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Beechwood pulls out close win in Class 2A football championship game for third consecutive year

Beechwood linebacker Landon Johnson makes a diving attempt to tackle Mayfield running back Jutoriaus Starks during the Class 2A state championship game. (Photo by Dale Dawn)

By Terry Boehmker

NKyTribune sports reporter

LEXINGTON — A cold rain was falling as Beechwood football players celebrated their 14-13 victory over Mayfield in the Class 2A state championship game on Friday at the University of Kentucky’s Kroger Field.

The sudden chill in the air didn’t dampen the excitement for the Tigers, who pulled out a close win in the title game for the third consecutive year. The final scores in their two previous state finals against Lexington Christian were 23-21 and 24-23.

Beechwood sophomore running back Chase Fletcher gets past a Mayfield defensive player. (Photo by Dale Dawn)

“They’re not supposed to be easy,” Beechwood coach Noel Rash said of state championship games. “At the end of the day, we just had a little more, but these games are supposed to be hard.”

Late in the fourth quarter, Mayfield recovered a fumble near midfield. Six plays later, the Cardinals scored a touchdown, but the extra-point kick to tie the game glanced off the left upright of the goal post.

With 1:11 left to play, Beechwood needed a first down to clinch the win. Senior running back Alex Courtney provided it with a 43-yard run to the 5-yard line and the Tigers were able to drain the clock.

“These games can go either way and as many mistakes as we made, and they forced us into mistakes, too, but at the end of the day we kept believing and our will won out,” Rash said.

Courtney got the final carry as a replacement in the backfield for sophomore Chase Flaherty, who hurt his knee on the previous possession.

Flaherty was the game’s leading rusher with 115 yards on 23 carries and scored the touchdown that put his team ahead, 14-7, early in the fourth quarter. But the Tigers’ ability to win the game with a top player on the sideline is something they’ve done all year.

Sophomore quarterback Clay Hayden missed the first five games due to a knee injury and senior running back Mitchell Berger was the team’s leading scorer and rusher when he suffered a season-ending knee injury in the eighth game.

With Xavier Campbell providing pass protection, Beechwood quarterback Clay Hayden looks for an open receiver. (Photo by Bob Jackson)

“Next man up I think has been the theme for this year’s team,” Rash said. “And the next man up has been getting it done.”

Hayden completed 7 of 16 passes for 116 yards and one touchdown. He and Flaherty accounted for 231 of the Tigers’ 271 total yards. Mayfield finished with 260 yards.

But the Beechwood coaching staff named senior Austin Waddell, a two-way starter at right tackle and linebacker, as the team’s most valuable player.

Waddell made eight tackles and anchored an offensive line that was a major reason for the team’s success.

“A big thanks to the O-line and the seniors up front,” said Flaherty, who left the field on crutches. “The O-line created all the holes for me and let Clay do his thing.”

At the halftime break, Beechwood had a 137-102 advantage in total yards. Flaherty rushed for 61 yards and Hayden passed for 82 to offset his negative-6 rushing yards.  

Beechwood senior defensive back Carson Craycraft returns a pass interception. (Photo by Bob Jackson)

Mayfield got most of its yardage on a time-consuming drive to the 1-yard line. On a fourth-down play, the Cardinals lined up to go for the touchdown, but a false start penalty moved the ball back to the 6-yard line. The coaches opted for a field goal and place kicker Lincoln Suter missed it.

Beechwood took possession and went 80 yards in 13 plays for the game’s first touchdown. Flaherty picked up 43 yards on seven carries and Hayden completed 4 of 6 passes for the other 37 yards.

“We just knew we’d have to get it done,” Flaherty said of Hayden and him leading the offense. “It was the biggest game of our careers so far and we knew we just had to come in here and get the job done.”

On a fourth-down play, Hayden zipped a pass to senior Liam McCormack at the 7-yard line to keep the scoring drive alive. It ended with McCormack catching a pass from Hayden in the end zone and Matt Kappes kicked the extra point to make it 7-0 with 8:20 left in the second quarter.

The Tigers got the ball back one play later on a pass interception by Carson Craycraft. The offense moved the ball to the 6-yard line, but Kappes missed a 23-yard field goal attempt. A few minutes later, Beechwood’s defense stepped up again by stopping Mayfield on a fourth-down play to force a turnover on downs that preserved their team’s 7-0 lead.

Beechwood wide receiver Antonio Robinson Jr. turns up field after catching a pass. (Photo by Bob Jackson)

Mayfield opened the third quarter with an 80-yard touchdown drive that tied the score. Beechwood intercepted a pass on the sixth play, but it was negated by a pair of penalties — roughing the passer and unsportsmanlike conduct — that moved the ball up to the 16-yard line.

On the next play, Mayfield junior running back Jutoriaus Starks scored and Suter kicked the extra point to make it 7-7 with 9:02 left in the third quarter.

On the first play of the fourth quarter, Beechwood regained the lead on a 10-yard touchdown run by Flaherty that capped a nine-play 70-yard drive. The score remained 14-7 until Mayfield recovered a fumble by Flaherty near midfield with 3:32 left on the clock.

“I thought I was down,” Flaherty said, “but I knew our defense could do it and I’m glad they missed that extra point.”

It was the first loss of the season for Mayfield. Coach Joe Morris said he was proud of his team for “playing their hearts out” for the high school and community that was ravaged by a tornado last December.

“It was a tough game to lose, but I thought our guys played with a bunch of heart,” Morris said. “It was two great teams going at it. We knew it was going to be tough and they made one more play than we did, I guess.”

BEECHWOOD  0  7  0  7 — 14
MAYFIELD        0  0  7  6 — 13
B — Liam McCormack 7 pass from Clay Hayden (Matt Kappes kick)
M — Juju Starks 16 run (Lincoln Suter kick)
B — Chase Flaherty 10 run (Matt Kappes kick)
M — Isaac Stevenson 9 pass from Zane Cartwright (kick failed)
RECORDS — Beechwood 14-1, Mayfield 14-1

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