No. 1 Boyle County visits No. 3 Belfry in quarterfinals
Road games don’t get much bigger than Friday night’s contest for Boyle County.
The undefeated Rebels will visit No. 3 Belfry (10-2) in the 3A state quarterfinals, a battle between two of the most successful programs in state history over the last two decades.
Since 1998, the two teams have combined for 14 state championships. Boyle owns a 233-45 record over those 20 seasons; Belfry is 230-56.
Boyle head coach Chuck Smith — who has coached Boyle to six of its eight titles — said that his team has been focused this week in preparation for such an important game.
“I thought it’s been going pretty good, they seem to be focused,” he said. “I think the game has got their attention and I think they understand how good Belfry really is.”
The Pirates of Pike County are the bar for any team hoping to have a power run game on offense. Belfry thrives on the ground: This year, the Pirates have 3,882 rushing yards as a team, just over 320 yards rushing per game.
Four players have more than 500 yards rushing for Belfry: Sophomore stud Isaac Dixon has led the way, carrying 85 times for 1,273 yards and 15 touchdowns; junior Ben Bentley is next with 61 carries for 828 yards and 12 scores; senior quarterback Kevin Browning has 49 runs for 502 yards and 11 scores, and sophomore Brett Coleman has 67 carries for 502 yards and five scores.
“They just pound it, they’ve got a great offensive line. It’s not a good offensive line, it’s a great one,” coach Smith said. “They just really are aggressive and physical and they pound it. They’ve got some really good skill people and a quarterback that knows how to run that option offense. He knows how to run it, he’s a very good player. They’ve got two or three running backs that can really go.
“They can actually throw it some if they want, they’re good enough to throw the ball if they have to, but really they haven’t had to because nobody’s really slowed them down yet.”
Browning has been efficient when called on in the air: He’s completed 26-of-35 passes for 713 yards and 13 touchdowns and zero interceptions.
In order for Boyle to win, it’ll take a fundamental performance on both sides of the ball, coach Smith said.
“Both teams are good, quality football teams and both have some tradition and have had success this year,” he said. “It should be a game in which turnovers, field position, those types of things will decide the game.”
Belfry squeaked out a 55-51 victory over Lexington Catholic last week. The Knights found success through the air, with quarterback Beau Allen completing 34-of-55 passes for 451 yards and six touchdowns. He also had three interceptions.
Even with Catholic’s success through the air, coach Smith says his team will need to establish the run game on Friday.
“I think we’ll just be who we are. I think that’s how we roll, we’re a run/pass team,” he said. “We’ve got to be able to do both in order for us to tick, I think. That’s the approach we’ll take, we’ve got to be who we are.”
The Rebels have done both this year: Junior quarterback Reed Lanter has completed 154-of-233 passes for 2,534 yards and 34 touchdowns to five interceptions. Juniors Reese Smith (45 catches, 1,034 yards and 16 touchdowns) and Reiley Colwick (47 catches, 607 yards, five touchdowns) have been his favorite targets this year.
On the ground, the Rebels have relied on two running backs at different times of the year. Junior Landen Bartleson opened the year strong, rushing 106 times for 757 yards and 12 touchdowns, but he’s missed the first two rounds of the state playoffs. Senior Tanner Crawford missed the first three games of the year, but has since come back and ran 127 times for 793 yards and 10 scores.
Those names will have to show out and be stars on Friday, coach Smith said.
“Our star players have got to be stars in games like this,” he said. “They’ve got some really good football players, too. I just feel like, usually when you get into a big game the great players play their best. That’s an old saying and it usually holds true. I guess we’ll find out who our star players are.”
SO YOU KNOW
Game time: 7 p.m. at Belfry
Boyle County schools will release two hours early on Friday — the high school at 1:10 p.m. — to allow for a safe drive to Belfry.
“Our school, our administration has graciously let school out early so people who want to go to the game can travel safely and not be in a hurry,” football head coach Chuck Smith said. “It’d be really neat to get a fan base there to help us out.”