Bobcats overpower Clay to clinch home playoff game

Published 9:02 am Tuesday, October 24, 2023

By Hayden Canady

Contributing Writer

Bell County clinched the right to host a first round playoff game by defeating Clay County 41-20 in Manchester on Friday night. The Bobcats did it by dominating on the offensive side of the ball as they have all season long. They scored on every possession except for three. Two of those were their final two, which featured several reserves and a victory kneel on the last one.

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Clay County was able to move the ball effectively on the ground but was not as proficient as Bell when it came to putting the ball into the end zone in the first half as Bell entered the break with a 29-0 lead. The Tigers were more successful in the second half, scoring on three possessions.

Clay started the game on its own 45 yard line. They kept the ball ten plays on the opening drive by keeping the ball on the ground. The Tigers drove into Bell territory and made it inside the thirty yard line but on the eleventh play on fourth and five Hunter Everage came up with a big defensive play.  He intercepted a tipped ball took it 37 yards into Clay County territory.

Bell County capitalized on the turnover.  It took them on five plays to score. Blake Burnett scored on a quarterback sneak from less than a yard out for the first touchdown of the game for either team. The conversion failed, leaving the score 6-0.

Clay’s following possession ended in a punt and Bell County’s next drive ended with the same result as its first, a rushing touchdown. This time Daniel Thomas ran it in from nine yards.  Burnett coasted in for the two-pointer making it 14-0 early in the second quarter.

Clay County put together a good drive on their ensuing possession only to have it end with Burnett intercepting Tate Rice on the Bell County two yard line. Burnett brought it out to the thirty for Bell. Three plays later Thomas did most of the work on the drive with a 72 yard run down to the Clay two. Thomas followed that up with a two yard touchdown run. Burnett then found Kaleb Miller on the two-point conversion.  The score looked like it would stand at 22-0 going in to the half. Bell had other plans.

After the Hayden Lawson kickoff placed Clay County inside its own thirty, the Bobcat defense put together their its best series of the night. With very little time on the clock Bell force a short Clay punt and on the very next play Burnett found Miller streaking down the left sideline for a touchdown strike. Thomas kicked the point after to end the first half scoring.

Clay got its  first stop of the night to open the second half. Following a short 15-yard punt, Clay put together its first scoring drive.  Tate Rice found Aiden Wagers for an 8-yard touchdown.  The point after was no good.

The celebration was short lived when Burnett found wideout Elijah Hampton on a twelve yard fade for the score just three plays into the drive.

Clay County countered with an 11-play drive capped off by Wagers scoring on a 4-yard run. The conversion failed leaving the score at 35-12.

Bell County scored its final points when Blake Evans ran it in from the 4.

Clay County closed out the scoring when Rice connected with Wagers for a 1-yard touchdown pass and also for the two-point play.

Thomas, the state’s leading rusher, had 205 yards on 14 attempts. Miller tacked on 55 yards on three carries. Burnett contributed 28 yards on five tries, and Evans gained 10 on three rushes.

Burnett passed for 50 yards, going three for six. Miller had 24 yard sreceiving. Evans contributed 15 yards receiving while Hampton had eleven. All three had one catch each.

Bell County is now 8-1 and will close out the regular season with homecoming and Senior Night against Harlan County. Clay County (6-3) plays host to Hazard.