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Sophomore quarterback gets Beechwood football team back in Class 2A state championship game

By Terry Boehmker
NKyTribune sports reporter

Beechwood sophomore Clay Hayden had played in just three varsity games before he became the team’s starting quarterback in preseason practice. A knee injury put him on the sidelines for the first five games, but he recovered in time to get the Tigers back to the Class 2A state final.

In a semifinal game on Friday, Hayden passed for 203 yards and three touchdowns in Beechwood’s 48-0 win over Lloyd. He’ll finish out his first season as a varsity starter next Friday when the Tigers (13-1) take on Mayfield (14-0) in the Class 2A title game at the University of Kentucky’s Kroger Field.

Beechwood sophomore Clay Hayden passed for 195 yards and three touchdowns in a state semifinal win over Lloyd. (Photo by Dale Dawn)

Beechwood won the state championship trophy the last two years with Cameron Hergott at quarterback. Hayden was his seldom used backup last season.

“It’s definitely a lot of pressure, but I know I’ve got my guys behind me,” Hayden said. “Last year, there were definitely a lot of nerves. If Cam went down, then I’d have to go in as an unexperienced freshman. This year, I’m a lot more confident in my ability.”

Hayden has passed for more than 1,700 yards and 20 touchdowns in the last nine games that Beechwood has won by double-digit margins.

The sophomore knew he needed to play a bigger role in the offense after losing senior Mitchell Berger, the team’s leading rusher and scorer, to a season-ending knee injury in October.

“We’ve been through a lot and for this group to perform the way they have it speaks volumes for the kind of kids we’ve got,” said Beechwood head coach Noel Rash.

On Friday, Hayden got the scoring started with a 58-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Talon Linder, who was left uncovered by the Juggernauts defense.

Lloyd sophomore Isaiah Sebastian returned the ensuing kickoff to the end zone, but a penalty negated the touchdown. That was just the beginning of a frustrating first quarter for the Juggernauts, who were playing in their first state semifinal game since 2003.

Beechwood defensive back Antonio Robinson tries to pull down a pass over a Lloyd player. (Photo by Dale Dawn)

Lloyd’s offense turned the ball over on its first two possessions at the 22 and 23 yard lines. Beechwood took advantage of the good field position and scored twice to push its lead to 20-0.

In the second quarter, the Tigers extended the margin to 34-0 on a 2-yard touchdown run by sophomore Chase Flaherty and 26-yard scoring pass from Hayden to senior Liam McCormack.

At the halftime break, Hayden had completed 10 of 15 passes for 167 yards and three touchdowns. He connected on two more passes for 36 yards during his team’s first possession of the second half that ended with Flaherty scoring his third touchdown.

That gave the Tigers a 41-0 lead with 4:43 left in the third quarter. The rest of the game was played with a running clock and Beechwood replaced its starting players with reserves.

Rash was pleased with the way Hayden handled himself in the important victory that put the Tigers back in the state final.

“He’s got such a great arm and he’s a good decision-maker,” Rash said. “And don’t take our wideouts out of it because they work their tails off to get where they’re supposed to be.”

The linemen that make Beechwood’s offense operate so effectively also play on the defensive unit that posted its fifth shutout of the season on Friday. One of them is senior Konner Huljak, another first-year starter looking forward to playing in his first state championship game at 4 p.m. Friday.

“The last two years were special, but to win next week would be a dream come true,” Huljak said. “We come in every day and just love to get after it with each other, with our brothers. That’s why we work so well together and are able to put up 48 points in the fourth round of the playoffs.”

BEECHWOOD  20  14  7   7 — 48
LLOYD                0    0  0   0 — 0
B — Linder 58 pass from Hayden (kick failed)
B — Linder 22 pass from Hayden (Kappes kick)
B — Flaherty 4 run (Kappes kick)
B — Flaherty 2 run (Kappes kick)
B — McCormack 26 pass from Hayden (Kappes kick)
B — Flaherty 1 run (Kappes kick)
B — Riegler 10 run (Cardosi kick)
RECORDS: Beechwood 13-1, Lloyd 10-4

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