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Beechwood football team proud to be practicing on Thanksgiving Day to prepare for semifinal game

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The NKyTribune will be providing focused coverage of NKY high school football throughout the season, thanks to support from St. Elizabeth Healthcare Sports Medicine. See all of our pre-season features on each of NKY’s 21 high school football teams and follow our coverage, including roundups each week at Northern Kentucky High School Football.

By Terry Boehmker
NKyTribune sports reporter

Getting up early on Thanksgiving Day and going to practice has become a proud tradition for the Beechwood football team.

aiden-justice

Aiden Justice, No. 2, is the leading rusher on the Beechwood football team that’s in the Class 1A state semifinals once again. (Photo by Mary Lynn Lampke)

For the ninth time in the last 10 years, Beechwood has made it to the semifinals of the Class 1A state playoffs so the players are looking forward to spending part of the holiday preparing for a home game against Russellville at 7:30 p.m. Friday.

After the morning practice session, there will be breakfast in the school cafeteria that’s open to players, parents, alumni and fans.

“That’s says a lot about our school and the community and the kind of kids we get,” Beechwood coach Noel Rash said of the program’s run of success in the state playoffs. “We’re extremely pleased with that and the kids need to take a lot of pride in it.”

Beechwood defeated Russellville, 35-25, in last year’s semifinals. If the Tigers win the rematch on Friday, they’ll advance to next week’s state championship finals at Western Kentucky University for the 15th time in the last 26 years.

In their first three playoff games, the Tigers outscored their opponents by a combined margin of 142-13, but Rash said those impressive statistics won’t mean a thing when his team lines up against Russellville.

“You certainly draw confidence from past experiences, but Friday night is a whole new ball game,” Rash said. “I’m excited for the kids and how they’ve played up to this point, but we’ve got another job in front of us. We have to focus on that and not so much on what we’ve done in the past.”

Russellville has dominated opponents with a multi-faceted rushing attack that’s averaging 311.9 yards per game. The Panthers have four players who have rushed for 480 yards or more. The leaders are senior running back Johnny Drumgole with 1,002 yards and senior quarterback Jayln McMurry with 849.

McMurry has passed for 744 yards in 13 games, but his primary receivers have been Drumgole and MJ Jones coming out of the backfield.

noel-rash-copy

Coach Noel Rash

Beechwood has more balanced offensive statistics, averaging 183 yards rushing and 165 yards passing. But Rash would prefer to keep the ball on the ground at this time of year when weather conditions often present problems for passing teams.

“With the type of players we have, we’ve been able to run and pass, but our running game has really been significant the last six or seven weeks,” the coach said. “We struggled with that earlier in the year and (quarterback) Braydon Burch was able to carry us through some games when we weren’t able to run the ball the way we like to.”

Burch has passed for 2,121 yards and 23 touchdowns in his first season as Beechwood’s starting quarterback. In the first three playoff games, however, the Tigers got most their offensive yardage and touchdowns on running plays. The team’s leading rushers are senior Aiden Justice with 1,011 yards and junior James Davis with 784. They’ve scored a combined total of 28 rushing touchdowns this season.

Holy Cross (10-3) is the other Northern Kentucky football team playing in the state semifinals on Friday. The Indians will visit Danville (11-2) for a Class 2A game at 7:30 p.m.

Danville quarterback Zack Dampier is averaging 242 passing yards per game. In his team’s first three playoff victories, he threw for 224, 246 and 278 yards to lead the Admirals to the semifinals for the second consecutive year.

Holy Cross is making its first appearance in the state semifinals since 2011 after upsetting Newport Central Catholic last Friday. The Indians are averaging 269 rushing yards per game with seniors Derrick Barnes and Xavier Abernathy getting most of the carries. Last week, Abernathy rushed for 152 yards and Barnes picked up 131 against NewCath.

st-e-football-plug-768x249Friday’s state semifinal games

Class 1A
Russellville (12-1) at BEECHWOOD (12-1)
Paintsville (13-0) at Hazard (11-2)

Class 2A
HOLY CROSS (10-3) at Danville (11-2)
Mayfield (13-0) at Christian Academy of Louisville (12-1)

Class 3A
Elizabethtown (10-3) at Louisville Central (8-5)
Corbin (12-1) at Belfry (12-1)

Class 4A
Franklin-Simpson (13-0) at John Hardin (9-4)
Wayne County (11-2) at Johnson Central (12-1)

Class 5A
Bowling Green (13-0) at Louisville Fern Creek (11-2)
South Oldham (12-1) at Pulaski County (11-2)

Class 6A
Louisville St. Xavier (10-3) at Louisville Trinity (13-0)
Scott County (11-2) at Lexington Lafayette (12-1)

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