This week looks like a good week to do some sifting and sorting on our top teams and try to see what each team’s prospects are in the post season. District play will be in full force next week. This week the top teams have put some out of district challenges on their schedules. Let’s size up the top teams in 1A, this week’s challenge, where they stand and where it looks like they are headed.
1. Beechwood – This week the top ranked Tigers are at 6A #8 Simon Kenton. Any time a 1A team steps into the 6A top ten for a game it is a big challenge. Beechwood went toe to toe with Simon Kenton last year losing by one touchdown while having two touchdowns called back by penalty and fumbling at the goal line on a 1 yard run that Beechwood fans thought was a touchdown. The Tigers return a large part of that team, and Simon Kenton no longer has QB Matt Shearer who made the game winning plays for Simon Kenton. Beechwood certainly believes they can win this game. If they do, it is a huge statement that they are perhaps an even bigger favorite for another 1A title than many think they already are.
2. Raceland – The Rams are making believers out of everyone. Last week’s win in Ohio over a tough Portsmouth West team is the latest statement that this year’s Rams might be even better than last year’s state runner-ups. The Rams no doubt have their sights set on getting back to the title game for a shot at revenge. This week they can start working on that revenge game as they travel to 2A #5 Somerset, who beat Raceland 16-13 at Raceland last year. This game can be used as a measuring stick as well because Somerset has defeated #4 Hazard and lost versus the #1 Beechwood Tigers. If the Rams want to show they are better than last year and ready for that revenge game against Beechwood, this week’s battle provides them that opportunity.
3. Pikeville – The Pikeville picture is very different from our top two teams. The Panthers started out last year with virtually a brand new lineup of young first time starters which led to a 1-4 record. Then things started clicking and the young Panthers won seven in a row before losing to Raceland in the state semifinal. This year the Panthers roared out of the gate with three wins before running into two tough opponents and losses. Last week’s loss to Point Pleasant WV cost the Panthers a spot in the 1A rankings. This week the Panthers host #4 Hazard. A win in this one creates separation between them and the Bulldogs in the rankings and could move the Panthers back up the rankings if the #1 and 2 teams lose. Pikeville’s 50-7 thrashing of 2A top ten Lexington Christian in game two launched the Panthers into a serious discussion about whether they should be #1. They need this win over Hazard to get that debate started again.
4. Hazard – Now we are back to that revenge theme. Last year the Hazard Bulldogs were the pre-season favorite to meet Beechwood in the title game. After losing the Smith brothers to injury, the Bulldogs retooled things and kept on winning behind QB Bailey Blair. Included in those eight regular season wins was a 38-26 victory over Pikeville. But Pikeville turned the tables in the playoffs with a 14-9 upset over the Bulldogs. This year Hazard enters this week’s game at Pikeville with the same 3-1 record as last year at this time. Hazard can stun the prognosticators and shake up the 1A playoffs outlook for themselves and others if they can pull out a win in this one.
5. Paintsville – The Paintsville Tigers have been a tough team to get a read on. The pre-season thought was this team would be right in the mix with the teams at the top of the 1A rankings. After opening with two blowout wins, albeit over lower level competition, it looked like the Tigers might live up to those pre-season expectations. Then they ran into the Frederick Douglass buzz saw, but that score was not a total surprise. Pikeville was next, and the margin of that loss at 36-13 left people wondering who Paintsville is this season. The Tigers bounced back with a nice win over #8 Williamsburg and followed up with a solid 21-6 win over 3A Lawrence County. That gets us to this week’s matchup at 2A Walton-Verona, a team on the edge of being in the 2A top ten. Paintsville needs a win to continue building their case as a serious challenger for the title. A win this week and the Tigers should be on a four game winning streak as they head into their tough season ending games at Hazard and Raceland. After those games, the playoff prospects for Paintsville should be pretty clear.
6. Campbellsville – The Eagles have not been able to crack the top five in the 1A rankings, but they are building a resume that has them knocking very hard on the door. With a 5-1 record and the only loss being by 10 points to 3A #5 Casey County, Campbellsville has a lot of positive momentum. The 20 point win over 4A #9 Taylor County is their signature win. The only other game on the schedule that is any kind of a test is this week at 4A Russell County. The Eagles should get a clear cut win this week and no one else on the schedule is a threat at all. That positions Campbellsville at 9-1 heading into the playoffs with perhaps the 1A player of the year, WR/RB Malachi Corley, and an impressive QB Arren Hash. There will be some question marks because of a lack of schedule strength, but enough there to make opposing coaches put extra hours in trying to build a winning game plan.
7. Crittenden County – The Rockets returned one of the most impressive set of skill players in 1A; RB Devon Nesbitt, WR Ethan Dossett and the top QB in 1A Hunter Boone. The Rockets and the Campbellsville Eagles have been entrenched at six and seven in 1A all year and have followed very similar tracks in their records. It is almost uncanny how similar those two teams are. The Rockets’ only loss is also to a ranked 3A team, #7 Caldwell County. However, the question marks on schedule strength are even deeper with Crittenden County. There is no win as good as Campbellsville’s Taylor County win and no quality opponents left on their schedule including this week’s opponent Fulton City. That will leave the Rockets as a mystery only to be solved as they move deeper into the playoffs.
8. Williamsburg – There will be no tough opponent this week as Williamsburg has a bye. The Yellow Jackets have faced quality 1A opponents the past three weeks getting wins over Ludlow and Frankfort and losing to Paintsville. Those games explain why Williamsburg sits at #8 in the rankings. With a 34-7 loss to Somerset, who is facing four 1A top ten teams, along with the loss to Paintsville, Williamsburg’s playoff prospects look to be the spoiler role. That is a role they have filled well in the past and almost all the way to a title so don’t count them out.
9. Louisville Holy Cross – The Cougars have been labeled a dark horse pick by a number of people. With a senior dominated roster led by 3 year starting QB Jaren McDonald, Holy Cross has the experience to handle those tough playoff challenges. There are no wins over good quality opponents and they have been defined by solid showings against the toughest teams on their schedule, including a 28-3 loss to one of this year’s top teams in the state 2A #1 DeSales. The Cougars have a couple tough district games left versus Kentucky Country Day and Frankfort that will help prepare them and build confidence. Wins in those games will position Holy Cross well in the dark horse pick role.
10. Lynn Camp – One of the good stories in 1A this year has been the Lynn Camp Wildcats. Sr. RB Dalton Cook is at the top of the 1A rushing statistics and has led the Wildcats to the only undefeated record in 1A. That record has been built against the second weakest schedule in 1A. The schedule doesn’t get any better with the one exception being district opponent #8 Williamsburg. Until then, Lynn Camp should roll on undefeated. That game will be our window into the playoff prospects for Lynn Camp.
Next week all teams will be into district play. We will take a look at how the districts should play out and peak into what the playoff matchups might look like. We talked about most of this week's games above, but here is the full schedule of this week's challenging games for most of the leaders in 1A.
1. Beechwood at 6A #8 Simon Kenton
2. Raceland at 2A #5 Somerset
3. Pikeville vs. #4 Hazard
4. Hazard at #3 Pikeville
5. Paintsville at 2A Walton-Verona
6. Campbellsville at 4A Russell County
7. Crittenden County at Fulton City
8. Williamsburg -- OPEN
9. Louisville Holy Cross -- OPEN
10. Lynn Camp vs. 2A Clinton County