Panthers and Bulldogs at Daniel Field, 7:30 kick.
HAZARD – October 17, 2019 – JJ Baker – Bluegrass Sports Nation
1A District 7 currently holds the #1 team is Class A, the Pikeville Panthers, and the #3 in Class A, the Hazard Bulldogs. The Panthers are, and have been, the most highly touted team in the East since falling to Beechwood 21-20 in the 2018 KHSAA State Title game. They are returning a stable of great players and have, so far this season, taken care of business in every game they have played owning a record of 6-0. The Panthers biggest wins have been over Paintsville (9-8) and a huge upset of perennial 3A power Belfry, at Pond Creek (22-21). Hazard seems to be emerging as a potential stumbling block for the 1A, #1 though. The Bulldogs have amassed a modest record (4-2) so far this season, but have some really good wins over Paintsville (23-14) and Danville (30-29). They are a young team that has steadily improved since pads were first put on in August. We will have to wait till Friday night to see if they have improved enough to be at the top of their class.
The Panthers bring one glaring advantage to this game; speed. In what is THE fastest team in 1A, the Panthers are capable of huge plays on every snap of the game. The fastest of the fast for Pikeville is #1, Jackson Hensley. Hensley is a Harvard commit and had Division 1 schools all over the US courting him before he committed to the Crimsons. He is a dynamic play-maker and he and his 4.4, 40 yard speed must be contained and not allowed to get in the open field. He is their do-it-all back, also. He is receiver and kick returner for both punts and kickoffs and is leading them in scoring with 64 total points this year. The only chance of stopping him is to swarm him and be sure tacklers, not giving him a second chance to get into the open. What truly makes Pikeville tough is that they can stretch the field with all 4 speedy receivers and make you cover them for 50 yards down field, but also have an explosive runner in #4 Cody Rains. Rains is really good at finding a crease and chewing up chunks of yardage. He is second behind Hensley in scoring with 42 points this season. Defensively, Jon Collum has been a terror for opposing offenses. He is leading Pikeville in tackles with 58 and has 6 TFLs and 1 sack. The Panthers have very few weaknesses on either side of the ball. Hazard has to take advantage of any mistakes that this Pikeville team makes in order to be successful this week.
The Bulldogs ability to win on Friday may lay within 1 yard of where the ball is spotted on each down. The offensive and defensive lines must play their best game of the year. The offensive line that consists of Dalton Strong, Matt Couch, Thomas Massey, Kenton Beverly, and Ryan Dean, must be able to move Pikeville. Most teams are better when they are able to run the ball and Hazard is no different. If Trajon Campbell and Reece Fletcher are going to have big nights, the big men up front need to be dominant. Not only must they open up rush lanes, but they must give QB Garrett Miller time in the pocket to let his receivers work open. The defensive line of Matt Couch, Tim Owsley, Hootie Thomas, Jacob Fields, and Nate Smith must be able to control the Panther’s offensive line. Hazard has as good of a linebacking crew as there is around, but those guys must be able to do their job and it is that D-line’s job to clear the clutter and let them work. The Bulldogs also need to cause at least 2 turnovers in the game. Pikeville has taken advantage of other teams this year by turning them over 19 times. Hazard has turned teams over 16 times as well, but must win the turnover battle on Friday night.
The game atmosphere was electric and unmatched when Somerset rolled into Hazard two weeks ago. I would expect no less this week with all the playoff implications this game has. Winner of this game should have home field advantage throughout the playoffs and a distinct advantage of running all the way to Kroger Field for the KHSAA Finals in December. Just writing those words are a testament to how hard this Bulldog team has worked. For much of the early season they weren’t ranked, or were ranked very low. They have truly laid it all on the line each week, improved against all odds and doubters, and could make that next giant step to true relevancy if they can knock off the Panthers. This win would cancel all the naysayers who have blamed everything from officiating to team injuries for Hazard’s success so far this season. No team in the state is going to allow you to win. If the Dogs are hungry enough, they must kick the door down Friday night and snatch a win from the Panthers. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30pm. With this type of game, it would be wise to get there early and enjoy the unique gameday vibe around Daniel Field. Check back in with Bluegrasssportsnation.com on Saturday for a wrap up of this, and other regional team coverage.