Thomas runs wild as Bell wins shootout at Boyd County

Published 5:14 pm Monday, August 28, 2023


Special for the Middlesboro News

CANNONSBURG — Bell County defeated Boyd County, 60-41, on Friday in a game that could be easily summed up in one word.

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That’s exactly what the Bobcats did all over the Lions’ defense throughout the damp night, racking up 503 rushing yards total.

“We learned a lot here tonight. It helped us, and we got a win,” Bell County coach Dudley Hilton said. “That’s what we came here to do. Boyd County has a quality team. People down in our area might not know that, but (Evan Ferguson) has done an excellent job with them.”

A staggering 343 of those yards came from senior Daniel Thomas.

“We couldn’t stop them,” Boyd County coach Evan Ferguson said. “Plain and simple. Their offensive line and backs blocked their tails off. I don’t even want to get into how many big runs they had. We didn’t play Boyd County defense tonight. We’re going to fix that, so it won’t happen again this year.”

The Bell County senior looked absolutely unstoppable at times, moving like an army tank with a Ferrari engine.

When asked what made the difference in the game, Hilton’s answer was short and to the point.

“Daniel Thomas,” Hilton said with a laugh. “He’s an exceptional player. I can’t say enough good things about him.”

Thomas showcased his explosive-play ability, with seven rushes of 20 yards or more, including three over 75 yards. He carried the ball 23 times and had three rushing two-point conversion attempts.

Despite the loss, Boyd County had several positives to take away from the early test given by the Bobcats.

Key among them was Lions quarterback Rhett Holbrook, who showed his abilities throughout the night, throwing for 199 yards and rushing for 190.

“He’s an absolute gamer and a fantastic athlete,” Ferguson said. “I thought he played a fantastic football game. You should never put up 41 points and lose. I thought we did pretty well on offense tonight. You just can’t give up 60.”

The junior leader under center didn’t shy away from contact on his scrambles, leaning into defenders in order to secure extra yards, which resulted in him picking up 12 first downs and a touchdown using his legs.

“I thought Boyd’s quarterback was exceptional,” Hilton said. “He put on a show too.”

It was Boyd County who drew first blood on the night after Hunter Hedrick punched it in from a yard out. The drive started with a pair of big passes from Holbrook, who connected with Cole Hicks for 18 yards and Garrett Crum for 19 yards.

Unfortunately for the home team, everything shifted hard toward Bell County after that.

Following a Lions fumble inside the 5-yard line, the Bobcats managed to find paydirt three different times in just six plays from scrimmage to turn the game from a 7-0 Boyd County lead to a 22-7 Bell County advantage.

Two of those drives consisted of just one Thomas run. One dash went for 59 yards and the other for 80.

Boyd County managed to pump the breaks on the next drive. After seeing their previous drive end in a fumble, the Lions responded to the Bobcats onslaught with a one-play drive of their own.

Holbrook connected on a 45-yard dart to Cole Hicks, which made the score, 22-14.

“My No. 1 goal coming into the year is that we’re explosive on offense,” Ferguson said. “We’re able to run, throw the football and we’re a zone RPO team. I think we do a great job. Holbrook is great. We have some great backs and receivers. And our line did a pretty good job tonight.”

Not be outdone, Bell County quarterback Blake Burnett connected with tight end Hayden Dameron for an 80-yard touchdown pass to record another one-play drive. It was Burnett’s only completion of the game.

“Our guy did a great job tonight,” Hilton said of his quarterback. “He didn’t have to do a whole lot, not like Boyd’s quarterback, but we didn’t need him to be like that.”

With a running back like Thomas, there’s not much need to air it out, so the Bobcats went right back to him on the next drive.

Unfortunately for the visitors, the Lions’ defense was able to punch the ball loose and recover the fumble. It was the only real setback Thomas faced on the night.

It didn’t take Thomas long to recover from the turnover. The Bobcats got a strip-sack on Holbrook and Thomas returned 83 yards for a touchdown.

The Lions managed to piece together an effective drive that was capped off by Holbrook running in for a 1-yard touchdown to end the first half down 38-20 after an unsuccessful 2-point attempt.

Both teams turned the ball over on downs to start the second half, but eventually traded touchdowns back and forth. There was only one drive by either team not resulting in a touchdown after the 6:40 mark of the third quarter.

The highlight of those drives was another one-play effort from the Bobcats. Thomas took the handoff and sprinted for a 48-yard score.

“They couldn’t stop us, we couldn’t stop them,” Hilton said of the back-and-forth nature of the scoring. “We got three big turnovers from them which really helped us.”

Boyd County was unable to gain any ground back. The Lions put together a four-play drive to score with 43 seconds left to put it at 60-41.

In addition to his quarter-of-a-mile rushing total, Thomas found the end zone seven different times.

For Bell County, the goal moving forward is to bolster the team off the field, so they’ll be battle-ready on the field.

“We have to keep getting stronger,” Hilton said. “I think we’ve been a little nonchalant in the weight room. You shouldn’t have to make them work this time of year; they should want to work.”

Boyd County will look to regroup next week against East Carter at home. For Ferguson, shoring up the issues with turnovers will be fresh on his mind every day and night between now and next Friday.

“I want to keep improving our offense and make sure we take care of the football next week,” Ferguson said. “I hope to see us bounce back and play Boyd County defense next week. I want us to establish ourselves and do our job on defense. We created a lot of opportunities tonight, but I want to keep improving it.”


Bell County 60, Boyd County 41


BELL CO. 16-22-16-6 — 60

BOYD CO. 7-13-7-17 — 41


BOYD— Hunter Hedrick 1 run (Maverick Boyd kick), 7:29.

BELL— Daniel Thomas 1 run (Blake Evans run), 5:06.

BELL¬–– Thomas 59 run (Nicholas Redman run), 2:58.


BELL–– Thomas 80 run (run failed), 9:30

BOYD–– Cole Hicks 45 pass from Rhett Holbrook (Boyd kick), 9:28.

BELL–– Hayden Dameron 80 pass from Burnett (Burnett run), 9:07.

BELL–– Thomas 83 fumble recovery (Burnett run), 4:21.

BOYD–– Holbrook 1 run (pass failed), :08.


BELL–– Thomas 48 run (Thomas run), 6:40.

BOYD–– Dakota Thompson 1 run (Boyd kick), 2:58

BELL–– Thomas 1 run (Burnett run), 1:30.


BOYD–– Thompson 9 run (Boyd kick), 10:35.

BELL–– Thomas 8 run (run failed), 5:35.

BOYD–– Hedrick 29 run (Boyd kick) :43.




First Downs 7-24

Rushes-Yards 30-503 44-309

Comp-Att-Int 1-4-0 15-23-1

Passing Yards 80 199

Fumbles-Lost 1-1 2-2

Punts-Avg. 0-0 1-24

Penalties-Yards 4-36 6-37



RUSHING: Bell County – Thomas 23-343, Evans 5-17. Boyd County – Holbrook 18-190, Hedrick 9-48, Thompson 10-47, Collins 5-21, Castle 2-3. PASSING: Bell County, Burnett 1-4-80. Boyd County – Holbrook 15-23-199-1. RECEIVING: Bell County – Dameron 1-80.Boyd County – Hicks 5-106, Crum 5-58, Collins 2-24, Thompson 2-6, Castle 1-5.