BY RAY SCHAEFER
FORT MITCHELL - Nine months later, it still hurts a little.
When Beechwood last played a football game, the Tigers' 38-game winning streak and state No. 1 ranking ended with a 29-13 loss Nov. 27 at Middlesboro in the Class A state semifinals. The players say they've long ago replaced disappointment with determination.
"We went down there and got our butts kicked," junior quarterback Mike Nie said. "People say our program's gone down. We want to show them it hasn't."
Said senior tailback Ben List: "That's what's driving us."
In a way, it's high praise if people focus on a playoff loss and forget Beechwood has won six state titles since Mike Yeagle became coach in 1991. The Middlesboro game was just Yeagle's second setback in 39 postseason games. (The other was a 28-27 loss to Mayfield in the 1995 finals.)
"I don't think they feel like Beechwood's on the way out," Yeagle said. "I feel like it hurt our fans, too, that we're not going to the finals. Again, it's a part of reality."
Another reality is that Beechwood will never be taken lightly. Though just two starters return on offense and three on defense, the Tigers rank No. 1 in the Louisville Courier-Journal's preseason Class A state coaches poll.
With nearly a new team, Yeagle opened competition at almost every position. Nie and List battled for the quarterback job before Yeagle chose Nie.
"It wasn't a deal where Mike was better than Bennie," Yeagle said. "It was more of a deal that we're a better football team with Bennie in a different position. We're going to try to have balance."
Said Nie: "(List is) more of a running quarterback. I throw more. We can do a lot more plays. We changed our whole offense. We'll throw a lot."
List, a converted wide receiver, is happy in the backfield.
"I'd play anywhere," he said. "I'd be happy if I touched the ball one time. I played tailback all my life in pee-wee football."
Nie will throw to an inexperienced group: seniors Preston Long and Matt Spence and junior JoJo Hollenkamp were mostly reserves last year.
Beechwood's strength may be its offensive and defensive lines. The front five may be the Tigers' largest in years: Seniors Matt Wagner (6-foot-1, 305), Mark Berwanger (6-6, 295), and Matt Mercer (6-5, 285) and sophomore Joe Brady (6-2, 305) are the anchors.
The last time Beechwood had a line so large, in 1997, Wayne Holderman, Dan Woolley and Brian Claybern led the team to the title.
"We've got some spots where we're quicker and more athletic, and we've got some kids who are bigger and stronger," Mercer said. "Some of our guards are as quick as our running backs."
List, seniors Joe Hampel, Jerry Ramundo and Brett Weber are the linebackers. Long, Spence and senior Josh Kaiser make up the secondary.