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Mountain ball heads to Kroger Field in the 1A championship game. Who is going to come out on top as the King of the Hills?

There have been no surprises in 1A. For the most part, the bracket has held true to expectations. That has led us to a title game rematch as predicted in the 1A playoff preview. Pikeville had perhaps its closest call to a loss this season in the first meeting with Paintsville. Can the Tigers get the upset in the rematch? Or over the weeks since that game have the Panthers moved up the ladder of improvement out of the reach of the Tigers? First let’s take a look at last week and how these two got to the title game.

Paintsville 44 Kentucky Country Day 20
Predicted result: Paintsville 27 Kentucky Country Day 24

Kentucky Country Day tasted defeat for the first time this year in a home loss. The big question mark on that undefeated record was the strength of schedule. While the Bearcats played a number of schools from bigger classes, none of those schools posted a winning record. Meanwhile, Paintsville could point to their resume that boasts of wins over 2A semifinalist Beechwood and 5A East Jessamine, who posted a 9-3 record. That strength of schedule for each team led to Paintsville being a slight favorite on the road in this game.

The Tigers made that slight favorite status stand up and then some. The game started out with the teams trading first quarter touchdowns. That continued in the second quarter with Kentucky Country Day holding a 14-12 lead midway through the second quarter. A 40 yard TD run by Paintsville QB Jake Hyden put the Tigers back on top 18-14 at halftime. Whatever adjustments Paintsville made at halftime certainly worked because it was all Paintsville in the second half. The Tigers scored 4 straight touchdowns extending the halftime lead to 44-20 and punching their ticket to Kroger Field.

The running game was the key for the Tigers win. Paintsville racked up 489 yards on the ground with John Phelps getting 238 of those yards on 18 carries. Paintsville did not complete a single pass in the game and only threw the ball 6 times all night. No need to throw it when you are piling up rushing yards like that. The Bearcats offense was led by Dorian Heard who added 174 yards to his 1A leading rushing yard total.

Pikeville 36 Holy Cross 7
Predicted result: Pikeville 44 Holy Cross 7

While the other semifinal game was considered more of a tossup, Pikeville entered this game a big favorite. The undefeated Panthers started this season as the favorite to win 1A and they have done nothing along the way to cause anyone to drop that favorite status. There were a couple close games early against Paintsville and Raceland that the Panthers posted narrow wins in. Just when those back to back games caused some to doubt the Panthers favorite status, the Panthers notched their biggest win of the year, a 22-21 victory over fellow stat finalist 3A Belfry. That win over the formidable Pirates removed any doubts that may have been surfacing about Pikeville.

Holy Cross had added motivation in this post season run. Long time Coach Bob Bronger announced prior to the playoffs that this would be his last season as head coach. The Cougars made it a memorable last run for Coach Bronger rolling to the state semifinals. Alas, the Pikeville Panthers were just too strong piling up 423 offensive yards and holding the Cougars to just 100 total yards in the game. Sophomore QB Isaac McNamee continued his growth throwing for 300 yards and four TD’s for the Panthers. There was never much hope for Coach Bronger’s Cougars as Pikeville led the game at the half 28-0.

Championship Game: Paintsville vs. Pikeville

And so here we are. Paintsville served notice of their strength with a season opening win over 1A 3 time defending champion Beechwood. As mentioned above, Pikeville has been the season long favorite and their opening game trouncing of a very good 3A Bardstown team showed their pre-season favorite status was well deserved. In game 3 of the year, Paintsville almost pulled the upset of the year in 1A when they hosted Pikeville and led late in the game until a field got Pikeville the 9-8 win. That was one of only two field goals Pikeville has kicked all season.

These two teams are both defensive dynamos. That 9-8 score in the first meeting was not an anomaly. Pikeville has the top scoring defense in 1A, allowing 11.8 points per game. Paintsville comes in at #8 in 1A allowing 16.7 points per game. By yardage allowed, Paintsville holds the upper hand giving up only 57 yards a game on the ground and 70 yards per game through the air. Even more impressive, Paintsville has recovered 13 fumbles and is #1 in 1A with 18 interceptions. Pikeville is not far behind Paintsville in all those categories.

Does all that defense mean we are looking at another 9-8 score? It certainly could happen, but not likely. Both teams have offensive weapons that are capable of breaking big plays for scores at any time. Pikeville QB McNamee has come a long way over this first season as starter. He has a fantastic target in WR Jackson Hensley. Paintsville QB Jake Hyden is a dual threat with the ball rushing and passing. His backfield mate John Phelps has been racking up rushing yards in the playoffs.

Pikeville has been dominating since that win over Belfry. This is a big mountain to climb for Paintsville. But if there is anyone in 1A who could get the upset over the Panthers, we believe it is Paintsville. This championship game makes the new KHSAA playoff seeding system look good as these two teams do look like the two best in 1A. Without the new playoff seeding, this game would have happened earlier in the playoffs. The formula for a Paintsville win is get their running game going and get their turnover machine defense to create fumbles and/or pick off McNamee. That could certainly happen. We have been sticking with our playoff preview predictions throughout each round of the playoffs. Before the playoffs started, we predicted a 35-14 Pikeville win over Paintsville. Looking at the game now, we see a little closer win for the Panthers. Nevertheless, we predicted Pikeville winning 35-14 before the playoffs started so we will stick with that here.