Dan Weber's Just Sayin': Beechwood Hopes for First Win Ever Against Mayfield
Dan Weber writes a sports column for The River City News. Contact him at email@example.com.
Is high school football around here getting to be more like Ninth Region basketball was for so many years when it comes to the state tournament: On the sideline, mostly just observing?
If this season is any example, that’s a definite “maybe.”
Of the 24 teams kicking off in the state semifinals this week in six classes across the state, only one – ONE – calls Northern Kentucky home.
Just one out of 24.
Barely four percent of the playoff participants from a Northern Kentucky area with 10 percent of Kentucky’s four million population.
Just not a good result for the 2021 season.
And as good as the unbeaten Beechwood Tigers have been on the way to a 13-0 season led by the state’s first returning Mr. Football, super-senior Cameron Hergott, there is this worry.
Waiting for the Tigers in frigid Ft. Mitchell Friday will be Joe Morris’s Mayfield Cardinals (12-1), whose 12 all-time state titles are next in line behind No. 3 all-time Beechwood’s 15. And that number makes Mayfield – coached by the state’s winningest father-son coaching team of first Jack Morris, in 1960, and now Joe, since 1999, No. 4 in state history behind only Louisville Trinity’s 27 titles, Highlands’ 23, and Beechwood’s 15.
But this 12-1 Mayfield team, fresh off its more-than-four-hour, 320-mile trip from Central Time Zone western Kentucky, has something that Beechwood does not. In the seven times these teams have played in the playoffs, including in 2019 when Mayfield won 35-7 and in the 2002 state championship game – a 14-7 Mayfield win -- Beechwood has never won.
“We’ve never beaten them,” Beechwood Coach Noel Rash was saying before leaving the field after last week’s 50-6 romp over Walton-Verona. Which might give you a clue as to what is the source of Northern Kentucky high school football’s problem here right now – Northern Kentucky high school football.
Look at last week’s quarterfinal scores: For the six local losers, the average score was 39.0 to 9.8. Blowouts everywhere you looked.
STATE QUARTERFINAL RESULTS
CLASS A: Raceland 48--Bishop Brossart 7
CLASS A: Russellville 21--Newport Central Catholic 0
CLASS 2A: Beechwood 50--Walton-Verona 6
CLASS 4A: Boyle County 51--Scott 14
CLASS 5AL Woodford County 28--Covington Catholic 14
CLASS 5A: Trinity (Louisville) 38--Ryle 18
Shut out in five of six classes. One out of 24 left. And as good as Beechwood has been in recent decades – and this year – look at Hergott’s situation. The Eastern Kentucky commit is back for a super-senior season thanks to a unique-to-Kentucky law allowing students, because of the impact of Covid-19, to have a do-over this year for their senior season.
Hergott, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound run-pass athlete with all sorts of athleticism, poise, toughness and leadership abilities at quarterback, is taking it. And who could blame him. Despite the credentials as Kentucky’s Mr. Football who led his team to a state championship, he had no scholarship offers and was headed to Akron – AKRON – as a preferred walk-on.
One big-time college coach pointed out the issue, that it’s so hard to evaluate a player against most of the teams Beechwood plays who have not a single Division I prospect. “Now if he played at Covington Catholic,” the coach said, “and I know they beat Covington Catholic . . . .” But that is the issue. There just a so few big-time college prospects in Northern Kentucky these days.
Then there’s this. In many of the games Beechwood plays, Hergott doesn’t have to throw the football. So he doesn’t have a chance to showcase his arm, running the ball as much as he throws it.
And if only Northern Kentucky teams across the board were as competitive as they once were. Like back in 1984, when Beechwood won its first of those 15 state championships. That always seemed a watershed season for Northern Kentucky football. Highlands had gotten things going with its first of 22 state titles in 1960, the second year of the football playoffs and by 1984 the ‘Birds had won nine.
But with Dayton winning a Class A title in 1966, right after Lloyd’s 1965 title in Class A, and with Bellevue winning Class A in 1977 and 1979 following Ludlow’s 1975 Class A championship, every single one of Northern Kentucky’s small school Class A teams had won a state title.
What was even more impressive here is all those titles came when Kentucky had just three classes with Class AAA exclusively Louisville. So Northern Kentucky teams had just two state championships to compete for.
And when changing demographics made it a bit more difficult for the Bluebirds from Ft. Thomas to continue their winning ways, with no state titles since 2014, Covington Catholic stepped in to win its seventh and eighth titles – first in 3A, most recently in 5A – in 2017 and 2019.
But this year? Just one semifinalist out of 24. That’s in contrast to the 30 years – out of 62 – when multiple Northern Kentucky teams made it to the state championship games. And in four seasons, three local teams made it to the finals. In 2008, there were four.
Now the lone chance to get there goes through Ft. Mitchell. And as much as you have to like the prospects of Noel Rash’s guys, playing at home for a coach who is 6-1 in state championship games since 2007, you then must note – as Rash did Friday -- that the Tigers “have never beaten them.”
But there is one number that makes the case here for Beechwood. In 62 years of competition, Northern Kentucky teams have been shut out from having a state title game participant just five times. And with multiple titles a number of seasons, Northern Kentucky has won 57 state football championships.
And right now, all local fans have left is Beechwood. And Mr. Football. And Noel Rash. And that Mayfield jinx.
Photo: Beechwood celebrates at home against Walton-Verona last week (Brian Frey/RCN file)