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Beechwood rolls to fourth win in state playoffs to make it back to title game

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beechwood-defense

Beechwood defensive players converge on Russellville quarterback Jaylyn McMurry. (Photo by Steve Dyer)


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 Evan Merrill
NKyTribune contributor

Tenacious defense and the quickness of running backs Aiden Justice and James Davis were a winning combination for the Beechwood football team Friday night when the Tigers defeated Russellville, 35-0, in a Class 1A state semifinal game.

Beechwood (13-1), the state runner-up in last year’s playoffs, will play Hazard (12-2) in the title game on Friday at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. local time, which will be 7 p.m. in Bowling Green.

aiden-justice-rusher

Beechwood running back Aiden Justice eludes a tackle to pick up yardage in the state semifinal game against Russellville. (Photo by Steve Dyer)

Beechwood head coach Noel Rash said preparations for the championship game would begin before his coaching staff left the stadium after Friday’s win.

“We’ll start in the film room tonight,” Rash said. “I have assistants that are unbelievable with their work ethic. We’ll start looking at the tape. We know nothing about (Hazard). We had our hands full just winning this side (of the playoff bracket).”

The Tigers finished with a slim 226-172 yardage advantage in the win over Russellville. Big plays and great field position that the Tigers received from defensive stops were big factors in the outcome.

“Our defense played great,” Justice said. “They played better than the offense I think. They’ve been playing that way all year. They allowed zero points, they’ve done it all playoffs. They’re the heart of our team.”

Justice had just 63 yards rushing and 18 receiving, but he scored two touchdowns. Senior quarterback Brayden Burch was an efficient 6-8 passing for 118 passing yards and two touchdowns to lead the Tigers’ offense.

The first quarter started with Russellville getting a 47-yard run by senior  Johnny Drumgole. But the Panthers failed to capitalize on that big play because a fumble by senior quarterback Jaylyn McMurry was recovered by Beechwood senior defensive end Lucas Benson.

“I think that speaks volumes about our kids,” coach Rash said of stopping the first Panthers first drive. “The fact that it’s early in the game, no score on the board. That was one of three or four plays they really broke tackles. That fourth-down play they made is really a tribute to the character of our kids.”

Both offenses remained stagnant until Beechwood scored on a 61-yard touchdown pass from Burch to  senior wide receiver Daniel Mescher with 6:32 left in the second quarter. The Tigers closed out the first half with a 10-yard touchdown run by Justice that capped off a three-play, 40-yard drive to make it 14-0.

The first play of the second half made things worse for Russellville. Davis took the kickoff and made a couple of nice cuts on a 90-yard return to the end zone.

st-e-football-plug-768x249“That absolutely deflated (Russellville),” coach Rash said. “It’s already 21-0 and he comes out and does that. It just set the absolute tone for the rest of the second half.”

A pass interception demoralized the Panthers even more. That led to a 14-yard touchdown pass from Burch to Justice that put the Tigers ahead, 28-0. They tacked on another third-quarter touchdown, courtesy of great field position once again.

The Panthers, who were averaging more than 300 rushing yards per game, just couldn’t muster much offensively after their first drive.  Drumgole finished with 55 yards rushing after getting 47 on that one carry in the first drive.

“Tenacious, relentless would be words I use,” Rash said of his team’s defensive effort. “We use our speed. As fast as they are, our team speed (hasn’t) been equaled yet. Playing fast is one thing, never giving up on a play is another. It’s a mentality inside of them.”

Beechwood won its first four playoff games by a combined margin of 177-13 with two shutouts. Rash isn’t worried about his team’s mindset going into the season finale, seeking their 12th state championship.

“That won’t be a problem,” the coach said. “All I have to do is remind them how much work they’ve put into this.”

RUSSELLVILLE    0   0   0   0  — 0
BEECHWOOD       0  14  21  0  — 35

B – Mescher 61 pass from Burch (Mescher kick)
B – Justice 10 rush (Mescher kick)
B – Davis 90 kickoff return (Mescher kick)
B – Justice 14 pass from Burch (Mescher kick)
B – Soward 1 run (Mescher kick)
RECORDS: Beechwood 13-1, Russellville 12-2

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