BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – The mountain men from Belfry High School – led by a mountainous offensive line – showcased their old-school rushing attack and entered the record book Saturday night.
The Pirates rushed for 407 yards and didn’t bother attempting a pass on their way to a 52-31 victory over Central in the Class 3-A state football championship game.
A crowd of 4,685 fans at Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium saw the Pirates (14-1) – No. 3 in the state in The Courier-Journal’s Litkenhous Ratings – win their fourth straight state title. Belfry became the sixth school to accomplish the feat, joining Highlands (2007-12), Boyle County (1999-2003), Trinity (2005-08), Beechwood (1991-94) and Mayfield (2012-15).
“I’m just overwhelmed,” said Belfry coach Philip Haywood, who added to his state-record total with his 417th career victory. “Winning the championship is always big, but to do this four times, very few teams in the state of Kentucky have done that. That’s always been their goal, and this is a great senior class.”
Derek Wellman led the Pirates with 195 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries. Cameron Catron (six carries, 106 yards, one TD) and Taveon Hunter (five carries, 92 yards, two TDs) also had big games as Belfry averaged 8.8 yards per carry.
They were aided by an offensive line that features four seniors expected to play college football – Austin Dotson (6 feet 7, 320 pounds), Cole Bentley (6-5, 305), Jordan Scott (6-3, 295) and Rayquan Horton (6-2, 316). Dotson (Kentucky) and Bentley (Louisville) already have committed to colleges.
“That doesn’t come along too often,” Haywood said. “We’ll have a big kid every now and then that will go on and play, but we have four kids this year who have offers and that’s rare for a school our size where we’re located to all come through at one time.”
Central was forced to go to the air and senior quarterback James Simpson completed 19 of 38 passes for 310 yards and four touchdowns. Rico White (eight catches, 95 yards, two TDs) and U’Kari Baker (seven catches, 187 yards, one TD) were the top receivers.
But Simpson also was intercepted three times, and Central’s rushing attack was limited to 84 yards on 30 carries (2.8 yards per attempt).
“We didn’t expect them to shut our run game down … so that was kind of disappointing,” Central coach Ty Scroggins said.
Catron (58 yards) and Wellman (64 yards) both had long touchdown runs in the first quarter, and Austin Woolum’s 29-yard field goal gave the Pirates a 17-7 halftime advantage.
Wellman’s second touchdown run – a 1-yarder – made it 31-7 with 2:21 left in the third quarter.
“I had no doubt we were going to drive the ball down the field,” Wellman said. “We have one of the best offensive lines in the state, and they proved it tonight. They don’t get credit a lot, but I want to give them all the credit for opening the holes I got tonight.”
Hunter’s 47-yard touchdown run made it 38-7 with 6:29 remaining and sparked a wild finish that featured 45 combined points. Simpson threw three late touchdown passes, the last one pulling Central within 45-31 with 30 seconds left.
But on the ensuing onside kick, Catron fielded the bouncing ball in stride and returned it 46 yards for the final score of the game.
Scroggins said Belfry’s offensive line lived up to its billing.
“They’re bigger than every team in Jefferson County, bigger than any team we’ve played, for sure,” Scroggins said. “We expected to be a grind-it-out game because we expected to get more stops. You can’t give up two long runs and expect to stay in the game. We just didn’t defend tonight, and they’re a better team than us.”
In the state final for the seventh time in 10 years, Central dropped to 5-2, having also lost to Belfry 14-7 in the 2014 championship game. Central defeated Belfry for the titles in 2007, 2010, 2011 and 2012.
Scroggins said the loss will be toughest for his 15 seniors.
“They’re going to be sad … and if you’re an athlete and a warrior you shouldn’t be out here if you’re not sad,” Scroggins said. “We’ll mend it, and the sun will come out tomorrow and we’ll celebrate a runner-up trophy.”
* At halftime, the Kentucky Football Coaches Association named Central’s Corey Johnson the Class 3-A Player of the Year and Lexington Catholic’s Mark Perry the Class 3-A Coach of the Year.
Jason Frakes can be reached at (502) 582-4046 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
BELFRY 14 3 14 21 – 52
CENTRAL 7 0 0 24 – 31
B – Cameron Catron 58 run (Austin Woolum kick); C – Rico White 24 pass from James Simpson (Sebastian Francisco kick); B – Derek Wellman 64 run (Woolum kick); B – Woolum 29 FG; B – Devin Varney 10 interception return (Woolum kick); B – Wellman 1 run (Woolum kick); B – Taveon Hunter 47 run (Woolum kick); C – U’Kari Baker 57 pass from Simpson (White pass from Simpson); C – Davon Hall 18 pass from Simpson (Quincy Baines pass from Simpson); B – Hunter 38 run (Woolum kick); C – White 4 pass from Simpson (Simpson run); B – Catron 46 kickoff return (Woolum kick).
First downs 17 17
Total yards 407 394
Rushes-yards 46-407 30-84
Comp-Att-Int 0-0-0 19-38-3
Passing yards 0 310
Fumbles-lost 2-0 1-0
Punts-avg 3-29.7 2-51
Penalties-yards 6-60 11-93