Defense stole the show from two explosive offenses in a Class A quarterfinal showdown.
And Raceland’s defensive unit sparkled brightest, bottling up second-ranked Pikeville for a 14-3 victory Friday and the school’s first regional football title.
The Rams yielded a meager 33 yards in the second half against a team that came in averaging 48.8 points on the season.
“We played our best,” said senior defensive end Alex Risner, who helped spearhead Raceland’s stingy performance. “We just gave it 110 percent every play and finally got a regional championship.”
Playing on a windy night and rain-soaked field at Rams Stadium, the defenses took over early in a matchup of high-powered attacks.
The only scoring of the first half came on Pikeville junior LJ Allara’s 29-yard field goal early in the second quarter.
The Panthers’ defense kept Raceland wrapped up for the first 24 minutes, but the Rams scored touchdowns on two fourth-quarter plays in the second half to make the difference.
“I’m proud of this group so much because of what they’ve been through,” Rams coach T.J. Maynard said. “The last four years, they’ve had a lot of adversity on and off the field. For them to get this monkey off Raceland’s back, I’m so proud of them.”
With the victory, Raceland advances to its first state semifinal game next Friday night at Williamsburg, a 21-7 winner over Hazard.
“If you had told me we would hold Pikeville to three points, I would have said you’re crazy,” Maynard said. “Chris McNamee does a great coaching job and they have so many weapons.”
But Raceland effectively took them away. Chase Hall, the Panthers’ 1,500-yard rusher with 27 TD runs, broke off a 62-yard carry on Pikeville’s first series but only had one gain of more than six yards the rest of the way.
Panthers quarterback Austin Charles couldn’t get much going outside of a 48-yard keeper to set up the field goal. Through the air, Charles completed 6 of 12 attempts for only 25 yards.
Raceland defensive back Josh Young shut down Pikeville receiver Cody Estep, who came in with 1,016 yards and 15 TDs.
“This is the first year I’ve ever played defense,” said Young, a 6-2 junior. “I’ve always played JV quarterback. At the beginning of the year (coach Maynard) told me to get on the field. There was a corner spot.”
Young has taken full advantage, allowing Daylin Beach to spend most of his effort at running back.
“Josh Young has been solid all year,” Maynard said. “In so many situations tonight he had Estep man to man and did an unbelievable job. Estep could not get separation.”
On the other sideline, McNamee was proud of his team’s effort in keeping Raceland off the scoreboard until midway through the third quarter.
“I think our defense stepped up,” McNamee said. “If going in I knew we would hold them to 14 points, I would have said we had a pretty good chance of winning. But Raceland’s defense played outstanding, too. They did a good job flying to the football.”
The Rams capitalized on a poor Pikeville punt snap as Greg Bowling tackled Estep at the Panthers’ 23.
Raceland picked up a first down on a fourth-and-5 situation as quarterback Adam Elkins completed a swing pass to Beach for 7 yards. The Rams faced another fourth down at the 4 and running back Kane Snyder found a hole on the left side to get into the end zone. Beach, who rushed for 126, carried for the 2-pointer from Wildcat formation to make it 8-3.
Raceland put together a 56-yard scoring drive for some insurance. On fourth-and-6 at Pikeville’s 13, wide receiver Connor Messer threw a reverse pass to a wide-open Rodney Vance in the back of the end zone with 8:02 remaining.
“I knew it would be open,” Vance said. “Their free safety was dropping down. Connor made a nice throw. It was perfect execution.”
Messer aided the Rams’ cause in the first quarter with punts of 54 and 63 yards to pin Pikeville deep in its own territory.
“He just makes plays, whatever the situation,” Maynard said.
Later in the fourth quarter, Raceland sophomore linebacker Seth Holbrook sacked Charles on third down at midfield.
Holbrook said a blitz wasn’t called, but he saw a gap and took advantage of the opportunity.
“It feels great,” Holbrook added. “Coach Maynard told us this week Pikeville is the best offensive team we have played. We accepted the challenge.”
The Rams improved to 11-2 with their seventh consecutive win.
Pikeville, also 11-2, had not scored less than 48 points in a game since a 56-20 loss to Belfry two months ago.
“Our defense was great all night, what can you say,” Vance said.
ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2671.