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Preview: Beechwood vs. Pikeville

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Posted at 5:24 PM, Dec 02, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-02 17:24:02-05

Beechwood is fourth in Kentucky in state championships with 11, but its current seven-year drought equals its longest title-less span since 1991.

With 13 wins this season, the Tigers have matched their highest victory total since 2008, the last year they won state.

Nemesis Mayfield knocked Beechwood out five of the previous six seasons, and with that team moving to Class 2A, the Tigers were able to eliminate Russellville last week to advance to the championship game.

Pikeville is no stranger to titles, having won three in its history. But all of them came in a row, nearly three decades ago in 1987-89.

But the Panthers have piled up at least 11 wins for the fourth time in five years and should be one of the biggest challenges of the season for the Tigers.

BEECHWOOD TIGERS (13-1) vs. PIKEVILLE PANTHERS (12-2)

Kickoff: Thursday, 8:00 p.m. at Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green

Follow on Twitter: @TSFootball

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Despite averaging 14 passes per game, Beechwood senior Kyle Fieger has put up ridiculous numbers all year. Fieger is 138 of 197 (70.1 percent) for 2,590 yards, 38 touchdowns and just three interceptions. That’s 13.1 yards per attempt and a TD every five throws. Brett Slusher has caught 54 of those passes for 1,112 yards – nearly 21 yards per reception – and 19 scores. Ethan Stringer has gained 1,553 yards on the ground and found the end zone 21 times. Slusher has scored tour times on defense – twice on fumbles and two more times on picks. He leads the Tigers in interceptions (4) and fumble recoveries (4).

Like Beechwood’s QB, Pikeville’s Wyatt Battaile Cody Dials has an absurd completion percentage in even more limited throw, going 68-for-82 (82.9 percent!) for 1,162 yards, 17 TDs and three picks. Daric Pugh is the Panthers’ top rusher by far with 173 carries, 1,826 yards and 33 scores. Battaile has picked off four passes and returned two for touchdowns.

TEAM TRENDS: Beechwood has won 10 straight games, with its lone loss coming to Covington Catholic, 41-21 on Sept. 18. The Tigers have scored at least 60 points four times in that span.

Pikeville has nine consecutive victories with a minimum of 42 points in every game in its winning streak, including 50-plus eight times. The Panthers’ losses were to area rival Paintsville (23-22) and mountain power Belfry (34-8), both early in the season.

BEECHWOOD’S KEYS TO VICTORY: Pikeville has allowed just 145.9 yards per game, so Beechwood will likely not dominate offensively like it has against most teams it has faced this season. The Panthers have given up an average of fewer than 70 yards, so establishing the pass may be difficult, although Pikeville has not faced a team with as strong of a passing attack as the Tigers. Establishing the Fieger-to-Slusher connection in the air could open up the Beechwood offense.

PIKEVILLE’S KEYS TO VICTORY: Pugh pounded the football last week vs. Paintsville, gaining 251 yards on 33 carries. His durability against Beechwood is a major key, as is that of Battaile, who plays both ways. The Panthers need to establish the passing game, as the Tigers are too tough to beat with just the running game. Stopping a 1,000-yard receiver like Slusher will be a difficult test.

Prediction: Beechwood 35, Pikeville 21