Hail Pikeville: Panthers entertain the Hazard Bulldogs in pivotal Class 1A, District 8 showdown

Okay, okay, KPGFootball thought Pikeville would beat Point Pleasant, WV. That really is an indication in our belief in the Panthers and what kind of football team we know the Panthers to be. Though KPGFootball predicted a Pikeville victory, we did note that…For the second week in a row, the Pikeville Panthers have an opportunity to make a statement. Point Pleasant is a very good football team with very good players at the skill positions and the ability, like Belfry, to get down-hill in the run game…The outcome here hinges on how big of an advantage the home field comprises for the Big Black. KPGFootball believes Pikeville, on a neutral field, is a touchdown better than Point Pleasant…This game will tell us a lot because this Point Pleasant team may be the best team remaining on the Panther schedule. So, Point Pleasant ended up winning by seven points, 41-34. Who cares? They are a West Virginia team anyway, no damage in losing to them, they are now 5-0 on the year. This week, we get down to the real nitty-gritty as we entertain a District 8 opponent in Mark Dixon’s Bulldogs from Hazard High School. Let’s break down this match-up by looking both backwards and forward and, at the end, we will give you our call as to how we see this resolving.

A look back…

It always feels as though KPGFootball is writing about Connor Roberts and his play. Truthfully, the QB is a position which gets a lot of ink naturally in the sports writing world owing to its inordinate amount of visibility. That aside, Connor Roberts had a game against Point Pleasant which would be hard to ignore. Roberts completed 18 of his 32 passing attempts for 339 yards passing and 3 TD passes against no interceptions. Roberts also carried the football 13 times for 87 rushing yards, leading the team in yards rushing too. That is what KPGFootball calls having a night! Jackson Hensley was the second leading rusher carrying it twice for 40 yards.

We have been waiting for Christian Billiter to break out and have the kind of production receiving the football as one would expect from a receiver we believe may be the very best at his position in Kentucky’s 1A classification and, against The Big Black it would appear he joined the party. Billiter caught 6 of Roberts passes for 127 yards receiving on the night. Seth Pugh caught 4 ballet for 88 yards and a TD, Jackson Hensley caught 3 for 61 yards and a TD, and Kyle Watkins collected 4 pass receptions for 50 receiving yards and a score. All in all, the aerial attack, offensively, kept the Panthers in the ballgame and within striking distance all the way up to the bitter end.

Defensively, the Panthers couldn’t get anything going against the heavy ground onslaught. The Panthers allowed The Big Black to gain 271 rushing yards and throw the football for 167 yards as dual threat QB, Cason Payne, showed both anyone and everyone why he is being recruited by programs like ETSU, Marshall, Miami of OH, and West Virginia. One thing is for sure, the Panthers won’t see an offense when Hazard comes to visit which rivals the athleticism and star power as the one Point Pleasant put on the field.

A look ahead…

This Bulldog squad, being a District 8 opponent, is an opponent about whom Pikeville is much better informed than going a couple hours up the interstate to play a team not regularly on the schedule. In 2017, the Panthers played Hazard twice, losing at Hazard in the regular season 38-26, then coming back to Hazard and winning the Regional Championship game 14-9 in round 3 of the KHSAA playoffs. This is a pivotal match-up and one which will probably decides the district championship, when everything fleshes out and settles. The Bulldogs average 35 points a game while allowing 19 to the opponent.

Photo: Brendon Miller

Hazard is 3-1 on the year and highly regarded in all the published Class 1A high school football polls. Hazard is coming off a 44-12 route of Prestonburg. On the year, the only loss for Hazard was at the hands of Class 2A powerhouse Somerset, in Somerset, Kentucky, 24-10. The Bulldogs have gained 835 yards rushing in its first 4 football games. That is really good, however, if I am a Hazard fan I am concerned with my defense surrendering 745 yards rushing to its opponents. Hazard is effective throwing the football as QB, Bailey Blair (No. 2) has completed 43 of 71 passing attempts for 636 yards passing in four games with 6 TDs against 3 interceptions. Blair is also the team’s second leading rusher with 133 yards gained in 29 rushing attempts and 2 rushing TDs. Skyler Pelfrey (No. 7) is the Bulldogs’ leading ground gainer, having rushed so far this season for 478 yards in 60 rushing attempts with 8 rushing TDs averaging nearly 8 yards a carry. Blair and Pelfrey have scored 10 of the team’s 12 rushing TDs between the two of them.

On defense, the team’s marquee star player is a player about whom KPGFootball knows quite a bit as we selected him, a year ago, to our Sophomore All-State Football team at the conclusion of the season. Reece Fletcher (No. 21) already has 40 tackles on the year and leads the team in that category. Skyler Pelfrey, the team’s leading rusher as above discussed, is also a leading defender, as he has 24 tackles through 4 games and 3 of the team’s 6 QB sacks. Isaiah Stupart (No. 4) leads the team with 2 of the team’s 4 interceptions, returning the two he picked 45 yards after the interception.

Our call…

Well, the fun and games are over now for Pikeville as it is time to get down to district play and get ready for the playoff run upcoming. This Hazard team is a good ball club and split two games with Pikeville a year ago with both being played in Hazard. It is important for Pikeville to win this game as, just like last year, it is entirely likely they will see each other again down the road. When the playoff game occurs Pikeville can either have the psychological advantage of having won two of the previous three contests, or the converse, which would NOT be very helpful. Here’s one thing which appears abundantly clear to KPGFootball, Pikeville can’t let Hazard gain the 271 yards on the ground it surrendered to Point Pleasant and expect a favorable outcome.  We don’t believe the Bulldogs can come into our house and run the ball on the Panthers anywhere near that effectively or productively. Be rest assured of this however, Coach Dixon’s Bulldogs may not be Point Pleasant High School or even Belfry, but they aren’t exactly a push-over either. We like the Panthers here at home.

KPGFootball’s Prediction… PHS 21 – Hazard 14

Join us next week as we look back at this game and preview the next match-up and give us a follow on Twitter @KPGFootball and subscribe to the on-line magazine by going to www.kentuckyprepgridiron.com and follow the prompts. Until next week, Panthers, this is Fletcher Long, reporting for KPGFootball, reminding all of the ballers out there to PLAY THROUGH THE WHISTLE.

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