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Beechwood wins first state football title since 2008 to restore team’s reputation

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Beechwood players hoist the state championship trophy after their 21-14 win over Hazard. (Photo by Dale Dawn)

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 Tyler Mansfield
NKyTribune contributor

BOWLING GREEN — After eight years of heart-breaking losses in the Class 1A state playoffs, Beechwood’s football players had their minds set on winning this year’s title game on Friday at Western Kentucky University.

Behind stellar performances by first-year quarterback Brayden Burch and two-way starter Trevor Soward, the Tigers defeated Hazard, 21-14, to claim their 12th championship trophy and restore their team’s reputation as a small-school state power.

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Trevor Soward

Burch completed 16 of 26 passes for 162 yards to lead the offense while Soward made big plays on both sides of the ball as a fullback and linebacker. He scored two touchdowns on 1-yard runs, made nine tackles and intercepted a pass to earn the game’s most valuable player award.

“I’d say this is the best game of my life,” Soward said. “I played as hard as I can play for these guys and we got it done.”

After winning back-to-back Class 1A state championships in 2007 and 2008, Beechwood didn’t make it back to the title game until last year when the Tigers lost to Pikeville. Most of the starting players on last year’s team graduated, but head coach Noel Rash and his staff put together another title contender that capped off a 14-1 season with Friday’s victory.

“Well, it was just awesome,” Rash said of the victory. “I think this game came down to a testament of your will – and our will won out. That’s not an easy task against a great football team like (Hazard).”

Hazard (12-3) was averaging more than 400 yards per game on offense coming into Friday’s season finale, but the Bulldogs only managed to get 233 against Beechwood’s quick-hitting defense.

Junior quarterback Bailey Blair passed for 74 yards and running back Corey Smith rushed for 128 yards to account for most of Hazard’s offense. Blair had two passes intercepted, but the one Soward picked off was the biggest turnover of the game.

After Beechwood took a 21-14 lead with 11:07 remaining in the fourth quarter, Soward made the interception two plays later to keep the Tigers in control.

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Beechwood wide receiver Daniel Mescher makes the catch on a 41-yard pass play that set up his team’s game-winning touchdown. (Photo by Dale Dawn)

“You’ve always got to be focused in the fourth quarter,” Soward said. “And, you know, we’re a fourth quarter team so we’ve always concentrated on the fourth quarter and played for each other.”

Hazard took a 7-0 lead with a 71-yard drive that ended with Smith scoring on a 7-yard run into the end zone with 3:37 left in the opening quarter. On the first play of the second quarter, Beechwood tied it on a 17-yard touchdown run by Aiden Justice and point-after kick by Daniel Mescher.

The Tigers had a great opportunity to add more points to their side of the scoreboard, but they fumbled on a first-and-goal play and Hazard recovered. The Beechwood defense hung tough, though, and forced the Bulldogs to go three-and-out.

Beechwood was able to take the lead later in the first half. After a trio of runs by Justice that got the ball to the 1-yard line, Soward took it in to put the Tigers on top, 14-7, at halftime.

The score remained the same until the offenses began to click in the fourth quarter. On the first play of the final period, Hazard tied the score when Blair hit wide receiver Braxton Whitaker on a 9-yard touchdown pass that capped a 61-yard drive.

Beechwood got the winning touchdown on another 1-yard run by Soward with 7:11 left on the clock. That touchdown was set up by Burch’s 41-yard pass to Mescher, who was tackled near the goal line.

Following that score, Beechwood’s defense stepped up. Hazard turned the ball over on downs and had two passes intercepted on its final three possessions.

“Our kids have been doing it all season. They just keep getting better and better,” Rash said. “We had to be at our best (Friday) and I thought we were. And I’m proud as heck of them because of that.”

Bringing home a state championship trophy is a new experience for all of the Beechwood players. Many of them have been attending the school since they were in kindergarten.

st-e-football-plug-768x249“I’m so proud of these guys,” Soward said of his teammates. “It’s truly an unbelievable feeling. This is my senior year and I couldn’t be more proud.”

When asked how big it was to win the first state championship since 2008, the coach didn’t want to reflect on the past.

“I don’t worry about it,” Rash said. “I worry about this moment, this group of seniors and this entire team. That was our focus and that’s probably why we are where we are.”

Beechwood athletic director Justin Kaiser said a victory celebration is planned for 3:30 p.m. Saturday in the high school gymnasium.

HAZARD             7   0   0 7 – 14
BEECHWOOD   0 14   0 7 – 21

H – Smith 7 run (Collins kick)
B – Justice 17 run (Mescher kick)
B – Soward 1 run (Mescher kick)
H – Whitaker 9 pass from Blair (Collins kick)
B – Soward 1 run (Mescher kick)
RECORDS: Beechwood 14-1, Hazard 12-3.

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