Saturday, December 04, 1999

Beechwood wins 7th title in '90s


Tigers wear down Hancock County, 45-22

BY NEIL SCHMIDT
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LOUISVILLE — History doesn't sneak up on Beechwood. Before the clock expired Friday, the Tigers were already unpacking boxes of sweatshirts which read, “Beechwood: Team of the Decade.”

        Its design, listing state championships, already included 1999.

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Tigers embrace the trophy.
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Preston Long greets fans.
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Mike Mercer pats Matt Campbell on head after defensive stop.
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Mike Yeagle and coaches celebrate.
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        “We feel we already deserved to be the team of the '90s,” coach Mike Yeagle said. “And this was the exclamation point.”

        With its 45-22 beating of Hancock County in the Class A title game at old Cardinal Stadium, Beechwood has won seven state titles in nine years. It has Kentucky's best record this decade at 126-15 (.894), and it has gone 42-2 in the playoffs in Yeagle's nine seasons as coach.

        “It has been pretty unbelievable,” junior tailback Nick Sketch said. “I'd say we deserve Team of the Decade honors.”

        Beechwood's eight championships — the first came in 1984 — are the fourth-most in Kentucky, behind Highlands (13), Louisville Trinity (12) and Louisville St. Xavier (nine).

        This ranked as perhaps the least likely of Beechwood's champions. There was surely none happier.

        “It's like a dream,” senior quarterback/linebacker Ben List said. “Everyone wrote us off early, and after the devas tating end to last season, this was so amazing to get down here and win it.”

        When Beechwood lost at Middlesboro in the state semifinals last year, it had its Northern Kentucky-record 38-game winning streak snapped. That marked the first time since 1990 it hadn't reached the state finals, and when it lost two of its first seven games this year, Beechwood looked like it wasn't headed back.

        When it trailed Pikeville by nine points with a little more than four minutes left last week, this really looked unlikely. List was out with an injured hip, but he watched < his teammates rally to win.

        “That was the worst feeling in my life, but they pulled through without me,” List said. “That showed it's not one player that gets it done — it's always a team game with us.”

        Beechwood (13-2) won Friday by playing to its strength: strength. It averages 265 pounds per man across both lines and uses a deeper rotation than Hancock County (12-3). Beechwood's roster of 67 players was more than twice the Hornets' 32.

        “We got overpowered,” Hornets coach Mark Peach said. “You don't realize how physical they are until you play them.”

        Beechwood trailed 15-12 midway through the second quarter but marched for five easy scores thereafter to cruise to the finish.

        “We've been a second-half team all year,” all-state senior lineman Matt Mercer said. “This was the hardest summer ever, how hard we worked to get ready. Even when we were (trailing) today, I saw the fire in our team's eyes and knew we wouldn't lose.”

        List has been the team's emotional leader all season, but Yeagle alternated him and junior Mike Nie at QB nearly every snap Friday. The strategy worked: List rushed 13 times for 105 yards and four TDs and completed all four of his passes for 115 yards, while Nie carried four times for 33 yards and completed five of six passes for 63 yards and a TD.

        All the pass plays came in the first half; Beechwood ran for 209 yards in the second half.

        Beechwood forced five turnovers and held Mr. Football favorite Travis Atwell to 135 yards rushing (4.5 per carry) and 162 yards passing.

        “A lot of people doubted us, saying we wouldn't make it back here,” Nie said. “We were out to prove we're still a powerhouse. I think we did that.”

        Beechwood ....... 6  13  13  13—45

        Hancock County ....... 7   8   0   7—22

        HC—Atwell 1 run (Bivins kick)

        B—List 1 run (kick blocked)

        B—List 1 run (run failed)

        HC—Ja. Morris 32 pass from Atwell (Jackson pass from Atwell)

        B—Hampel 20 pass from Nie (Robb kick)

        B—Sketch 11 run (kick failed)

        B—List 25 run (Robb kick)

        HC—Williams 5 pass from Atwell (Bivins kick)

        B—List 1 run (Robb kick)

        B—Mann 1 run (kick failed)

        Records: Beechwood 13-2, Hancock Co. 12-3.

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