The top two teams in Class 2A and three of the top five in the final Bluegrasspreps Football Poll come from Region One, making one of those teams the likely favorite to win the title.
But you can’t forget about Belfry, the two-time defending champion, Russell, Region Three champs two of the past three years, and a pair of up-and-coming Louisville programs, DeSales and Western that can score with any team in the state.
REGION ONE – Teams from Region One have combined to win 13 state championships – second most to Region Three, which was once home to Highlands and Danville before they switched classes.
Fort Campbell (10-0) is coming off their first unbeaten regular season in nearly 25 years, crushing their opponents by an average score of 46-5 during the year.
No team scored more than one touchdown against the Falcon defense, which registered three shutouts during the season.
While Falcon stud Micah Johnson (6-4, 275, Sr.) has garnered most of the attention – and deservedly so – Fort Campbell’s speed and ability to swarm to the football has been one of the main reasons for their success.
Notre Dame commit Leonard Gordon anchors a secondary that has allowed just over 50 yards a game through the air, while Johnson and Co. helps limit the opposition’s rushing to 55 yards a game.
If there is a concern for head coach Shawn Berner, it’s the fact that only one team (Trigg County) has played to within a touchdown of the Falcons, meaning that his players haven’t had to play four full quarters in seven weeks.
However, the Falcons will have one of the biggest home field advantages in the state working for them this year.
Visiting fans to the Army post on the Kentucky-Tennessee line are required to show ID and be photographed before driving past tanks and helicopters on their way to Fryar Field.
The Falcons, who are looking for their first trip to Louisville in 25 years, could host every playoff game until the title game.
“That’s very important for us,” said Berner.
The Falcons will host Edmonson County (6-4) in the first round.
The Wildcats, under second-year head coach Kyle Pierce, put up the school’s first winning season in seven years, thanks to a passing attack that averages nearly 160 yards a game.
Senior quarterback Kyle Culbreth has completed nearly 55-percent of his passes for over 1,600 yards, while junior tailback Brandon Poteet topped 1,000 yards rushing.
The Wildcats are going to need every yard they can muster to pull off the first-round shocker against Fort Campbell.
Meanwhile, Owensboro Catholic (9-1) has won the last two region titles and advanced to the state title game before losing to Belfry.
An experienced line and improving play from quarterback David Woodward is just one of the factors behind the Aces’ 9-1 record that has seen them average 40.4 points and allow just 14 a game.
“David had a rough start, but a lot of that was my fault,” said head coach John Edge, who simplified the playbook some since the start of the season. Woodward responded by throwing for over 2,200 yards and 30 touchdowns.
“He throws a great ball, and his confidence keeps growing,” said Edge.
Junior Neil Holland has proven to be Woodward’s favorite target, catching over 50 passes for 750 yards and eight touchdowns.
Houston Kamuf has combined for over 1,000 yards rushing and receiving to go with 18 touchdowns out of the backfield.
On defense, the Aces have a pair of outstanding linebackers – David Jarboe and Adam McBride – who are among the team lead in tackles.
Sophomore Brian Winkelpleck is among the state leaders in interceptions with 12, helping keep Catholic opponents to just under 100 yards through the air.
The Aces will entertain Heath (6-4) in the first round for the second straight year. And all indications are this year’s game will end up much like last year’s 49-20 Catholic win.
The Pirates have shown they have the ability to score points – 40.1 ppg. in their six wins – but have also shown the propensity to give up Trump-like real estate on the defensive side – 43.7 points in their four losses.
Senior quarterback Clint Tilford, who threw for over 1,000 yards during the season, did not play in last week’s win over Webster County because of a broken left hand.
That will put the offensive burden on sophomore Chad Wright, who has rushed for over 1,200 yards.
For the third straight year, Owensboro Catholic and Trigg County could meet in the second round in Owensboro. The previous two games resulted in Catholic wins.
Trigg County’s only two losses have come to number one teams – 2A Fort Campbell (14-7) and 3A Bowling Green (49-7).
Trigg’s offense, an even mix of running and passing, has blossomed in recent weeks behind a steadily improving offensive line.
Senior quarterback Tommy Woodall has thrown for over 1,500 yards and 19 touchdowns and is the team’s second leading rusher.
The Wildcats don’t have a standout rusher like in years’ past, but do feature four backs that average over 40 yards a game.
Trigg also has a fast stable of receivers, six of whom have caught a touchdown this year.
Teams haven’t had much success running the football against the Wildcats, who have 6-foot-8, 318-pound defensive tackle Jeffery Adams on one side and 6-foot, 297-pound tackle Taylor McGee on the other side.
But, the Wildcats have a tough first round game against Glasgow (7-3), who knocked off District One champion Fort Campbell in the second round last year.
The Scotties (7-3) were forced to hit the road in the first round for just the second time in the past ten years when they lost to Monroe County 27-26 last week.
Athletic quarterback Lank Graves has thrown for over 1,200 yards after making the offseason move from receiver.
Glasgow’s streak of eight straight seasons of eight wins or more would come to an end with a Friday loss in Cadiz.
Monroe County (7-3) and Caldwell County (6-4) square off in another Region One matchup.
Monroe is looking for their first playoff win in three years, while Caldwell has won just one playoff game since winning the 1998 state title.
With both teams featuring size on the line and solid running backs, the trip to Tompkinsville may be longer than it takes to play the game.
With three of the state’s top five teams in one region, this is the year for western Kentucky to bring the state title hardware home.
“If the state champion doesn’t come out of this region this year, then everyone here has laid an egg,” Trigg County head coach Curtis Higgins said. “I just worry about us beating each other up before we get to Louisville.”
Higgins may have a point.
Region One in Class 2A and Region Three in Class 4A are the only two regions in the playoffs where every team has a winning record.
Region Finals Prediction: Fort Campbell 21 Owensboro Catholic 14
REGION TWO – Nine different schools have won the Region Two title in the past 15 years. Elizabethtown and Corbin are the only two of the nine still aligned in the region.
This could be the year that a tenth different school brings home the regional trophy.
Western and DeSales finished with identical 8-2 records, but you can never count out Corbin, who won their fifth straight district title and seventh in the past eight years.
Brian Wright, a former assistant coach at Male and Waggener under Bob Redman, credits some of his team’s success to some advice his former boss gave him.
“He said a tough schedule early in the season would benefit us down the road,” Wright said.
The Warriors knocked off 3A Harrison County in their season opener and beat Breathitt County two weeks later. Their only two losses came to 4A Butler and 1A CAL.
Western features one of the best underclassmen in the state in junior running back Justin Collins, who has rushed for 1,725 yards and 20 touchdowns. Collins has also caught ten passes for scores.
“In 20 years of coaching, I have never seen an athlete like this,” Wright said.
Senior quarterback Charles Shepherd spearheads the offense, which averages well over 400 yards and 35 points a game. Outside of Fort Campbell, Western may have the most speed of any team in 2A with seven players than run a 4.5 or better.
Western has never had a 10-win season, which they would get by advancing to the region championship for the first time in the program’s 42-year history.
“We need to play for something every week. That is what our kids like – to set a goal and achieve it,” Wright said.
The Warriors will open with Casey County Friday. The Rebels (2-8) didn’t win a district game but advanced to the playoffs because they compete in a four-team district.
Casey County’s offense is led by seniors Ricky Marrapodi and Marcus Patterson, who have combined to rush for over 1,500 yards.
DeSales (8-2) was just five points away from the title district, but their 50-46 loss to Western sent them to the second seed and put them in Corbin’s bracket.
The Colts get things done with a ball-control offense led by senior Jarrod Zinser, who has rushed for 1,422 yards and 14 touchdowns.
DeSales averages 286 yards on the ground, but head coach Mark Sander has been more impressed with what the Colts are doing with that yardage.
“We’re finishing our long drives with touchdowns,” he said.
Senior quarterback Garrett Reed directs the Colt offense that averages nearly 34 points and 360 yards of offense a game. Tight end Kenny Hillerich leads the team with five TD receptions.
DeSales will face a 3-7 Garrard County team that enters the playoffs losers of five of their last six games.
Corbin’s reward for winning their district? They open with a Washington County team that is one of the better four seeds in the state.
The Red Hounds would have to win the state title to ensure the program’s sixth straight season with ten or more wins.
However, a loss would send Corbin to their first losing season in ten years.
Either could happen.
After losing their first five games to teams that were a combined 38-12, including three that won or tied for the district title, Corbin got on track and won five straight to end the season.
Sophomore quarterback Clint Cashen threw for over 1,300 yards, while Blake Freeman settled into a starter’s role in the backfield and responded with over 700 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns.
Senior Erick Blackwood caught over 40 passes as Cashen’s favorite target.
Corbin will face a Washington County that stumbled into the playoffs after losing three of their final four games but edged LaRue County for the final spot thanks to winning the tiebreaker.
The Commanders (6-4) hope their defense can bring home the program’s first playoff win since 1997.
In his second season, head coach Mark Perry’s defense has given up a single touchdown in five games and has 29 takeaways for the year.
Christian Academy-Louisville (5-5) plays at Wayne County (6-4) in the other first round game.
CAL’s move to Class 2A didn’t go quite as expected with a first round playoff game on the road. A win at Wayne County could set up a second round game with Western, who the Centurions beat 17-15 back on Sept. 16 for the Warriors’ lone district loss.
It’s not out of the realm of possibility for District Three to sweep their District Four counterparts – something that has not happened since the playoffs expanded in 1991.
With the District Three race coming down to the final week, while playoff berths in the four-team District Four were determined before the season began, DeSales coach Sander sees that as an advantage in the postseason.
“Playing in our district prepared us well for the playoffs because we have the tougher district, and the completion of seeds wasn’t final until Friday night,” he said. “ Our district is one of the toughest around.”
Region Finals Prediction: DeSales 34 Western 27