Offensive front helps Bobcats hold off Belfry

Published 7:50 am Thursday, November 16, 2023

By Hayden Canady

Contributing Writer

You don’t often hear the names of offensive linemen over the public address system or on the radio on Friday nights or read their names in the newspaper.

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Brayden Dunn, Payton Williams, Braydon Thomas, Jaxson Pratt and Brody Patterson comprise this year’s Bell County offensive front, and they were the young men who dominated the Belfry defensive front Friday night and led Bell County to a 24-22 second-round playoff victory at Belfry on Friday.

“Get tough!” Is what coach Dudley Hilton told them to do all week and they answered the call in grand fashion as they enabled the Bobcats to rush for 272 yards, pass for 74 yards and to control the clock and game.

Daniel Thomas dominated on the ground as usual. He had 249 of the Bobcats rushing yards. That total put him over the 3,100-yard mark for the season.

Sophomore quarterback Blake Burnett came up big in the game, throwing two key touchdown passes in the game to help open up the running game.

The Bell County defense also came up big by having several key stops including a goal line stand in the fourth quarter. Following that stand the offense took the field around the eight minute mark and Belfry never saw the ball again as Bell kneeled to run out the clock after several first downs.

Bell County got off to a fast start on the opening drive needing only three plays to score. Thomas chewed up most of the yardage on that drive capping it off with a 34-yard touchdown run. He added the two-point play to put the Bobcats ahead 8-0.

Belfry drove the ball deep into Bell County territory on the following drive but the Bobcat defense held strong.  Bell got the ball back and went on a 90-yard drive featuring a couple of nice passes by Burnett. He connected with Elijah Hampton for 40 yards to set up his next strike to Hayden Damron which went for a 24-yard touchdown. Thomas tacked on the two points giving Bell a 16-0 lead.

Belfry then went on a 16-0 run of its own by putting the ball in the hands of senior Dre Young, who had 183 yards rushing in the game. Young scored both touchdowns during the run on rushes of 28 yards and 1 yard. He also tacked on a two-pointer. Caden Woolum added the other two-pointer.

Bell County got on the board one more time before the half ended. Burnett connected with Blake Evans for a 10-yard touchdown. Thomas added the two making the halftime score 24-16.

Belfry came out in the second half determined not to let its season end at home, a place where they had not lost a playoff game since 2010. Their second half formula was much like the first. Get the ball to Young and get it to him often. He took the ball into the endzone from 10 yards out with 6:55 to go in the third quarter. In what would prove to be one of the biggest plays of the night, the Bobcat defense held strong on the two-point play by stopping Young inches from the goal line.

Neither team could get on the board in the fourth quarter. Belfry came close on their final possession but the Bobcat defense stood strong once again. On fourth and goal from the Bell County seven yard line Belfry’s pass attempt on a jet sweep fell to the ground giving the ball back to Bell County with around eight minutes left. That’s when Bell went on their most impressive drive of the night running sixteen plays to put the game away.

Kaleb Miller carried the ball four times for 11 yards. Evans carried it once for seven yards. Burnett ran it four times for five yards.

Blake Evans led the defense with 10 tackles. Burnett had nine and Josh Owens added eight.

Coach Dudley Hilton and Belfry’s Phillip Haywood had over 900 wins between them. Belfry had knocked Bell out of the playoffs numerous times recently, but not Friday night. The Bobcats move on the regional championship game Friday night on Log Mountain when they will host East Carter. Belfry’s season ends at 8-4.