By Dan Wright
FORT MITCHELL, Ky. – When news spread prior to the beginning of the playoffs that a number of Beechwood players would be suspended, the popular wisdom was that the Tigers would not enjoy their usual long run in the Class A playoffs.
The Tigers defied those predictions, but wound up in the same situation as their recent predecessors, falling to the Mayfield Cardinals in the Class A state semifinals for the fourth straight season, 35-14 Friday night at Edgar McNabb Stadium.
“We knew people were thinking they (the Tigers) were having a down year because they lost multiple games, but I said from the get-go, Beechwood is Beechwood and they have that tradition,” said Mayfield running back Jonathan Jackson. “They’re going to be there waiting for us and we’re going to have to get through them to get to state and I knew that.”
Jackson was once again a main reason the Cardinals ended Beechwood’s season, rushing for 240 yards on 30 carries with three touchdowns.
Although Jackson did most of his damage in the second half, when he had 146 of those yards and two touchdowns, his biggest impact came on a 13-yard touchdown run that tied the score, 14-14, with 51.9 remaining in the second half.
“We had the momentum going in at halftime and that was the big key because I knew we were going to score coming back out because we were getting the ball,” Jackson said.
Jackson’s prediction held true as he ran in a 1-yard touchdown on the opening drive of the second half to give Mayfield its first lead of the night, 21-14.
On Mayfield’s next play from scrimmage, Jackson broke a 61-yard run to set up junior quarterback Jake Guhy’s second touchdown pass of the night to senior Jordon Brown, an 8-yard strike to up Mayfield’s lead to 14, 28-14.
The Cardinals put the game away for good with a 17-play, 8:45 drive on their next possession, converting four third downs before Jackson worked his way into the end zone for his third touchdown.
“We did make a little bit of adjustments (at halftime), but the bottom line is our offensive line took over,” said Mayfield head coach Joe Morris. “We did a great job mixing the run pass and did some things on first down and we made some big plays. We dropped the ball a few times and we kind of hurt ourselves in the first half. The second half we didn’t make those mistakes.”
While Mayfield’s offense ran at will in the second half, the Tigers were held without a first down in the second half until freshman quarterback Kyle Fieger hit senior running back Max Nussbaum with a 5-yard pass on second-and-three from the Tigers own 13 with less than three minutes to go in the game.
It was that combination that had Beechwood in the lead for much of the first half.
After sophomore Joe Studer returned the opening kickoff to the Mayfield 41, a pass to Studer and three runs by Nussbaum set up a 9-yard touchdown pass from Fieger to Studer just 2:25 into the game.
Mayfield tied the score on a 20-yard pass from Guhy to Brown with 59.6 remaining in the first quarter.
Nine straight runs by Nussbaum put Beechwood at the Mayfield 5, and although the Cardinals recovered a fumbled snap, the Tigers forced a punt that gave them possession back at the Cardinals 35 yard line. A 19-yard run by Nussbaum set up a 5-yard touchdown pass from Fieger to junior receiver Max Shover 4:34 before halftime.
Beechwood would not gain another first down until late in the fourth quarter, however, with its next possession ending in a short punt to the Tigers 36 that Mayfield used to score its momentum-changing touchdown just before halftime.
“We’ve done that quite a bit this year -- giving them scores with very little time left to go right there at the end of the second quarter,” said Beechwood head coach Noel Rash. “They came out the second half and had a little more mojo than us and really started dominating us up front.”
Mayfield finished the game with a 432-to-140 edge in total offense, a stat the Cardinals only led 155 to 130 at halftime.
In addition to Jackson’s 32 carries for 240 yards, Guhy completed 11 of 18 passes for 154 yards and two scores. Brown caught four passes for 79 yards, including both touchdowns.
Mayfield will face Fairview in state championship game next Friday in Bowling Green.
Nussbaum led the Tigers with 106 rushing yards on 22 carries.
“He’s special,” Rash said. “He’s everything we want in a Beechwood football player and he showed it again tonight.”
It was a sentiment Rash said extends throughout his roster after overcoming so much to make yet another deep playoff run.
“I don’t know about anything else but that group of seniors and the sixty-something odd boys I have in that locker room,” said Rash. “It says a lot about their character.”
at BEECHWOOD 7-7-0-0—14
B-Studer 9 pass from Fieger (Sletto kick)
M-Brown 20 pass from Guhy (Wynstra kick)
B-Shover 5 pass from Fieger (Sletto kick)