There is a rich tradition around the mountains when talking about Class A football programs. You immediately think about the Lynch East Main state champions of 1959, 60, 63, and 68. The Jack Hall led 1964 Elkhorn City State Champions knocked off Russellville at the old Stoll Field on UK’s campus 33-7.
Hillard Howard and Pikeville’s legendary three peat in 1987, 88, and 89 that has only been matched to this day by a couple of other programs like the Mike Yeagle led Beechwood Tigers of the 90’s and the Mayfield Cardinals of the late 2010’s. Within all those championship runs by these mountains teams, some of the best football all year is usually played. Hazard has been lucky enough over their history to play in several of those games. The Pikeville rivalry has always been strong and several games come to mind for the Bulldog faithful. The 2006 playoff game that saw Hazard win 15-14 as the clock expired on a last second Austin Delpont field goal after being absolutely dismantled by the Panthers 40-6 three weeks before is the stuff of legends. This started Hazard on an incredible 7 year run of making it to the Regional Championship game and winning 6 out of 7 of those. Another program that has always been in the mix when talking about mountain teams is the Paintsville Tigers. The Bulldogs and Tigers were in each others district for several years and that usually resulted in the two facing each other twice in a season. These two storied programs have a history of close games and upsets. In Hazard’s 2006 play off run they trailed the Tigers 14-0 throughout the most of the game until the last play of regulation in the opening round of the playoffs. Hazard had handled the Tigers 21-8 three weeks before. That game went to overtime and Hazard went on to win 27-21. In 2016 Hazard was suppose to be a year away from making noise in Class A and were beaten at Pikeville 29-21 before going back in the Region Final to beat the Panthers 42-19 and earning the right to play Paintsville. Paintsville was the preseason favorite to win the Class A title. Again, the Bulldogs got the best of the Tigers pulling the upset at home, 20-7 and going on to the state finals to face the Beechwood Tigers. Coming into the 2017 season, Hazard was the preseason favorite before losing several players to injuries. The Bulldogs traveled to Paintsville and were beaten by the Tigers on a last second goal line stand from the 1 yard line on fourth down. The hype isn’t surrounding either of these two as in years past, but both seem to be flying under the radar and could make some noise in the playoffs.
Paintsville has been on an up swing under Coach Joe Chirico since the 2013 season. Coach Chirico was a member of the 1992 Division 1, AA National Championship team at Marshall University and has injected the Paintsville Football Program with a shot of excitement over his tenure there that has seen an upgrade in both facilities that rival some small colleges, and also quality of football that’s being played in Paintsville. All this is being done with a cross town rival that is a perennial power in 4A as well. In an athlete rich environment like Johnson County, opposing teams always have to be prepared to stop big fast kids. Currently the Tigers are sitting at 5-2 on the season with their only two loses coming to 6A powerhouse Fredrick Douglas and former cross town district rival Pikeville. Paintsville has a dual threat QB in Jake Hyden and at time of the last stats being submitted, led the team in both the rushing category and passing. The Tigers spread the ball out really well on both the ground and in the air. Along with Hyden as a run threat, Chris Allen and Josh McClurg also have the potential to put up big numbers on the ground. Paintsville will also put the ball in several different receiver’s hands, targeting Chris Allen, John Phelps, Josh McClurg, and James Allen through the air. They are led in scoring on the year by John McClurg. The meeting with the Bulldogs looks as though it is a very even matched game and the start of a hard stretch of football that will see the Tigers visit Hazard this week and then travel to last years Class A, East representative, and 2018 dark horse, the Raceland Rams to close out their regular season.
Hazard is entering the contest following a bounce back win against the Phelps Hornets after dropping their first district game of the year to Pikeville. The Bulldogs have been very balanced this season offensively with 1342 yards rushing and 1024 yards through the air. Senior QB Bailey Blair has led the Dogs on the season going 62/102 in pass attempts with 7 TDs and 4 INTs on the season. He leads Hazard QBs with 952 yards through the air. Skylar Pefrey has fielded a void on the offensive side of the ball at running back since Hazard lost Corey Smith last year to injury. Pelfrey is closing in on 1,000 yards this season, averaging 120 yards per game on the ground and totaling 720 yards rushing on 99 carries. Blair’s favorite target through the air this season has been senior Andy Baker who has caught 21 passes for 336 yards receiving. Much like Paintsville though, Hazard will spread the ball out all over the field with many Bulldogs getting touches on the offensive side of scrimmage. Complementing Pelfrey’s run game has been Trajon Campbell and defensive specialist Reece Fletcher. Both have given breaks for Pelfrey with little drop in production between any of the three. Also posing threats though the air are Isaiah Stupart, Reece Fletcher, Mason Collins, Skylar Pelfrey, Kyle Johnson, Tyson Turner, and Andrew Ford. Any receiver that Blair targets has shown the ability and potential to make it to the end zone on any given reception. Blair has been given plenty of time to throw and Pelfrey and company has has big holes to run though behind an offensive line that has a great mix of veterans and new comers with the likes of Kenzie Caudill, Draven Goins, Matt Couch, Dalton Strong, and Kenton Beverly.
Defensively the Bulldogs have been increasingly effective game after game. The defense has relied on a veteran secondary and linebacker core. Coming into the season the question for the Bulldogs was going to be the defensive line as it returned only 1 player that saw significant playing time the year before. As the D-line goes, so has the defense so far. Holding the trenches with returning defensive line leader and nose guard Jacob Brashear has been senior Ben Adams, Parker Holbrook, Draven Goins, Matt Couch, Dalton Strong and Nate Smith. Ben Adams is 5th on the team in tackles with 27 and leads the d-line. The leading tackler from the veteran linebacker core has been Reece Fletcher with 54 with Pelfrey being effective as well, racking up 36 tackles with 2 tackles for loss and 4 sacks on the season. Mason Collins has also been very effective as a run stopper. The big linebacker with good speed has made lead blockers jobs a nightmare this season. Bryson Sayers has been able to file a hole at outside backer left due to graduation and has 30 tackles so far this year, as well. The secondary has been led by strong safety Andy Baker that has been as effective stopping the run game this season as knocking down passes. The Bulldog safety has gathered 51 tackles so far this year. Free Safety Isaiah Stupart is leading Hazard’s secondary in both interceptions (2) and return yards on the season.
Home field should play a huge factor in this game. The Bulldogs are road weary having played 5 out of 6 games away from Daniel Field this season. Friday’s contest will be the 1st of a guaranteed 4 game home stand that will extend through the first round of the playoffs. For the Bulldogs to be successful they will have to contain the Paintsville athletes and stop them at or near the line of scrimmage before they can get into the open field. Hazard’s defensive secondary must play their assignments and not get caught up in watching the game. Offensively the Bulldogs must spread out the ball and not let Paintsville key on Pelfrey. This may be difficult as the Tiger secondary is athletic and good enough to play press man and keep Bulldog receivers on the line of scrimmage and disrupting passing routes and timing for Blair. The receiving corp may be what swings the tide of this game in Hazard’s favor if they can match Paintsville’s secondaries physicality and create space in the passing game. This will be another great weekend of football and the Hazard fans should be treated to a great home game. With the high temperature suppose to be only 60 on Friday, the chill in the air is starting to signal playoff football time in the mountain. It should be a playoff type atmosphere Friday. Kickoff is set for 7:30pm at Hazard’s Daniel Field. Look for pre and post game interviews with the coaches and players on Bluegrass Sports Nation’s Facebook page and check out the recap of the game Saturday on BluegrassSportsNation.com .
Sponsors for this week are: Peoples Bank & Trust of Hazard: Scott Alexander – Perry Judge Executive; State Senator Brandon Smith; Century 21 Realty – Rebecca Fletcher & Jessica Holcomb; and Perry County Tire.