Class 4A Football Playoff Preview
This isn't the same Lone Oak team that slung and flung the football all over the field to get to the state championship game two years ago — quarterback Corey Robinson is at Troy and receiver Jamarielle Brown is at Western Kentucky and they could share the workload with a tough, hardnosed and underrated cast of backs and receivers.
And, much as it did in 2007, Lone Oak's road to the state finals is peppered with potential potholes, starting against regional foes Franklin-Simpson and Allen County, the latter of which bounced Lone Oak out of the playoffs last fall.
But the Purple Flash does have a different kind of high-powered spread offense that again utilizes a diverse collection of skill-positon players and rolled through the regular season unscathed.
Quarterback Cameron Looper doesn't have Robinson's arm or savvy in the pocket, but he also gives Lone Oak a running threat, whether it's on a scramble, the triple-option or a quarterback draw.
The revelation was Lone Oak's 52-49 overtime win over Lexington Catholic earlier this season. Sure, you can chalk up a good chunk of the Knights' slow start to an unusual four-hour road trip, but what was surprising was that Lone Oak actually had an edge in speed at the skill positions.
Looper and cousins Matt Starks and Joe Starks share the running load, and the Flash has six different receivers (including both Starks) in double figures in receptions, a group that also includes Felix Colon, Jared Hill and Carson Beyer.
There are reasons to think the configuration of this Lone Oak squad, combined with the home-field advantage its earned throughout the playoffs, actually gives it a decent shot to make another long run.
Veteran coach Jack Haskins thinks this is the best offensive line his program has ever had. Among the group is kicker Jack Coorts, who has come up big in pressure situations before — he booted a last-second field goal to push Lone Oak past Warren East in the 2007 state semifinals, beat Calloway County in a regular-season game last year and kicked the winner against Lexington Catholic in overtime.
One question mark, though, remains the defense. Lone Oak's run-stoppage unit is a little better than it was two years ago, thanks in part to brothers Chayton Thacker at linebacker and Chandler Thacker at nosetackle. The secondary was exposed as a weakness against Lexington Catholic, but Haskins vowed "we have plenty of time to work on that."
Allen County went unbeaten and won the District 2 title, as expected, but didn't dominate on the offensive end as much as some expected, in part of because of a rebuilt offensive line. But the Patriots have quarterback Corey Cooper to run the option and hard-running backs Brandon Boards and Hunter York.
Defensively, the Patriots have been rock-solid all season, with Cy Williams and Houston Bunton anchoring the line. And fresh in the memory of both squads, shall they meet, is that Allen County dominated the line of scrimmage in hammering Lone Oak in the playoffs last year.
Lone Oak will have a tougher journey to the regional finals, assuming Franklin-Simpson gets by Calloway County in the first round. Patrick Flippin, Darius Wickware and Jerrell Wickware give the Wildcats three big-play threats and Jerrell Wickware has one of the state's most astounding stats, averaging nearly 40 yards per catch.
Projected regional final: Lone Oak 30, Allen County-Scottsville 21
This could be the most balanced region in the state. Six teams — Bullitt East, Fairdale, Marion County, LaRue County, Valley and Western — were ranked in the BluegrassPreps.com top 10 at one time or another this year, and even now there is no clear-cut favorite.
Western is attempting to follow the formula that made crosstown rival Central the class of Class 3A — load up on a brutal non-district schedule and hopes it prepares the Warriors' talent for the postseason.
At times, there has been good reason to think Western has been underranked. Three of their five losses are to teams ranked fifth, sixth and seventh in BGP's Class 6A rankings (Male, Ballard and Bryan Station) and are by an average of nine points. A fourth loss is to another 6A program, Butler, and the fifth is a DeSales club that is ranked second in Class 2A.
Quick and elusive tailback Dominic Turner and athletic quarterback lead the Warriors, who shouldn't be challenged until the second round, against either Fairdale or Bullitt East. Fairdale's wide-open attack is built around quarterback Bradley Vincent and receivers Quintrel Morris and Marvin McAtee.
Marion County made some early-season news, giving defending state champion Bell County all it wanted in a regular-season game. The run-oriented Knights followed that loss with another, to a solid Class 6A program in Nelson County, but have since won eight consecutive games and employ a style that could be conducive to the November elements.
The running-back trio of Dylan Peterson, Bryson Bell and Jordan Bell have combined for more than 2,500 yards and 30 touchdowns.
Projected regional final: Western 26, Marion County 21
Boyle County and Lexington Catholic have been virtually attached at the hip for most of the past 10-15 seasons, playing in countless big, down-to-the-wire games, and Kentucky high school football is surely better for it.
Once again, barring a major upset, they will battle it out for the regional championship, mindful that the 2007 state championship (Lexington Catholic) came through this region and last year's nearly did, when Boyle committed six turnovers and missed a potential game-tying two-point conversion in a 17-15 semifinal loss at eventual state champion Bell County.
Ranked No. 1 by BGP in the preseason, Boyle has been rolling since day one, beating bigger-class powers Johnson Central, Lafayette and Christian County by an average margin of 35 points, and tailback Rees McShara (2,180 yards and 29 touchdowns and more than 20 yards per occasional catch) is having a Mr. Football-type season.
The Rebels beat Lexington Catholic 21-13 on Oct. 10 in Danville, and it will be a huge shock if they don't meet again. It's clear that the Knights , who have a fine tailback in quick and elusive Greg Raglin, aren't the mega-talented monsters they were in the Bob Sphire Era, but they have steered themselves through a schedule is as good as any non-6A team in the state — seven of their 10 opponents have been ranked by BGP at one time or another, and they've outscored the other three teams by a combined margin of 175-28.
Holmes won the District 5 title in its first year after dropping down from Class 4A, but will have a tough time getting by Lexington Catholic in the semifinals.
Projected regional final: Boyle County 34, Lexington Catholic 16
If Bell County isn't playing in the state semifinals on Thanksgiving weekend, it will go down as one of this season's major surprises.
The Bobcats are the defending state champion and have gone virtually unchallenged since the first two weeks of the regular season, when Bell
was blasted by Tennessee heavyweight Alcoa and had a tougher-than-expected visit to Marion County, a team that Bell could see again down the road.
Bell has steamrolled past the likes of Whitley County, Johnson Central, Rockcastle County and Knox Central and has certainly earned at least a #1A state ranking with Boyle County, led by the likes of running back Cory Davenport, quarterback Ben Madon (who has shown he can throw the ball effectively when called upon) and linebacker-fullback John Dudley Hilton, the son of longtime coach Dudley Hilton.
Clearly, the best race in this region is for second, and don't be surprised if it centers around a Lawrence County club that has gone 10-0 (albeit, against a very soft schedule) after going 0-11 last year. No one has a real good feel for exactly good the Bulldogs are, but we'll find out with a playoff road that includes first-round foe McCreary Central (and Aaron Watts, one of the state's best all-around athletes) and a potential second-round game with Knox Central.
Projected regional final: Bell County 41, Knox Central 12
Projected state semifinals: Western 34, Lone Oak 29
Boyle County 20, Bell County 14
Projected championship: Boyle County 34, Western 18