Last year, a tornado devastated Mayfield. Now, its football team will play for a title.

Jared Peck/jpeck@herald-leader.com

Trailing Lexington Christian 21-14 with nine seconds left in the first half, Mayfield quarterback Zane Cartwright threw a perfect 45-yard pass up the right sideline to Novi Barnes that not only helped tie the score, it might have changed the game.

“That was just a little wheel route out there and, man, Zane put it right on target to Novi there and Novi made the play. Novi made some great plays for us all night. What a great ball by Zane,” Mayfield Coach Joe Morris said. “That was huge. We stopped them right there before the half, and they had a bad punt and we made that hurt.”

The overflow home crowd at Mayfield’s historic War Memorial Stadium roared. It was a momentum swing LCA could not recover from as the Cardinals pulled away for a 38-28 win in the Class 2A state semifinals Friday. Mayfield will face Beechwood on Friday at Kroger Field for a shot at the school’s 13th state championship.

It will be Mayfield’s first state finals appearance since 2019 when it lost 34-31 to Somerset on the last play of the game. It also comes less than a year after the deadly tornado that devastated the community.

“It’s actually 50 weeks ago today. It happened on Dec. 10,” Morris said of the tornado. “I tell (the players) when we go through adversity on a football field, ‘That’s not adversity. Adversity is what we went through on Dec. 10.’ People didn’t have homes, and we didn’t see our team for a month … because we were just trying to get this town back together.”

Much of the town seemed to turn out for their Cardinals on Friday. As to what the win might mean for Mayfield, Morris said, “I don’t know if it makes a difference, but I think it does.”

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The team that blinked first

Led by their highly touted sophomore quarterback Cutter Boley, LCA took its opening drive straight downfield for a 7-0 lead after BJ Evans’ 7-yard TD run. LCA scored on its second possession with J’Veontae Emerson’s 10-yard run. But each LCA TD was answered by a Mayfield scoring drive capped by Jutarious Sparks touchdown runs.

When LCA went ahead 21-14 on Boley’s 10-yard pass to Will Nichols with 3:03 left in the second quarter, it looked like the Eagles would coast into halftime with the lead, especially after forcing Mayfield to kick its first punt on the ensuing possession.

LCA got the ball back at its own 27-yard line with 1:40 left in the second quarter. But two penalties and a sack helped doom LCA’s two-minute drill and forced a punt that sailed sideways out of bounds at LCA’s own 45-yard line with 9 seconds left.

Mayfield wasn’t content to take a 21-14 deficit into halftime.

“We had a concept where we could beat them deep two different ways,” Mayfield QB Cartwright said. “Our guy (Barnes) made a play and I was able to put the ball there. …. Tying it up, knowing we could get the ball right back to start the second half, that was a big-time move.”

Mayfield’s defense takes control

LCA managed to hold Mayfield to a 27-yard Lincoln Suiter field goal to limit its deficit to 24-21 to start the second half.

But the Eagles could not answer the score on their next possession. Boley’s fourth-and-11 pass from the Cardinals’ 27 fell harmlessly incomplete in the end zone with 2:59 left in the third quarter.

“We said at halftime, ‘We’re starting to get some push on that offensive line,’” said Morris, whose team notched three sacks and kept LCA’s QB under duress. “We got pressure on Boley. I know he’s a great quarterback, but it’s tough when you have guys getting after you.”

Mayfield marched the other way and took a 31-21 lead on Starks’ 29-yard TD run near the start of the fourth quarter. Starks finished with 180 yards rushing and three TDs.

“We knew what we had to do. Their quarterback had all kinds of (college) offers, so we knew we had to step up and play,” Starks said. “Everybody has a job and I had to play my role. The O-line does their job. I’ve got to do mine.”

Two possessions later, LCA finally got its offense back in gear as Boley found Nichols again for a 29-yard TD to cut the Mayfield lead to 31-28 with 5:09 left in the game.

Again, Mayfield answered.

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On fourth-and-4 from the LCA 10 with 1:04 left, Mayfield lined up in a formation it has only ever run out of this season for a play called “Hollywood” to seal the game. Two receivers ran parallel routes to the sideline. Cartwright hit Carter Morris on the underneath route for the clinching touchdown.

“We practice it once or twice a week,” Morris admitted. “It worked. It’s always good when it works.

Lexington Christian (9-5) fell a game shy of its third straight Class 2A state finals appearance, but earned district and region championships despite a 2-4 start.

“Our kids kept fighting the whole night. That last one at the end of the half was a tough one. But I felt like we could overcome that,” LCA Coach Doug Charles said. “Our guys just didn’t make enough plays at the right time. It was a great high school football game and an awesome environment and something that we will learn from.”

Mayfield (14-0), a 12-time state champion, will next take on Beechwood, the two-time defending state champs, at 4 p.m. Friday at Kroger Field. Last year, the Tigers beat Mayfield 38-7 in the state semis for their first win against the Cardinals in eight playoff meetings.

“We’ve got a chance. We’re real close to a state championship,” Morris said. “It’s going to be tough again. But we’re going to enjoy this one tonight. Then our kids will get back to work and we’ll give it a shot.”

Beechwood rolls to third straight finals

Beechwood quarterback Clay Hayden hit wide receiver Talon Linder on scoring passes of 58 and 22 yards in the first quarter to open the floodgates Friday against district rival Lloyd Memorial on its way to a 48-0 win at home in the Class 2A state semifinals.

Chase Flaherty rushed for three TDs and Liam McCormick and Zander Riegler also scored in the rout.

Beechwood (13-1) will play in its 22nd state finals and has won a championship 16 times, third most behind Class 6A Trinity (27) and Class 5A Highlands (23).

Friday

Class 2A State Championship at Kroger Field

4 p.m.: Mayfield (14-0) vs. Beechwood (13-1)