in the quarter-finals last year with a 17-7 loss to Wayne County, which Belfry edged 3-0 in the championship game.
Haywood is in his 40th year as Belfry’s coach and is the state’s all-time winningest coach with his 388-127 record. He has led the Pirates to three state crowns, the 2-A titles in 2003 and 2004 besides the one in 2013.
“Central is very opportunistic offensively,” Haywood said. “We must take away the big play, we must play outstanding defense, get good field position and control the line of scrimmage. In the past, we have started out at our own 10- or 20-yard lines against them.”
Central again appears to have a good punter in sophomore Micqael Branch.
“Branch has been our MVP in the playoffs,” Scroggins said. “He’s done a great job of changing field position where we can be successful. He has punted nine times and four of them have stopped inside the 20-yard-line.”
Belfry, which is close to the West Virginia line, faces a 5½-hour bus trip to Bowling Green. The Pirates also are running into a Yellowjacket team that boasts a lot of spirit after rallying from a 26-0 deficit against Corbin and pulling out a 36-33 road win on the last play of the Nov. 21 quarter-final game.
“That game was a great one for morale,” Scroggins said. “Everybody is starting to believe in our system. It’s been a collective group of all 22 players. We started out slow (0-2) this year. We were inexperienced after graduating 27 players off last year’s team. We have 11 seniors, but only six of them play – two on offense and four on defense. We pretty much played with a JV team most of the season.”
Belfry stresses the running game, although Haywood said his team can come up with a big pass play in critical situations. Austin Hatfield, a junior, heads the offense with 1,360 yards and 25 touchdowns rushing, but quarterback Keaton Taylor is a running threat, too, with 940 yards and 10 TDs.
“We’re a bunch of blue-collar guys who work hard,” Haywood said. “Hatfield is our fullback, and that’s where it all starts. He’s a pretty tough kid with good speed for his size (5 feet 9, 200 pounds) and he’s been injury free.”
Central’s best runner is Stevon Beason, who has racked up 1,278 yards and 11 TDs rushing.
“It’s going to be a tough game,” Scroggins said. “Hatfield’s good and they (the Pirates) run the Georgia Tech option, the same offense those kids have run since the fifth grade. They run, run, run.”