A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Rivalry will resume when Beechwood meets Mayfield in championship game of Class 2A football playoffs

By Terry Boehmker
NKyTribune sports reporter

Last year, Beechwood’s football team snapped an eight-game losing streak against Mayfield in postseason playoff games when the Tigers won a Class 2A state semifinal matchup between the perennial powers.

Two weeks after that game, a tornado ripped through the city of Mayfield and other parts of western Kentucky causing a trail of death and destruction. Most of the structures in downtown Mayfield were heavily damaged or destroyed.

After sitting out the first five games due to a knee injury, Beechwood sophomore quarterback Clay Hayden has passed to 1,706 yards and 20 touchdowns. (Photo by Dale Dawn)

Setting aside their football rivalry, Beechwood Independent Schools organized a donation drive to help tornado victims and ended up sending three semi-truck trailers loaded with goods to the Mayfield area. 

As fate would have it, the two schools will meet again in the Class 2A state championship game at 4 p.m. Friday at the University of Kentucky’s Kroger Field.

Beechwood (13-1) is bidding for its third consecutive Class 2A championship while Mayfield (14-0) has not claimed a state title since 2015.

The Tigers opened the season with mostly first-year starters in the offensive lineup and made it back to the state final despite a spate of injuries.

One player who hasn’t returned to action is senior Mitchell Berger, the team’s leading rusher and scorer when he suffered a season-ending knee injury.

“It’s depressing to see one of your best players go down, especially a senior,” said Konnor Huljak, a two-way starter at center and linebacker for the Tigers. “But our seniors, they just rallied. Sophomores had to step up, but we had seniors to get them ready and put them in spots where they could succeed.”

Two of the Beechwood sophomores who stepped up are quarterback Clay Hayden and running back Chase Flaherty, who have been the offensive standouts during the playoffs. In the last four games, Hayden has passed to 827 yards and 12 touchdowns with only one interception while Flaherty has rushed for 330 yards and 10 TDs.

Gang tackles are one reason Beechwood’s defense is allowing just 150 yards per game going into the Class 2A state final on Friday. (Photo by Dale Dawn)

The season totals for Hayden are 1,706 yards and 20 touchdowns in nine games. He sat out the first five weeks of the season following a knee injury.  

Beechwood’s defense is allowing just 150 yards per game and has held nine of its 14 opponents to seven points or less.

The team does not list tackles in its season statistics, but the Tigers have registered 20 quarterback sacks and 22 interceptions.

“What’s been the consistent thing though out the year has been our O-line and D-line and I’m so proud of both groups it’s unbelievable,” said Beechwood coach Noel Rash, who has guided seven of the program’s 16 previous state championship teams.

Mayfield had a 2-0 record against Beechwood in Class 1A state championship games before the teams moved up to Class 2A. This is the fifth time in eight years that the Cardinals have reached the state final in the new class.   

Last week, Mayfield defeated Lexington Christian, 38-28, to make it back to the championship game. Junior quarterback Zane Cartwright passed for 183 yards and two touchdowns while junior running back Jutarious Starks rushed for 183 yards and three TDs to lead a balanced offensive attack.

Cartwright has passed to 1,984 yards and 23 touchdowns with only three interceptions in 14 games this season. Starks has rushed for 1,110 yards and 20 TDs in 11 games.

Mayfield’s top defensive players are sophomore linebacker Ian Williams with 100 tackles and senior defensive back Michael Hughes, who has 65 tackles and seven of the team’s 17 interceptions. The Cardinals have limited opponents to 166 yards per game.

Related Posts

Leave a Comment