By John Wilbert/NEMS Daily Journal
BOONEVILLE – At the end of an emotional week, the Belmont High football team got an emotional win.
Five days after learning that one of their classmates, junior Laken Young, died from injuries suffered in a car accident, the second-ranked Cardinals defeated third-ranked Booneville 21-16 at Tiger Stadium to win the Division 1-3A title and cap off their best regular season in the history of the program.
“Our kids had a difficult week,” said Belmont coach Kerry Moody, whose team ended the regular season at 10-0 overall and 5-0 in the division, “but I felt positive that they were going to come out ready to play, and they were.
“And they overcame adversity this week and even in this football game.”
The Cardinals led 21-3 at halftime before holding on in the second half. Booneville outscored Belmont 13-0 in the second half.
“It was just a matter of mentally being in the ballgame in the first half,” said Blue Devils head coach Mike Mattox, whose team finished second in Division 1-3A with a 4-1 mark (5-5 overall). “We weren’t following our keys.”
Belmont rushed for 204 yards and three touchdowns in the opening half. Cody Sartain had nine carries for 103 yards, including a 66-yard touchdown run 90 seconds into the second quarter.
Sartain reached paydirt one more time with a 14-yard run with 3:38 to go before halftime. That would be Belmont’s final points of the evening.
Sartain added seven carries for 63 yards and two scores through the first two quarters. He started off the scoring with an 8-yard run, spinning his way into the end zone just past the halfway point of the first quarter.
Jordan Powell rounded out Belmont’s ground yards in the half with 10 rushes for 38 yards.
The yards were hard to come by in the second half, however. Before kneeling out the final 70 seconds of the contest, the Cardinals only gained 10 yards rushing and 6 yards passing for an offensive total of 16 yards in the final half.
“They were blitzing a lot,” Sartain said of Booneville’s defense through the final 24 minutes.
Booneville, on the other hand, gained 176 yards of total offense in the second half. The Blue Devils added to their 23-yard first-half field goal by Tyler White with a 5-yard touchdown run by Xavier Rogers at the start of the fourth quarter and a 3-yard TD reception by tight end Tyson Mackin from quarterback Clint Hawkins.
But two turnovers deep in Belmont’s territory in the second half would cost the Blue Devils of defending their division title.
Although, Cardinals defensive back Jon Harrison made exceptional plays on the takeaways: first, stripping the ball of Booneville running back Brendon Pannell inside the Belmont 10 on the Blue Devils’ first possession of the second half, and second, picking off Hawkins at the Cardinals’ 29-yard line with 1:10 remaining in the game.