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FOOTBALL: TNHS draws top-ranked Belfry in 1st round

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Bethlehem hosts Fulton Co. at Lally Field

By Peter W. Zubaty, Sports Editor

When Thomas Nelson coach Kyle Boblitt comes out on the field in Pond Creek tonight for the school’s first-ever playoff game, he’ll be meeting one of the legends of Kentucky High School football.

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“It’s exciting,” Boblitt said of taking on longtime Belfry head coach Phillip Haywood, now in his 43rd year and owner of the most wins by any coach in Kentucky history.

“Everybody I’ve talked to has spoken to what kind of person he is and how he’s just a phenomenal person,” Boblitt said. “I look forward to getting to meet him. The more that you can be around those type of people and try to learn from them and those things, I see that as a great opportunity as well.”

Haywood has a career 426-130 record, easily outdistancing Washington County product Dudley Hilton and his 367 career wins (Hilton returned to Bell County this year following a short stint at Taylor County). Haywood is 6-6 in state championship games during his hall-of-fame career, leading Belfry (9-1) to the past four Class 3A state championships.

Boblitt said that it would be a little like when he’s had to go up against his former high school coach, Mark Brown, who won the 1996 Class 4A state championship at Nelson County. The big difference being, of course, Boblitt and Brown are far more familiar on a personal level.

“Two great coaches, but probably two very different styles,” he said. “It’s going to be a great opportunity to get to know him. … I do look forward to shaking his hand and introducing myself.”

Boblitt will get that chance at 7:30 p.m. Friday, when his Generals (3-7) make their playoff debut at a place that is about as far east as you can be and still be in Kentucky. Thomas Nelson is leaving school early today for the 223-mile trip, which will take at least four hours by charter bus.

“Just building a program from a new school, it’s a big upgrade for us,” Generals’ senior Tyler Wimpsett said. “We’ve never really made the playoffs — never had the chance to make the playoffs. But we’ve been facing up against harder opponents and growing every week.”

Wimpsett delivered a strong performance in the regular-season finale last week, a 26-0 win over Bethlehem that broke the tie between the Generals and Bardstown for the final playoff spot in Class 3A District 3. Wimpsett carried it 27 times for 238 yards on a banged-up knee, scoring two touchdowns. It will take a similar performance and then some for Thomas Nelson to pull an upset on the road at the No. 1 team in 3A.

But as Wimpsett said, it’s not like the Generals haven’t seen some of the best in 3A already. Top-five regulars Central and Elizabethtown each dealt Thomas Nelson a loss this season.

“We’re used to playing very good programs,” Boblitt said. “It is a unique challenge, in that they’re more of a smashmouth, different type of football than maybe what we’ve seen some of. I couldn’t be more excited. Who would you rather play than the best, if that’s what you’re wanting to be.”

Boblitt said it was rewarding for him personally, and for the seniors, to get that first playoff berth.

“It’s been an awesome journey,” he said. “These guys that are seniors right now, they’ve been with me since they were freshmen. … I couldn’t be more proud of how we got better every week.”

Senior lineman Kolton Cissell said it’s been a physical week of practice in preparation for a Belfry squad that has only attempted 27 passes all year and has piled up 3,581 yards on the ground. No Pirate back has rushed for more than 900 yards, so the carries are distributed across the backfield. Taveon Hunter has 860 yards and 10 scores, and Derek Wellman has 863 with 13 touchdowns. Six other backs have gone for at least 100 yards.

“We just plan to bring it to the game, see what happens from there and bring our best,” Cissell said.

It feels great getting that first playoff berth, he said, “but then again, we’re just playing football. You can’t feel special or anything about it. You’ve just got to keep your head in the game and just play as hard as you can.”

 

CLASS 1A REGION 1 PLAYOFFS: Fulton Co. at Bethlehem

The Eagles (3-7) are hosting a playoff game for the fifth straight season, but it’s the first for new coach Jesse Cantrall.

Cantrall, however, hasn’t had much time to take stock of his current situation. He’s been too busy coaching up his kids.

“I haven’t given that much thought, honestly,” he said. “I always try to not look up too much during the season. The rewarding part is seeing our kids grow and accomplish their goals.”

Home has been good to Bethlehem in the playoffs in those previous years, going 5-2 at Lally Field — 6-2 if you count last year’s first-round forfeit by this same Fulton County squad.

“Our kids have worked very hard to get to host a home playoff game,” Cantrall said. “Now it’s up to them to come out and play well against a very dangerous opponent.”

Fulton County enters the playoffs at 3-7 on the season, with wins over Gleason, Tenn., as well as a pair of victories over rival Fulton City. They also forfeited a game to Russellville in September in District 1 play.

Cantrall said the team will have to be wary of Pilots playmakers Andreous Smith and Dapheus Allen.

Bethlehem’s Tyler Ohler enters the game as the Eagles’ leading rusher with 812 yards and nine scores on 153 carries. Sophomore Ryan Mattingly has 89 completions for 1,002 yards in the air and three scores.

Kickoff time is 7:30 p.m. Friday at Lally Field.