HHS escapes Belfry, 17-9
BELFRY, Ky. – For Huntington coach Billy Seals, it wasn’t the prettiest game he’d coached with the Highlanders.
However, Friday night’s 17-9 win over Belfry in the Pike County Bowl at CAM Stadium still brought a smile to his face at the end of the evening.
Seals watched as his team fought through adversity, injuries and a tough-nosed Belfry team to start the 2018 season with a win.
“That’s a good, gutty win for our program against a tremendous Belfry football program,” Seals said.
The game was a stark contrast to the Highlanders’ 45-34 win last season in which both teams raced up and down the field, putting up points in bunches.
Instead, it was much more of a cat-and-mouse game that featured strategy and pressure situations on both sides with each team performing well.
After falling behind 14-0 early in the second quarter, Belfry had all the momentum heading into the fourth period after getting a 68-yard touchdown by Isaac Dixon and taking possession at the Huntington 27 following a 15-yard punt.
Huntington’s defense was able to force Belfry coach Philip Haywood into a decision by getting a defensive stop inside the 20-yard line. Haywood elected to kick a 33-yard field goal, which Grayson Cook made to cut the lead to 14-9 with 9:01 left.
At that point, Huntington’s offense had done little in the second half.
“That was one reason we kicked the field goal near the end,” Haywood said. “We started stopping them in the second half and I thought we had momentum going.”
With pressure on, the Huntington offense responded behind its veteran offensive line and the running of Diallo Mitchell, who rushed for 77 of his 82 yards on a drive that chewed up more than six minutes and ended with a clutch 33-yard field goal by Isiah Carpenter that pushed the lead to eight points and put all the pressure back on Belfry.
From there, the Highlanders’ defense went to work, swarming Belfry on its next series and ending the game when Johronimo Mitchell stopped Dixon in the backfield on a fourth-down option play to secure the win.
Seals said it was the defensive stop on the short field to start the fourth quarter that provided the boost.
“When you give up the ball at that point of the field and only give up three points, that’s a win for us on defense,” Seals said. “I told our guys as they came off the field that it was a huge stop. It was the stop of the game.”
Early on, it did not look like the game would come down to the wire.
Huntington jumped out to a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter, turning two Belfry turnovers into touchdowns by using the balance of the offense.
Bryce Damous opened the scoring with a 1-yard touchdown with 2:16 left in the first quarter to cap a 13-play, 72-yard drive that quarterback Tajhan Blackwell extended with his arm on two long third-down completions.
On the first, Blackwell found Kris Brown on a sideline route for 15 yards on 3rd-and-12 before later hitting Damous for a 24-yard gain on 3rd-and-10.
In addition to the scoring run, Damus also caught three passes for 56 yards.
Huntington’s next scoring drive came courtesy of the legs of Ty Wilcoxon, who followed his own 18-yard run with a 1-yard plunge to give the Highlanders a two-score advantage with 8:35 left in the first half.
Wilcoxon, who was named MVP of the Pike County Bowl, rushed for a game-high 122 yards on 18 carries, but missed the fourth quarter with a shoulder injury.
With the Highlanders looking to replace the output of Jadon Hayes from 2017, Wilcoxon and Mitchell combined for 204 yards, which Seals said was a positive sign against a tough defense.
“We feel like both those guys are really good players,” Seals said.
Injuries crept up on the Highlanders throughout the night, including one scary sight during the drive capped by Wilcoxon’s scoring run.
Huntington wide receiver Devin Jackson went airborne to haul in a 25-yard pass from Blackwell on the drive, but came down awkwardly on his foot, which buckled under the pressure.
Trainers and team personnel immediately rushed to Jackson, but before he left on a stretcher, the Highlanders’ receiver waved to his team and the crowd to urge them on after a period of silence during the scary injury.
Huntington’s defense limited Belfry to 186 total yards – all rushing – and forced the Pirates into four turnovers on the evening.
Despite struggling in the second half with his two top targets out, Blackwell finished 5-of-14 for 96 yards in the win.
Belfry played without starting quarterback Avery Browning, who sat out the game due to an ankle injury.
The game was the second contest of a doubleheader in the 34th Pike County Bowl at Belfry High School. In the first contest, Phelps (Ky.) defeated East Ridge (Ky.), 44-0.
HUNTINGTON 7 7 0 3 – 17
BELFRY 0 0 6 3 – 9
H – Bryce Damous 1 run (Isaiah Carpenter kick)
H – Ty Wilcoxon 1 run (Carpenter kick)
B – Isaac Dixon 68 run (run failed)
B – Grayson Cook 29 FG
H – Carpenter 33 FG
Total yards 51-312 38-186
First downs 14 10
Rushes-Yds 37-216 38-186
Comp-Att-Int 5-14-0 0-1-1
Passing yards 96 0
Fumbles-Lost 2-1 3-3
Penalties-Yds 10-92 0-0
RUSHING: Huntington – Wilcoxon 18-122, TD; Mitchell 11-82; Wright 1-10; Blackwell 7-2; Damous 1-1, TD. Belfry – Dixon 8-72, TD; Hensley 13-47; Coleman 11-41; Bentley 5-38; Team 1-(-12).
PASSING: Huntington – Tajhan Blackwell 5-of-14, 96 yards. Belfry – Brett Coleman 0-of-1, 0 yards, INT.
RECEIVING: Huntington – Damous 3-56; Jackson 1-25; Brown 1-15. Belfry - none.