Cumberland went toe-to-toe with the state's top-ranked Class A team, but missed scoring opportunities ended the Skins' 70-year football history as the host Hazard Bulldogs held on for a 33-27 win in the District 7 championship game.
"They're a great football team," Hazard coach Mark Dixon said. "I said it all year long - I think they're the best football team we've played. I knew coming into the ballgame that they were going to give us fits, and we just had to step up and make big plays, and it just so happened that it fell our way tonight."
The Skins made several huge defensive stops and never trailed by more than seven points. But Cumberland made two trips inside the Hazard 25, including one march to the shadow of the end zone, only to come away empty-handed.
"The biggest play of the game was when we had first-and-(one) on the goal line and we couldn't punch it in," Cumberland coach Jon Reynolds said. "We ran all four plays, but our strength has been our line all year. Give Hazard all the credit in the world - they were able to stop it there.
"It's just unfortunate that we ended up with the No. 1 team in the state in the second round. But they know they played us."
The Bulldogs' first two touchdowns came courtesy of blown pass coverage by the Redskins. On Hazard's first offensive snap, junior quarterback Tyler Olinger connected with a wide-open Josh Meehan for a 65-yard scoring strike.
The Skins answered with an eight-play drive that culminated with a 1-yard plunge by junior Nathaniel Gilliam. Jonathan Fields' kick tied the score at 7-7 with 5:26 left in the first quarter.
Hazard drove 53 yards in seven plays. On third-and-long, Olinger found junior halfback Greg Adams all alone in the end zone for a 26-yard touchdown.
"We dug ourselves a couple of holes. Their first two touchdowns were actually coverage mess-ups," Reynolds said. "Our guys in the secondary were attacking the line of scrimmage. We settled down, but the problem is, we spotted them 14 points."
The teams traded punts before Cumberland threatened to score again. Gilliam's 49-yard run took the ball to the Hazard 1, but the Skins were denied on four straight runs. Quarterback Zach Blanton suffered an ankle injury on his fourth-down run and didn't return to the game, giving way to Blake Polson.
"I thought Blake Polson played a dandy football game on both sides of the ball," Reynolds said. "He did an admirable job."
Olinger's first-down pass was picked off by Polson at the Hazard 16, and Cumberland made the most of the gift, but not without some drama. After Polson scrambled to the 3, Cumberland failed to score on three straight plays before Simmons reached the end zone on a 6-yard run.
The Bulldogs reclaimed the lead with a 63-yard drive that was highlighted by a 34-yard pass from Olinger to Mikael Campbell. The sophomore receiver fumbled at the end of the play, but the ball skipped out of bounds just before a Cumberland player fell on it.
After an encroachment penalty moved the ball to the 13, Olinger scrambled for a touchdown. Austin Delpont's kick put the Bulldogs on top 21-14.
The lead was short-lived, however, as Simmons took the ensuing kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown. Fields' kick knotted the score with 3:20 left in the half.
Adams scored on a 40-yard run on Hazard's next series. A bad snap on the extra point left the Bulldogs clinging to a six-point lead.
Cumberland appeared to give Hazard a gift when a high punt snap was downed by James Phillips at the Cumberland 5 with 1:23 left in the half, but the Skins' defense held firm, stopping Olinger on two straight runs before Polson intercepted a third-down pass in the end zone.
Hazard took the opening kick in the third quarter and tried to extend its lead with a field goal, but Delpont's 37-yard attempt failed.
Cumberland drove 80 yards in four plays, with Gilliam breaking free for a 60-yard touchdown. The Skins had a chance to take their first lead of the game, but Fields' extra point attempt was wide, leaving the score tied at 27-27.
The Bulldogs added what would be the deciding touchdown late in the third quarter on a 54-yard run by Adams. Delpont's kick bounced off the goalpost.
Hazard punted once and missed another field goal attempt in the fourth quarter, allowing the Skins an opportunity to stay alive.
A late hit penalty on Hazard gave Cumberland the ball at the Hazard 23 midway through the quarter. The Redskins got just one more yard, though, and Polson's fourth-down pass to the end zone was picked off by Alex Hall and returned to the Hazard 44.
"We're not a passing team," Reynolds said. "We had to throw at the end, but that's really not our game. Blake did the best he could."
Olinger was limited to 193 yards of offense, a far cry from the 454 he amassed in the Bulldogs' 46-20 win at Cumberland on Oct. 12. But Adams added 162 yards on 19 carries.
Dixon praised the Bulldogs' defensive effort. Cumberland was limited to 242 yards, including 173 on the ground.
"I think our defense stepped up. Our guys up front, our linebackers, our safeties - our whole defense stepped up," Dixon said. "The game was won because our defense stepped up and played ball."
Gilliam led the Redskins with 130 yards on 12 carries and also caught a 58-yard pass.
The Redskins ended the season with an 8-4 record, cementing their all-time mark at 370-330-19.
"I really believe they left it all on the field tonight," Reynolds said. "They represented their school and the community, they represented the fans, they represented the former players - they represented everybody with class and dignity and honor.
"I talked to them about the joy that this team has brought me - not just the X's and O's. This is a team. They were together, they were into it, they were one, and it was an enjoyable football season, and I hope it's something they can remember for the rest of their lives."
Hazard (12-0) will play host to Campbellsville in the Region 4 championship game Friday. The winner will advance to the state semifinals against the winner of next week's Pikeville-Lexington Christian game.
Cumberland 7 14 6 0 - 27
Hazard 14 13 6 0 - 33
H - Meehan 65 pass from Olinger (Delpont kick)
C - Gilliam 1 run (Fields kick)
H - Adams 26 pass from Olinger (Delpont kick)
C - Simmons 6 run (Fields kick)
H - Olinger 13 run (Delpont kick)
C - Simmons 88 kickoff return (Fields kick)
H - Adams 40 run (run failed)
C - Gilliam 60 run (kick failed)
H - Adams 54 run (kick failed)
First downs 8 14
Rushes-yards 43-173 39-204
Passing 69 160
Comp-Att-Int 3-11-1 8-12-2
Punts-Avg 4-34 1-44
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 2-0
Penalties-Yards 10-80 7-70
RUSHING-Cumberland, Gilliam 12-130, Clark 6-27, Simmons 7-22, Johnson 2-10, Polson 7-8, Fields 3-3, A. Phillips 1-1, Collett 2-1, Blanton 2-(-1), J. Phillips 1-(-28). Hazard, Adams 19-162, Olinger 17-33, Blanton 2-6, Mik. Campbell 1-3.
PASSING-Cumberland, Blanton 2-3-0-65, Polson 1-8-1-4. Hazard, Olinger 8-12-2-160.
RECEIVING-Cumberland, Gilliam 1-58, A. Phillips 1-7, Simmons 1-4. Hazard, Mik. Campbell 3-66, Meehan 2-66, Adams 2-25, Kidd 1-3.