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Lexington Christian knocks off Pikeville, 35-13, in dream matchup of top-ranked football teams

By Chad Hensley
KyForward sports reporter

The nightmarish pandemic caused a dream matchup on the football field Friday night as the top-ranked team in Class 2A (Lexington Christian) squared off against the state’s No. 1 squad in Class 1A (Pikeville).

When it ended, Lexington Christian owned a 35-13 win over visiting Pikeville in a game that would have never been scheduled without the unprecedented problems caused by the pandemic.

A matchup between two teams that are ranked No. 1 in their respective classes this late in the regular season is extremely rare. Lexington Christian, however, had two different games scheduled at various points that were canceled.

As a result, Lexington Christian head coach Doug Charles used his connection to the Pikeville program to get the dream matchup.

Doug Charles

“We (were) initially scheduled to play Paintsville, who canceled due to COVID-19,” said Charles. “We then picked up South Oldham last Saturday and began preparing all week for their run-heavy offense. That game was then canceled Wednesday night due to Fayette County going red.”

“Personally, I have a long and great history with Pikeville,” Charles added. “I played and graduated there, coached there and still have a lot of family and friends living there. I had heard Pikeville was also looking for a game so I called Pikeville’s head coach Chris McNamee at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday night and asked him if they could come up Lexington to play and he agreed. We exchanged films at 11 p.m. and (assistant coach) Joe Lebryk pulled an all-nighter getting the scouting report and scout cards done so we could shift our game and practice plan to Pikeville.

“We had one two-hour walk-through Thursday afternoon to get ready and our kids were dialed in. All of our coaches had great game plans put together with very short notice.”

Drew Nieves led Lexington Christian (7-1) on offense with 218 yards through the air and two touchdown passes as well as another 60 yards on the ground. Nieves, who leads Class 2A in touchdowns (18) and passing yards per game (240), was 18-for-24 through the air with just one interception.

Pikeville dropped to 5-2 with the defeat. The Panthers’ other loss was a road setback at Class 6A Campbell County.

“Drew continues to evolve into a very productive quarterback,” Charles said of his junior signal caller. “He has as good of a natural arm talent as I’ve seen in a while at the high school level. He can make every throw and has done everything we have asked him to do. He is a very fast and elusive runner as well.

“We are very pleased with how he is staying within our offense and spreading the ball to our many talented skill guys. He has had great production thus far and we expect him to get even better as he has only played eight games as a varsity quarterback.”

Mason Moore was Nieves’ favorite target with seven receptions for 100 yards, but Jeffrey Selby and Chance McGaughey were able to convert their only reception each into touchdowns. McGaughey’s 8-yard touchdown reception with 57 seconds remaining in the first half and William Morehead’s subsequent extra point put the Eagles up 14-6 heading into halftime.

Lexington Christian linebacker Mattie Lebryk (41) is enjoying an outstanding season. (LCA photo)

Tyler Morris started the scoring with a 7-yard plunge with 36 seconds to go in the first quarter. He would later score with 52 seconds remaining in the third quarter to cap a 10-carry, 58-yard performance.

Morris’ performance caught the attention of the coaching staff at the University of Akron. The junior running back was offered a scholarship by the Zips on Saturday morning.

“I was so happy to see him get offered by Akron on Saturday morning,” Charles said. “We knew early on that Tyler would be a part of our offense as he’s a specimen at 6-foot and 185-pounds and runs a legit sub-4.5 40-yard dash. You don’t see too many guys his size that athletic in high school. He had always played primarily defense only, but we knew before the season began that he would be in our skill rotation on offense.

“He’s improved his hands which allows us to play him at receiver or running back which makes him really valuable. As the season goes on, he’s getting more comfortable both running and catching the ball as he’s never done these things since little league. As Xavier Brown returns next game, our offense should take another step forward as our quality depth will be very helpful for what we expect to be a long playoff run.”

The defense was spectacular in holding a Pikeville offensive attack in check throughout the game. While Pikeville gained more than 300 yards of total offense, LCA was able to clamp down and hold the Panthers to just one touchdown against the varsity defensive unit.

Mattie Lebryk tallied 10 total tackles to lead the team that saw 18 different players have a hand in a tackle. Defense also iced the game for LCA. With the Eagles leading 28-6 after Morris’ second touchdown reception, Moore sealed the victory with an interception return for a score. Moore finished with two interceptions.

Pikeville’s Blake Birchfield rushed for 58 yards against Lexington Christian. (Photo by Jeff McCurry)

“Unlike most LCA teams in past years where the offense was always among the state leaders in most categories, this year it’s our defense that kind of been our foundation,” Charles added. “We’ve played arguably the toughest schedule in the state as we’ve played four teams ranked first in their class at the time of the game (Pikeville, Somerset, DeSales and Frederick Douglass). We knew going into the season that our defense should be really good as we returned 10 starters from our 2019 season where we went 10-2. Our defense continues to get better as we have focused on building depth these last three weeks. Our defense is led by Mattie Lebryk, who has nearly 100 tackles through our first eight games.”

Charles is pleased with the progress the defense has shown as his team nears the playoffs.

“Our linebackers (Jeffrey Selby, Tyler Morris, Elijah Hammond and Will Nichols) are all physical specimens who can fill gaps, cover in space and really rally to the football,” he said. “Our defensive line rotation of Anthony Johns, Gabe Bryne, Neal Dickey, Grant Vaught, Johnny Bruce Drake and Thomas White continue to get better and healthier each week. They are a big part of what we do as we lead Class 2A in sacks and tackles for loss by a lot.

“Then you look at our secondary and we’ve got Will Vernon, who has s been great in covering our opponents top receivers, as well as freshman Parker Chaney, who has played great and continues to get better each week. Finally, our two safeties Mason Moore and Chance McGaughey are two very big and physical guys who both have a nose for the football. Both have great ball skills and are very athletic. All of our defensive guys are really playing as a unit and now that we are all healthy, I fully expect us to be even better the remainder of the season. I just told our kids last week that ‘offense sells tickets and popcorn, but defense wins championships.’”

Golden Eagles soar over Pirates

In a battle of the two of the top teams in Eastern Kentucky, defending Class 4A state champion Johnson Central (7-0) cruised to a 35-14 win over reigning Class 3A state champion Belfry (5-3) thanks to a big performance by Dylan Preston and a staunch defense that tallied five fumble recoveries.

Johnson Central, which was 15-0 a year ago, has now won 22 consecutive games. (Photo by Lisa Lemaster)

Preston churned out 191 yards on the ground with three touchdowns on 29 carries. The a 6-foot-1, 200-pound senior running back not only leads the team on the field but is the epitome of a student-athlete as he has earned a 4.0 GPA, which has the likes of Army, Navy, Brown and Columbia wanting his services next fall.

Grant Rice added 68 yards on nine carries with two touchdowns for Johnson Central, which extended its winning streak to 22 games.

Johnson Central’s defense held the vaunted rushing attack of Belfry to just 147 yards on the night. Jesse McCoy, Keygan Pelfrey, Mason Lawson, Zach Russell and Andrew Burchett each tallied fumble recoveries for the Golden Eagles.

Historic win legitimizes West Carter’s postseason chances

A Hail Mary attempt by Orry Perry was initially batted in the air, but Gage Leadingham was in the right place at the right time to haul in a touchdown pass for West Carter as time expired for a 25-21 win over Russell. West Carter had trailed 21-13 with less than a minute remaining in the game.

The improbable win was the first win in program history for the Comets (7-1) over the Red Devils (5-2) in 28 attempts.

Perry hooked up with Jackson Bond for a 20-yard touchdown pass with 20 seconds remaining in the game to pull the Comets to within 21-19, but a missed two-point conversion meant that West Carter needed to attempt an onside kick on the subsequent kickoff.

The Comets recovered the onside kick and three plays later, Perry connected with Leadingham as time expired.

West Carter’s Leetavious Cline, who leads Class 2A in rushing by nearly 600 yards, had 17 carries for 107 yards. Cline did not score on offense, but he did have 55-yard interception return for a touchdown as well as a team-leading 16 total tackles.

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