HAZARD – September 25, 2019, JJ Baker – Bluegrass Sports Nation
Almost a year ago, Hazard squared off against Paintsville in what would have been an unbelievable comeback for the Bulldogs that fell just short on a missed 2 point conversion opportunity with time expiring to fall 38-37. Two years ago the Bulldogs traveled to Paintsville and were stopped on the 1 foot line, as time once again expired, and fell 12-7 in a defensive shootout. In 2016 the Bulldogs and Tigers met in the Semi-finals and Hazard upset the Paintsville 20-7 to move on to face the Beechwood Tigers in the State Finals. So if history holds true, it should be a battle at Daniel Field on Friday night!
Both teams are putting together good seasons so far. A lot of attention in 1A is going toward Pikeville, Newport Central Catholic, and Williamsburg right now, but make no mistake, the Tigers or Bulldogs are more than capable of knocking one of those teams off in the playoffs. The Tigers are sitting on a 3-1 record right now with wins over Lawrence County, Beechwood, and East Jessamine. Their lone defeat on the season came against Pikeville week 3 by a final score of 9-8. Hazard owns a similar 3-1 record with wins over Prestonsburg, Floyd Central, and Danville. The Bulldogs were beat week 1 by Harlan County on a safety with seconds on the clock. Both teams seem to pride themselves on defense and this should be a low scoring game.
Paintsville seems as though they are a “do whatever it takes to win” offense. Meaning, it’s hard to pin them down as to what they are going to do week to week. In week 2 against the Beechwood Tigers, they ran the ball 30 out of 51 plays, or 59% of the time. Two weeks later against East Jessamine, they threw the ball 46 out of 71 plays for a pass rate of 64%. So to say they are a run or pass first team is dependent on their opponent for the week. The Tiger’s signal caller is Jake Hyden. The lefty junior is putting together some impressive numbers on the year, already gaining 700 yards (180 yards per game) through the air and tossing 6 TDs against 4 INTs. Hyden is impressive with his arm, but he is a terror on defenses with his legs and is also the teams leading rusher with 287 yards. He is able to create plays when his receivers are covered over and he breaks the pocket. Within arms reach of Hyden, in terms of yards gained rushing, is John Phelps, a kid capable of explosive running plays on any given down for the Tigers. John Phelps is sitting at 256 yards currently and has some of the best speed on the Paintsville sidelines. Leading the receivers is Karsten Poe who is averaging 22 yards per catch and has 220 yards on the season. Averaging almost 14 yards per catch and the second favorite target for Hyden is John Phelps who is currently sitting at 197 yards.
Offensively, the Bulldog’s strength this season has been lining up and running at opponents. While not flashy, when the Bulldogs can run the ball, they can control game tempo and clock and always put themselves in a situation to win. This will also take some pressure off of 1st year QB Miller, by not putting him in long situations and obvious passing downs that defenses can key on. Miller is completing almost 70% of his passes and has 800 yards and 8 touchdowns. He needs to continue to grow, as the next few opponent’s defenses only get better and better. One of the big keys in the game Friday night will be Hazards line play. The Bulldogs have got to be better than Paintsville’s defensive line. An defensive line that is better than any they have seen so far this season and led by Hunter Ousley. Seniors Dalton Strong and Matt Couch must get the big guys up front motivated to open holes for Trajon Campbell and Reece Fletcher, who have collectively combined for over 500 yards on the ground this season. Receivers must also be good because Paintsville will press them all night and try to keep them from getting on their routes. Receivers must get by the Tiger defensive backs and get into open spaces early to allow Miller to find those open guys.
Defensively, the Bulldog secondary must also continue to grow. They faced one of the fastest teams on their schedule in Danville last Friday night. There were some missed tackles here and there, but overall that secondary looked pretty good considering their experience. The defensive line must put constant pressure on Hyden in addition to that solid DB play. If Hyden gets comfortable in the pocket he is good enough to pick the secondary apart. Hazard will look to sub early and often in order to keep fresh legs on that line and keep the QB contained. Outside linebackers Zane Deaton, Nick Miller, and Ryan Davidson will be a huge key on Friday night as well. They must keep Phelps contained on sweeps and not let him get the edge. This was a problem against Danville and most of Danville’s rushing yards were when they could use their speed to get outside. If they can cut the sweeps back inside, Reece Fletcher and Mason Collins should be able to mop up from their inside backer position.
This is a very good Paintsville team and the Bulldogs will have to do a lot of things right in order to walk away with a victory on Friday night. Garrett Miller will need a big night. The Bulldog quarterback needs to be able to stretch the field with his arm and hit receivers when open. This will open up the Hazard run game behind that big line that seems to be getting better each week. The power run game is what beat Danville last week, but Paintsville’s defense is better than what the Admirals brought to the table and the Bulldogs will need to complete some passes early to soften the Tiger defense and not allow them to stack the box and play man in the secondary all night. Defensively, it will be important for the Dogs to get a good pass rush on Hyden and keep him contained in the pocket and collapse in on him. That big defensive line and middle line-backing corp must continue to stone wall the inside run and make the Tigers one dimensional. It should be an exiting night and one of the better games in the mountains.
Game time is 7:30pm at Hazards Daniel Field. Check out BluegrassSportsNation.com on Saturday for the recap of this and all other local high school games as well as University of Kentucky Football coverage.
Thanks to our sponsors of this Week’s coverage, Peoples Bank & Trust Co. of Hazard and Hazard Village Flea Market!!