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Top-ranked Lexington Christian prepares for Metcalfe County in Class 2A state quarterfinals on Friday night

By Chad Hensley
KyForward sports reporter

A hot start and timely defensive stops in the second half enabled Lexington Christian to knock off defending Class 2A state champion Somerset by a 42-35 score for the district title last week.

Now, the top-ranked Eagles (8-1) will face Metcalfe County (6-2) in the regional championship game on Friday night. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m., but the game will be played at Joseph K. Ford Stadium at Lexington Catholic.

Lexington Christian’s Xavier Brown attempts to elude Somerset’s Kaiya Sheron (2) last Friday night in the Class 2A playoffs. (Photo by Alicia Quenemoen)

The game was moved to Lexington Catholic’s turf facility after inclement weather left Lexington Christian’s field with unplayable conditions.

Ignited by an explosive offense, Lexington Christian jumped out to leads of 21-0 and 28-7. Somerset clawed back into the game and eventually tied the score at 28-all following a touchdown run by Mikey Garland.

Drew Nieves connected with Mason Moore for a 56-yard touchdown and Andrew Dobbs’ extra point gave Lexington Christian a 35-28 lead. Garland, though, countered with another touchdown and Christian Whitis converted the extra point to even the score at 35-all.

Lexington Christian responded as Nieves scored on a 28-yard run for a 42-35 lead. Somerset had a final chance, but the Lexington Christian defense forced an incompletion on a fourth-down pass.

“We were fortunate to get out to a great start, which is always important,” Lexington Christian head coach Doug Charles said. “We weren’t sure exactly how things would get started as we hadn’t played in nearly a month. I think having an extra two weeks off to get 100 percent healthy and prepare paid dividends. Our staff and players put in a tremendous amount of time on our game plan in all three phases and our players were really energized and ready to play. We played an almost perfect first quarter as we went up 21-0. Although we were up, we knew that Somerset wasn’t going to quit and would respond.

“They are extremely talented, and one could simply reflect back to their state championship game last year against Mayfield where they went 86 yards in less than a minute for a come-from-behind win. Earlier this year in our first game with them we went up 14-0 at halftime only to see them respond and take the lead in the third quarter. On both occasions, our kids stayed focused and we made the adjustments to pull ahead and win both games. I really feel that our body of work, playing a very difficult schedule, helped us push through to get the win.”

That difficult schedule included wins against Louisville DeSales, Lexington Catholic, Williamsburg, Paul Dunbar, Danville, Pikeville and two against Somerset. Lexington Christian’s only loss was to Class 5A contender Frederick Douglass. The combined record of Lexington Christian’s opponents is 41-20.

Will Vernon of Lexington Christian heads to the end zone for a 51-yard touchdown reception against Somerset last Friday night. (Photo by Alicia Quenemoen)

Nieves completed a pass to Moore and the junior wide receiver took it in for the game’s first touchdown. Tyler Morris scored on Lexington Christian’s next possession to put the Eagles up 14-0. Nieves later connected with Xavier Brown for a touchdown on a third-and-goal from the Somerset 21-yard line to extend the Lexington Christian advantage to 21-0.

That score turned out to be Brown’s only touchdown of the night, but Nieves, Morris and company took advantage of the Somerset defense keying on Brown.

“Obviously, it’s no secret that Xavier commands a lot of attention and most defenses scheme to attempt to limit his production,” Charles said of his junior running back. “While that is effective at times, we are blessed with five to seven other very capable skill guys who are a threat to score at any time. That puts defenses in a bind as we simply take what the defenses give us.

“We are very balanced and had six different guys score just last week. Mason Moore, Will Vernon, Elijah Hammond, Tyler Morris, Jeffrey Selby, Mattie Lebryk, Parker Chaney and Drew Nieves are all a threat to hurt defenses. So, I guess our balance is one of our advantages.”

Nieves finished the night 12-for-18 passing for 239 yards and four touchdowns. The junior quarterback also led the team in rushing with 54 yards on five carries and one touchdown.

“As we reflect on the great play of our junior quarterback Drew Nieves this year,” said Charles, “it goes back to our initial practices where our coaching staff got together before we were even able to practice with footballs and made the decision that Drew was going to be our starting quarterback. We knew he had next-level arm talent, but it was still a question of if he could grasp our complex playbook.”

Drew Nieves lunges toward the goal line at the end of his 28-yard touchdown run that lifted Lexington Christian to a 42-35 win over Somerset. (Photo by Alicia Quenemoen)

“We also knew we had a stable of proven playmakers who played significant minutes on our 10-2 team in 2019,” Charles added. “Drew has evolved each and every week and has done everything we’ve asked him to do. He can make every throw and has the speed and athleticism to keep defenses honest with his running ability. He ranks among the top quarterbacks in the state regardless of class in just about every statistical category. He’s certainly answered our biggest question going into the season in a very strong way and we are so happy to see him having such great success.”

Moore hauled in six catches for 101 yards and two touchdowns. Brown recorded five catches for 57 yards and one touchdown.

Morris added 12 yards and one touchdown on the ground, while Mattie Lebryk accounted for the touchdown reception that put Lexington Christian up 28-7 early in the second quarter.

The Lexington Christian defense made key stops late in the game and held Somerset star quarterback Kaiya Sheron in check. Sheron, a University of Kentucky commit, passed for 244 yards — 11 yards below his season’s average.

The Eagles were also stingy with their run defense, giving up only 64 yards after the Briar Jumpers had averaged 195.25 yards per contest going into the game.

Lebryk collected 15 tackles to lead the Lexington Christian defense. Lebryk added 1.5 tackles for loss and assisted on a quarterback sack. A total of 15 different Eagles recorded tackles against Somerset.

“Our defense has been the key to our success this season. Mattie Lebryk is our heart and soul and leads us most every Friday night,” noted Charles. “Tyler Morris was key as well with 11 tackles. Somerset is loaded with playmakers as well and has an elite quarterback in Kaiya Sheron. They have a legit power game but can also stretch the field. In the third quarter when we lost momentum, our defense bailed us out by denying them scores twice inside the red zone.”

Lexington Christian star linebacker Mattie Lebryk collects one of his 15 tackles during the 42-35 win against Somerset last week. (Photo by Alicia Quenemoen)

“I think our speed and pressure really caused them a lot of issues and kept them behind the chains in key series,” Charles added. “All and all, it took a total team effort in all three phases and it took all 48 minutes to defeat a very talented and well-coached Somerset team.”

Next up for the Eagles is Metcalfe County, which posted a 34-27 win over Edmonson County for the Class 2A District 3 title.

“I’ve not spent much time looking at Metcalfe County film yet, but we expect them to come to Lexington ready to play,” Charles said of Metcalfe County, which has forced its opponents into 23 turnovers this season. “They had a tough year last season but have had a nice turnaround in 2020. They give great effort and play hard and we expect them, as the underdog, to give us their best shot.

“As the favorite, we just need to make sure we prepare like we have every week and trust the game plan. Our players are keenly aware that it is lose and go home, and we simply can’t overlook anyone. Each week is a one game season, and we will prepare our team one week at a time and trust the process. With this crazy 2020 season, we are just grateful to have another opportunity to compete.”

The Hornets are led offensively by Peyton Dial and Gabe Zurmehly. Dial has thrown for 922 yards and 13 touchdowns, while Zurmehly has rushed for 857 yards and 16 touchdowns.

Michael Bennett and Luke Meadows are standouts on defense. Bennett has 62 tackles, nine tackles for loss, four sacks and two fumble recoveries.

A host of Lexington Christian defenders stop Somerset for a loss of yardage last week in the Class 2A playoffs in Lexington. (Photo by Alicia Quenemoen)

Xavier Brown of Lexington Christian sprints into the end zone with a touchdown reception against Somerset last week in the Class 2A playoffs. (Photo by Alicia Quenemoen)

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