All signs – whether they’re rankings or records or common opponents – point to the Belfry High School football team being a heavy favorite over Central in Saturday’s Class 3-A state championship game.
But these schools have a history of playing tight games in state finals, and Yellowjackets coach Ty Scroggins is expecting another one.
“Yeah, we should probably be the underdog,” Scroggins said. “They’ve won the last three state championships and have only lost five games over the last four years. … But this has become a good rivalry. I think on paper this is one of the best of the six (state finals) because of the history.”
Belfry (13-1) – No. 3 in the state in The Courier-Journal’s Litkenhous Ratings – will meet Central (9-5) at 6 p.m. EST Saturday at Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium in Bowling Green.
In the 10th season since Kentucky moved from four to six classes, the Pirates and Yellowjackets will meet in the 3-A final for the sixth time. Central won the first four of those meetings before Belfry turned the tables in 2014 with a 14-7 victory.
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The last three meetings have been decided by a total of 14 points, with Central winning 15-14 in 2011 and 12-6 in overtime in 2012.
With four senior linemen expected to move on and play college football next season, this Belfry team has been pegged by many as the program’s best during its recent run of state-final appearances. But Scroggins said the 2007 Belfry squad – featuring running backs Dustin May and Ivan Lee – was better.
“This team is a bigger team, but I think in 2007 those two running backs probably should have been Division I,” Scroggins said.
The Belfry line is led by University of Kentucky commit Austin Dotson (6 feet 7, 320 pounds) and University of Louisville commit Cole Bentley (6-5, 305). Dotson plays right tackle, and Bentley is listed as a tight end but essentially is a sixth offensive lineman in the Pirates’ option offense.
Senior right guard Jordan Scott (6-3, 295) and senior tight end/defensive tackle Rayquan Horton (6-2, 316) are Belfry’s other top linemen.
“That’s the first thing everybody talks about is their lineman, but we just have to have the mentality that size doesn’t matter,” Central senior linebacker Jonathan Dooley said. “If size mattered, the elephant would be the king of the jungle. If we execute our plan, I feel like we’ll come out on top.”
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Dooley and junior linebacker Luke Bowman – “the cornerstones of our defense,” Scroggins said – figure to be keys to limiting a Belfry rushing attack that features six players who have rushed for more than 400 yards this season. The Pirates average 342.4 rushing yards per game and have attempted just 32 passes (2.3 per game) all season.
Dooley, a middle linebacker, ranks second on the team with 92 tackles. Bowman, an outside linebacker, has a team-best 106 tackles and also has two interceptions.
“Really it’s about tackling those guys and not letting their linemen get off on you and put their girth on you,” Scroggins said. “We have to keep some separation and use our speed to our advantage.”
Belfry is riding a nine-game winning streak after last week’s 42-17 victory over Corbin in the state semifinals. It’s the same Corbin team that beat Central 20-14 on Aug. 26 during the Yellowjackets’ 0-4 start.
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But Dooley said this has been a different Central team since beating Waggener 41-21 on Sept. 23 for its first victory of the season. The Yellowjackets are 9-1 since then.
“We’re playing together as a team, as one unit,” Dooley said. “We’re not playing as individual groups anymore.”
Jason Frakes can be reached at (502) 582-4046 and email@example.com.
CLASS 3-A STATE FOOTBALL FINAL
CENTRAL VS. BELFRY
When: 6 p.m. EST Saturday.
Where: Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium, Bowling Green.
CENTRAL YELLOWJACKETS (9-5)
* Coach: Ty Scroggins (10th year).
* Top rushers: Corey Johnson (5-11, 170, Sr., 170 carries, 1,097 yards, 19 TDs); Chereioun Jones (6-0, 168, Sr., 167 carries, 781 yards, 5 TDs).
* Top passer: James Simpson (6-2, 165, Sr., 87 of 185, 1,433 yards, 13 TDs, 7 INTs).
* Top receivers: U’Kari Baker (5-7, 136, So., 24 catches, 715 yards, 7 TDs); Davon Hall (5-10, 150, Jr., 24 catches, 261 yards, 2 TDs); Corey Johnson (5-11, 170, Sr., 13 catches, 139 yards).
* Defensive leaders: Luke Bowman (6-1, 220, Jr., 106 tackles, 2 INTs); Jonathan Dooley (5-10, 220, Sr., 92 tackles); Trey Williams (6-1, 155, Jr., 83 tackles); Michael Fields (5-9, 165, Sr., 71 tackles, 1 INT); Quincy Baines (5-11, 160, Sr., 26 tackles, 4 INTs).
* State-final history: Central is 5-1 all-time in state finals, all coming since 2007. The Yellowjackets’ last trip to Bowling Green came in 2014, when they lost to Belfry 14-7.
BELFRY PIRATES (13-1)
* Coach: Philip Haywood (33rd year).
* Top rushers: Derek Wellman (6-1, 194, Jr., 86 carries, 770 yards, 9 TDs); Taveon Hunter (5-9, 175, Jr., 49 carries, 706 yards, 9 TDs); Andrew Fletcher (6-1, 208, Sr., 101 carries, 627 yards, 7 TDs); Cameron Catron (5-9, 175, Sr., 58 carries, 601 yards, 8 TDs); Noah Corbett (5-10, 171, Sr., 69 carries, 582 yards, 10 TDs).
* Top passer: Noah Corbett (5-10, 171, Sr., 14 of 25, 321 yards, 9 TDs, 0 INTs).
* Top receivers: Cameron Catron (5-9, 175, Sr., 7 catches, 167 yards, 3 TDS); Austin Woolum (5-9, 150, Sr., 5 catches, 163 yards, 5 TDs).
* Defensive leaders: Austin Fields (5-9, 235, So., 93 tackles, 1 INT); Derek Wellman (6-1, 194, Jr., 84 tackles, 1 INT); Chase Dove (5-11, 178, Sr., 83 tackles); Rayquan Horton (6-2, 316, Sr., 76 tackles); Cameron Catron (5-9, 175, Sr., 51 tackles, 5 INTs); Devin Varney (6-1, 173, Jr., 40 tackles, 4 INTs).
* State-final history: Belfry is 5-7 all-time in state finals and is in the championship game for the seventh straight season, having lost three straight to Central from 2010-12 before beating Wayne County in 2013, Central in 2014 and Lexington Catholic in 2015.
For the sixth time in 10 years Central and Belfry will meet in the 3-A final, and it’s the same ol’ story line – the Pirates’ powerful rushing attack against the Yellowjackets’ speed. The difference this time could be Belfry’s big line that features four players likely to be playing college football next season– Cole Bentley (Louisville commit), Austin Dotson (Kentucky commit), Rayquan Horton (uncommitted) and Jordan Scott (uncommitted).
Belfry 21-16. Many are predicting a Belfry blowout, but this one will be closer than most people think and don’t be surprised if Central pulls the upset.