FORT MITCHELL, Ky. -- The Beechwood Tigers completely dominated the Russellville Panthers and advanced to the Kentucky 1A championship with a 35-0 win on Friday night at Edgar McNabb Field.
Beechwood (13-1) will be looking to win its first state title since 2008 against Hazard (12-2) next weekend at Houchens/L.T. Smith stadium on the campus of Western Kentucky.
The only common opponent is Somerset. Beechwood knocked off the Briar Jumpers 29-7 at home, and Hazard lost to Somerset 33-15.
Beechwood held a 14-0 lead at the half Friday night and then distanced themselves with a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by junior James Davis.
"It was enormous; it deflated them a little bit," said Beechwood head coach Noel Rash. "We thought we could win the special teams battle, and I told the kids I thought we were 14 points better there."
The Tigers were also exceptional on defense, holding Russellville (12-2), who came into the game averaging 312 rushing yards, to just 134 yards on the ground.
The Panthers opened the game with a 66-yard drive, all rushing yards, that stalled on the Beechwood 13-yard line. From there. the Tigers only allowed 106 more yards of offense and 68 rushing yards once they got settled into the big-game environment.
"We didn’t really have any adjustments," said senior fullback and linebacker Trevor Soward. "As a team we just came together and figured it out and got it done."
Russellville was unable to move the ball on the ground the remainder of the game, and Beechwood relied on their running game to secure the victory.
Senior running back Aiden Justice led the Tigers with 63 yards on 15 carries and an additional 18 yards on two catches. He also scored a touchdown rushing and receiving.
On Justice’s two scores, he finished each play by plowing over a defender at the goal line, bringing his season count to 26 total touchdowns.
“Once I get to the goal line, I don’t think anything is stopping me because I want to get in there and win," said Justice.
It took a big pass and run to get the Tigers going. They opened the scoring in the second quarter with a 61-yard catch and run by junior wide receiver Daniel Mescher on a short pass from junior quarterback Brayden Burch.
Considering each team had only lost one game apiece this season -- to much larger schools -- such a decisive win was a bit of a surprise to many. It wasn’t a shock to Rash.
“I’m not sitting here surprised," said Rash. "Our kids can perform that well and they’ve pretty much done it all year. It’s a tribute to our kids.
For the second season in a row, Russellville’s year ends in defeat to Beechwood in the round of four.