As a football fan, how could anyone not appreciate a game like this one. Two teams that were evenly matched battling it out for a state title. No game is won on a single play, and no game is lost on a single play either. This game was a tale of two halves.
In the first half, Pikeville only ran 14 plays. Beechwood dominated the time of possession chewing up 17:55 to Pikeville’s 6:05. That was largely due to the Tigers success on 3rd down as they converted 6 of 8 attempts.
Beechwood ran 38 plays with 30 of them being on the ground. The Tigers had 11 first downs compared to just 3 for the Panthers. If you were not at the game and heard this you would believe Beechwood was running away with this State Title Game. However, that wasn’t the case as the first half ended with Beechwood narrowly ahead of Pikeville 14-6.
Pikeville knew they had to get off the field on 3rd down to have a shot. They did just that on the opening possession. Pikeville’s offense now had to hold up their end and get things going offensively. Beechwood zeroed in on the run and dared Pikeville to throw the ball. Connor Roberts and company proved that was a mistake as he connected with Jackson Hensley for their second touchdown hook up of the game. The Pikeville Panthers went for two but was unsuccessful. Tigers lead was now 14-12.
As Pikeville had done in the first half, they squib kicked the ball that bounced off a Tiger’s leg and recovered by the Panthers. Momentum clearly now favored the Panthers midway through the 3rd quarter. Pikeville’s offense went to work on Beechwood’s side of the 50, and methodically drove down the field. The drive eventually was capped off on a boot leg pass from Connor Roberts to Christian Billiter in the corner of the end zone. Pikeville converted the two-point attempt and now had their first lead of the game 20-14. We had an all-out war heading into the 4th quarter.
Beechwood’s offense answered the bell in the 4th quarter driving down the field and punching it in from 1 yard out with 9:42 seconds left. Their next play would be the biggest for the Tigers as they converted on the extra point and took back the lead 21-20. The score left plenty of time for the Panthers to make their move.
The Tigers had other plans forcing Pikeville to punt on their ensuing possession. Pikeville’s defense forced Beechwood into a 4th and short situation were the Tigers ran all curl routes just past the first down marker.
Beechwood converted the 4th down and kept the clock moving. Defensive Coordinator Paul Sullivan urged his team to keep play, “We are fine guys, just keep playing!” That’s exactly what the Panther defense did. Pikeville forced Beechwood into another 4th down situation, this time senior lineman Brayden Hunter met Beechwood’s Cameron Hergot in the hole and forced a fumble. Pikeville recovered and with 3:38 left in the game, Pikeville had the ball with a chance to win their 5th State Championship.
Pikeville’s offense took the field and immediately faced adversity when they were called for holding on a huge 3rd down conversion. The penalty forced Pikeville into a 4th and 16 situation. With the game on the line Coach McNamee and staff dialed up a fade route to Christian Billiter who was double covered. Billiter went up above both Tiger defenders and made an incredible play to save the drive and game for the Panthers. That play catapulted Pikeville into Beechwood territory.
The Tigers defense slowed Pikeville down when they sacked Connor Roberts on 1st down. On second down, Roberts looked to connect once again with Christian Billiter who was in the end zone. The Tigers had him double covered and this time intercepted the pass for a touchback with one minute left in the game. Beechwood closed the game out by taking a knee in victory formation. Your 2018 Class 1A State Championship belongs to the Beechwood Tigers.
The game will go down as a “L” for the Pikeville Panthers, and there are no moral victories in football, but the 2018 edition of the Pikeville Panthers should be extremely proud of what they accomplished. This group of mountain boys represented their community of Pikeville, their school, and the entire region admirably. Winning 11 games with the schedule they had is an incredible accomplishment. Taking Beechwood down to the final minute of the State Finals is nothing to hang their head over. This one will sting for a while but when the dust settles and the tears dry they will realize just how far they came both on the field and off. Football is more than just a game, and it teaches you a lot about life. This group of Panthers have learned a lot, and the State has now learned a lot about them.
To the seniors, your impact on the Pikeville Program will last forever. Your blood, sweat, and tears will ring loudly as future Panthers take the field.
Your legacy is a great one, your character is inspiring,, and your future is extremely bright. Bluegrass Sports Nation wishes you all the best of luck in your future endeavors.