Beechwood 42, West Carter 7.
Yes, that was the score when the Tigers ousted the Comets from the Class 2A football playoff last Nov. 22, but third-year head coach Daniel Barker believes that night was the beginning of something nicer.
“We certainly hope so,” Barker said. “Our kids are still really hungry and wanting to continue doing things we’ve never done before. We’re hoping last year was another building block for us.”
West Carter is establishing a culture folks over which folks in Olive Hill should be overjoyed, residents of Grahn should be giddy and Soldier citizens should be celebrating. Last year’s 9-4 record was the fourth winning season since 2015 – all part of a 35-23 record over the last five campaigns (a .603 winning percentage).
And the 2019 season? As memorable as your first kiss.
Besides the 9-4, West Carter reached the third round of the Class 2A playoffs for the first time in program history, gained 3,391 yards (1,459 rushing, 1,932 passing), scored 378 points (a 29.1 average) and limited foes to 12.5 points a game, which shrinks to 10.0 if you don’t count the Beechwood loss.
Seniors Orry Perry and Leetavious Cline will have four hands and four feet in whatever the 2020 Comets do. Perry passes – 139 of 242 for 1,678 yards, 22 touchdowns and 10 interceptions last year, and Cline moves on the ground – 156 carries for 927 yards and 12 touchdowns.
As you’d expect, the COVID-19 pandemic has hampered preparation, and not just because there was no spring football. Barker, however, said Perry is stronger.
“I feel like (Perry) has really, really, really improved,” Barker said.
Cline played through groin and ankle injuries last year.
“It kind of set me back a little bit,” Cline said.
Cline bulked up during the COVID break – he said he can bench press 300 pounds, about 15 more than last year. He wants to add another facet to his game.
“Maybe (be) more of a receiving back,” he said. “I wasn’t as good as a receiving back my junior year as I was my sophomore year. That was also because our receivers were a lot better.”
Conversely, Perry wants to be a better runner. As for throwing, he said he’s better at reading defenses.
“I have a year under my belt,” Perry said.
You’d think junior Jackson Bond would again be Perry’s favorite target because he had 34 catches for 609 yards and 10 scores, but Barker said juniors Neil Lusher and Kaden Wilson are just as fast.
West Carter’s defense, meanwhile, could be a concern because three of the top five tacklers — brothers Ethan and Tristen Jordan and Eian Leadingham, who combined for 311 tackles — graduated.
Or it could not.
“I think we were just so senior-heavy in the box last year with our linebackers and our D-line,” Barker said.
Senior Gavin Gibson and junior Sam Jones added 74 and 69 tackles, respectively. Seniors Gage Leadingham, Cline, Bond and Jones accounted for 14 of 15 interceptions. (Leadingham grabbed six picks for 146 yards and three touchdowns.)
There’s a new-look defensive line: juniors Gavin Adams, Preston Nauman and Samuel Rayburn and sophomore Noah Orcutt are all first-year starters, and junior Ryan Underwood should see significant action.
Adams, senior Dylan Roe and junior Isaac Bond and sophomore Cole Crampton are expected to be the starting linebackers.
“We’re still gonna be plugging in guys that have played a lot of varsity,” Barker said. “They just haven’t been starters in those roles.”
Jackson Bond, Leadingham and senior Alex Horth should vie for the starting cornerback jobs, and Cline, Lusher and Blake McGlone should split time at safety.
Barker hopes last year’s exploits will keep people interested this year – despite COVID-19 wiping out at least one week of the season.
“I definitely think it’s an easy sell now,” Barker said. “Even with the limited amount of things we’ve been able to do, interest has been really high.”
Nattering about playoffs this fall is a nugatory and worthless exercise. Perry knows that, but he wouldn’t mind seeing Beechwood again.
“It’d be cool to get Beechwood in Olive Hill,” Perry said. “But you know, Beechwood, Breathitt County, Walton-Verona, whoever it is if we’re playing that third round, we’ll get on with whoever we’re matched up with. It doesn’t really matter to me.”