Tristate Football

Playoff Preview: Beechwood vs. Hazard

Noel Rash won state Class A titles in two of his first three years after taking over Beechwood’s reins a decade ago, but the Tigers have not won a championship since 2008.

Hazard won state in 2011 under current coach Mark Dixon but has not been back to the title game since.

TriStateFootball takes a look at the Class A championship game in a Playoff Preview:

BEECHWOOD TIGERS (13-1) vs. HAZARD BULLDOGS (12-2)

Kickoff: Friday, Dec. 2, 8 p.m. – KHSAA Class 1A state championship at Western Kentucky University

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Beechwood ATH Aiden Justice (photo by Michael Noyes/TriStateFootball.com)

Beechwood ATH Aiden Justice (photo by Michael Noyes/TriStateFootball.com)

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Aiden Justice is Beechwood’s rushing leader with 1,067 yards, including a 169-yard performance two weeks ago against Kentucky Country Day. He is also a threat as a receiver with seven TDs through the air and a team-best 144 points.

Jason Johnson is a big-play receiver for Hazard, having caught 67 passes for 1,119 yards and seven scores. He has caught over half of the passes completed by QB Bailey Blair, who has thrown for 2,253 yards and owns a 63.1 completion percentage.

TEAM TRENDS: The Tigers have blown through the postseason, outscoring their opponents, 177-13 and winning each playoff game by a minimum of 35 points. Beechwood has won its last 10 and has played in a competitive game since Sept. 23 when its brought down Holy Cross by a touchdown.

The Bulldogs have not had quite as easy of a road, but their only losses this season have come vs. small-school state powers Somerset and Pikeville. Hazard’s margin of victory has shrunk in each round of the playoffs: 31, 25, 23 and 13 last week in a 20-7 win over Paintsville. The Bulldogs have won their last seven.

The Tigers have won 13 games for the second straight season, and Hazard has a double-digit win total for the fourth consecutive campaign.

BEECHWOOD’S KEYS TO VICTORY: Establishing the run is crucial for Beechwood against a Hazard defense that is allowing just 97.5 ground yards per game. Justice and James Davis give the Tigers one of the top 1-2 rushing combinations in Class A, and they will likely rely on both. Beechwood’s overall passing defense numbers are solid, but the best throwing team the Tigers faced was Covington Catholic, which threw for 260 yards. Hazard boasts one of the best-balanced offenses remaining, and the Tigers’ secondary will need to have a solid game.

HAZARD’S KEYS TO VICTORY: When opponents have put up big point totals vs. Hazard, their passing yardages have been substantial, and like the Bulldogs, Beechwood has a very well-balanced offense, especially for Class A. Hazard must find a way to contain the passing game. Hazard also needs major production from RB Cory Smith, the team’s workhorse with 301 carries for 2,777 yards and 38 touchdowns. He’s the team’s only rusher over 350 yards (QB Bailey is second with 336), so he must produce even though Beechwood knows he’ll be an offensive focal point for Hazard.

Prediction: Beechwood 28, Hazard 14

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