NKY Football: Beechwood Cruises to State Title Game with Rout of Mayfield
The Beechwood Tigers continued their perfect season on Friday night, routing Mayfield, and advancing to the state title game next Friday. We have a complete game report from G. Michael Graham, game analysis from Dan Weber, and a photo slideshow from Brian Frey.
Beechwood 38, Mayfield 7
Game report by G. Michael Graham
Just seeing the small school powerhouse from western Kentucky step off the bus might have made some in attendance nervous Friday in the Class 2A state semifinals in Fort Mitchell.
After all, the host Beechwood Tigers had never beaten the Mayfield Cardinals in seven meetings in program history. But the Tigers (14-0) put the home fans at ease quickly building a 24-0 halftime advantage and putting the Cardinals (12-2) away in the second half for a 38-7 win to earn that elusive win over the arch-nemesis.
“It was crazy. We heard the coaches talking about it,” said Keaton Durrett, Beechwood senior running back/defensive back. “To come out and put the nail in the coffin is insane. It’s a really good moment for us and we’re moving on to state.”
Beechwood battles Lexington Christian (14-0) in a rematch of the Class 2A title game on Friday at 4 p.m. at Kroger Field in Lexington. Beechwood edged Lexington Christian, 24-23 in overtime in the title game last year.
The Tigers dominated the trenches on both sides of the ball in the victory. That allowed senior quarterback Cam Hergott and junior running back Mitchell Berger in particular to find huge holes to run through. Even when the Mayfield defenders settled into position to make tackles, Hergott and Berger did not hesitate to find ways to dig for extra yards.
“It was the turning point. We just kept going,” said Luke Slusher, Beechwood senior lineman. “Mitchell kept putting his head down and ran people over. Everybody overlooks our offensive line because everyone is small and quick. They don’t think we can do it. It’s awesome to prove everybody wrong.”
The Tigers drove into Cardinal territory on the opening possession, but had to punt. But Berger broke free on the second possession and Beechwood scored on a third-and-goal from the Mayfield 7 when Hergott hit junior wide receiver Liam McCormack on an inside route for the touchdown. Senior Jake Conrad made his first of five point-after kicks to put the Tigers up 7-0 with 2:38 left in the first quarter.
McCormack picked off a Mayfield pass and returned it to the Cardinal 44 on the next possession. Hergott capped off the drive running behind senior offensive lineman Bryce Shepherd for a 13-yard touchdown to put the Tigers up 14-0.
Following an exchange of turnovers, Beechwood took over at the Mayfield 44 after a nice punt return from Durrett. Berger scored from 12 yards out to put the Tigers up 21-0 with 2:15 left in the first half.
But Beechwood would not be finished. After taking over following another Mayfield turnover at the Cardinals 36, Conrad hit a 36-yard field goal as time expired to extend the Beechwood advantage to 24-0.
Following a Mayfield three-and-out to start the second half, Berger broke free for a 38-yard run. That set up a Hergott 10-yard touchdown run with 8:24 left in the third quarter.
The Tigers forced the running clock after Conrad recovered a Mayfield fumble at the Cardinal 43. Berger scored from seven yards out to make it 38-0 Beechwood with 6:48 left in the third quarter.
The Cardinals prevented the shutout with 3:54 left in the third quarter. Sophomore quarterback Brajone Dabney scored from three yards out and sophomore Lincoln Suiter made the PAT.
Beechwood owns 15 state championships in school history good for third all-time in Kentucky history. Four have come in the last five seasons.
Super senior powers super season
Game analysis by Dan Weber
This is why you come back for your super-senior season even when you're the first-ever Kentucky Mr. Football to do so the way Beechwood's Cameron Hergott has.
This is why you spend much of your junior season as the second part of the Tigers' 1-2 punch the way crushing running back Mitchell Berger has done.
This is why you like it when you know the game plan is coming behind you when you're 6-foot-4 and 290 pounds and headed to Western Kentucky the way Tiger offensive tackle Luke Slusher will be doing.
This is why you keep saying that "You can't re-invent the wheel at this time of the year" the way Beechwood coach Noel Rash likes to recite when it gets to playoff time even if that's kinda', sorta' what he just did in whipping up on longtime nemesis Mayfield in a shocking 38-7 romp.
And doing so against a Mayfield team that had beaten Beechwood seven straight times in the playoffs and now, finally, you can say as you gather your celebrating players to "Look at that scoreboard."
And you get to do so after Game 14 in the Class 2A semifinals with a berth in the championship game next Friday at UK's Kroger Field in Lexington on the line for unbeaten Beechwood (14-0). And against a Mayfield program that's made it to the state finals 12 times in the last 23 years, a number of those at Beechwood's expense.
And you do it in front of a freezing capacity Edgar McNabb Stadium crowd against the fundamentally sound Cardinals who came in here with a defense set up by their legendary coach Joe Morris to stop Beechwood quarterback Hergott, who had passed for 2,218 yards and 31 touchdowns and run for another 1,522 yards and 25 TDs this season.
While Mayfield (now 12-2) was looking to stop the 6-foot-3, 200-pound Hergott, the Cardinals got hit with the powerful and nimble-footed Berger. Again and again and again. Running Berger much of the time behind Slusher and -- well, pretty much anybody else on this Beechwood offensive line.
As to re-inventing themselves on offense, Rash smiles and plays it down, saying they've "always had that 1-2 punch," even if the order was a bit reversed from the norm on this frigid Friday.
And it made sense, what Beechwood did here. Much of this season, Hergott could run past flailing arm-tacklers with impunity. On this night, the first couple of times that Mayfield tacklers got singled up with him in the open field, they took him down. But Berger, well that was another story.
And yet here we are looking at this strictly from an offensive point of view. And that's not really how this went down. How it went down was as much the result of six Cardinal turnovers -- three fumbles and three interceptions – mostly ones that Beechwood created.
Whether punched out, pulled out or knocked loose by Beechwood defenders, the results were the same. The Tigers pounced on the ball, on the ground or in the air, turning it over and taking it in.
"Best game Beechwood has played all year," Mayfield's Morris was told. His response: "That's what great programs are supposed to do." Show up for the big game and play your best.
"We figured they were going to try to stop Cam," Berger said. But first they had to stop him as he carried it two of the first three plays and didn't let up, running with speed and power and scoring twice -- from the seven and the 12.
But as much as Berger’s trademark is running over linebackers and safeties, there's the nifty little footwork before Berger gets to the line of scrimmage. "The first three steps," Mitch said of how much they drill on getting those just right as a quick lateral hop helps him find just the seam to accelerate through as he did on 38- and 30-yard carries.
"Credit their offensive line," Morris said. "And Berger is really strong with the ball . . . They're big, strong, fast and put a lot of pressure on you . . . they run block, they pass block."
And then there's Hergott, who ran it in twice for scores, like Berger, once from the 13 in the first half and then again from the 10 in the second to make it 31-0 before Berger's final TD sent this one to an improbable 38-0 against a program that just never gets beat like that. With 12 state titles, right behind Beechwood's 15, Mayfield is No. 4 all-time in Kentucky.
Here's how well things were going for Beechwood. With 12 seconds to go in the first half and leading 21-0, Beechwood inserted the rangy Hergott to give them another tall back-line guy against the deep ball. But Mayfield went to star running back Kylan Galbreath who broke it into the secondary. Which is when Hergott came flying up, hit him from the side and knocked the ball loose.
"I had no idea (the ball came loose)," he said of his first defensive play, first tackle, and first forced fumble of the season. But there it was. And right after Beechwood fell on it and Hergott completed a pass to Liam McCormack to set things up, kicker Jake Conrad came on to end the half on a 36-yard field goal to make it 24-0.
It was all part of a big, big night for McCormack, who got the game's first score on a diving catch of a seven-yard slant from Hergott and then followed it up on the next Mayfield offensive play by picking off quarterback Zach Carpenter, who had thrown just one interception all season.
"You can't turn the ball over six times against a team like that," Morris said. "They're a great team -- big and strong."
As for Hergott, whose emotions had him tearing up after the game, this was a big deal. He recalled "how they beat us by 30 points (35-7) two years ago . . . ." But the really big deal is "next week" when Beechwood will face the season-long No. 1 team in 2A that they've been chasing, Lexington Christian (14-0), who obliterated unbeaten Middlesboro 58-0 Friday.
"I'm excited to be able to play a team as good as they are," Cam said after beating LCA in last year’s championship 24-23 in overtime.
Photos by Brian Frey