2012 Kentucky High School Football Class 1A Playoff Preview
The loss to Hazard in last year's state championship still stings for Mayfield, which has taken out its frustration on nine out of 10 opponents and looks to have the stuff to win its second state title in the last three seasons.
Led by Jonathan Jackson, the storied program's all-time leading rusher and tackler, the Cardinals haven't just beaten nine consecutive opponents since a 42-28 opening-night loss to Class 5A heavyweight Warren Central — they've battered them.
The Cardinals haven't played a cakewalk schedule, either. Five of their nine wins have come against ranked opponents, and they beat Paducah Tilghman, Graves County, Murray, Caldwell County and Russellville by an average of four touchdowns.
Jackson is the power runner that provides the centerpiece of the Cardinals' spread offense, running for 1,164 yards and 22 touchdowns, despite playing barely half the game in several wins. Quarterback Jake Guhy — a year older, bigger and stronger — can make throws he couldn't make a year ago and has completed better than 60 percent of his passes for 1,880 yards and 22 touchdowns, with only one interception.
Defensively, Jackson and fellow linebacker Dondre Jackson lead a unit that isn't as talented as last season's stingy bunch. The line play on both sides of the ball has been better than expected, and while the secondary has had some issues, few teams in Class A have the weaponry to exploit it.
Kentucky Country Day might make an argument for it, but the Bearcats were hammered at Mayfield in a second-round game a year ago. Quarterback Robert Scholtz (1,253 yards, 23 TDs and four interceptions) has drawn some Division I interest and a coaching change has brought on a more balanced offense, with running backs Isiaiah Brents, Jordan Duff and Tommy Staffieri combining for better than 1,800 yards and 26 TDs.
The catch is the Bearcats' schedule, one of the state's weakest. KCD hasn't beaten anyone with a winning record, and its loss is to a Carroll County team that is 7-3 but finished third in its Class 2A district.
Russellville, which lost to Mayfield 27-7 in the regular season, would likely to have to win at KCD to get another shot at the Cardinals, but veteran coach John Myers' squad relies (which relies heavily on the junior and sophomore classes) has the team speed on defense to give the Bearcats fits.
Projected regional final: Mayfield 34, Russellville 7
Beechwood has owned this region since the dawn of six classes, but an injury-riddled group of Tigers has suffered through a season that has Frankfort dreaming of a berth in the semifinals.
It's hard to get a handle on the Tigers, who have had some troubling losses this season to the likes of Simon Kenton and Holmes, although both of those came early in the season. Still, a 34-14 loss to Newport Catholic to end the regular season didn't do much to inspire confidence.
Max Nussbaum is the Tigers' biggest weapon, capable of playing tailback and wildcat quarterback, but several other key players have been in and out of the lineup.
Frankfort emerged as the BGP rankings' #2 team this season with a 9-1 mark that includes three wins over teams in Class 2A's top 10 — Green County, Lexington Christian and Danville.
If the Panthers make it to the semis, they have the passing game that could give Mayfield some problems. Chris Hawkins has thrown for over 2,000 yards with 23 touchdowns and six interceptions, and Aaron Jackson (43 catches, 1,094 yards and 13 scores) is his favorite target. More importantly, Frankfort can match Mayfield in speed at several positions, if not all over the field.
Bellevue sneaked into the top 10 late in the season but will need two tremendous performances to come out of the region, starting with a likely second-round visit to Frankfort.
Projected regional final: Frankfort 27, Beechwood 23
Fairview and Raceland have staged quite the spirited rivalry, with the added controversy surrounding a couple of Fairview transfers that have dealt with eligibility issues.
Running backs Chris Brewer and Devon Turner are the bread and butter of the Eagles' offense, having each rushed for over 1,000 yards and combining for 33 touchdowns. But when running back Elijah King and receiver Mason Rutherford are on the field, the Eagles have a high-powered offense that has scored 40 or more points six times in seven outings since the duo was granted eligibility by a court ruling.
That included a 40-27 win over the Rams for the district title, which appears to set up Raceland for a second-round visit to a young Pikeville bunch that has taken some hits this year against a solid schedule.
Raceland has a solid resume and a defense led by linebacker Kyle Morris and Alec Risner that has allowed more than two touchdowns only twice this season, to Fairview and an Ashland club that has been ranked in Class 4A's top five for much of the season.
Included on the Rams' slate was a 54-14 thumping at Pikeville in August. Raceland will probably to have to make a return trip, but should get by the Panthers and set up a rematch with Fairview.
Projected regional final: Fairview 34, Raceland 27
Hazard is the defending state champion, but it's still hard to get a good handle on the Bulldogs, primarily because their schedule was so front-loaded. Three straight close, competitive games — all losses — with 2A and 3A contenders Somerset, Lexington Christian and Breathitt County showed us a lot about Hazard's mettle, but it hasn't been tested very often in recent weeks.
Quarterback Evan Whitaker has taken a step forward in a season where he has been counted on to be a star, no longer a complementary player. Whitaker has thrown for nearly 2,000 yards, with reliable veterans Jordan Olinger and Austin Johnson joined by big-play Nathan Higgins.
Linebacker Josh Meehan leads a bend-but-not-break defense that could face one of sternest tests against Wiliamsburg's high-powered passing game.
Junior quarterback Dalton Sizemore has thrown for 2,453 yards and 32 touchdowns and is a dual threat — he also leads the Yellow Jackets in rushing yards. And sophomore receivers Skyler Griffith and Corey Shelton have combined for 100 catches and more than 1,800 yards and 29 touchdowns.
Harlan and Pineville have had their moments this season, but both are longshots to pull off the necessary upsets to get into the regional finals. Pineville could meet Hazard in the semifinals with some confidence, falling 28-22 to the Bulldogs in the latter part of the regular season. Harlan was bombed by Williamsburg 36-0 in August.
Projected regional final: Hazard 28, Williamsburg 22
Projected semifinals: Mayfield 31, Frankfort 20; Hazard 28, Fairview 26
Projected championship: Mayfield 34, Hazard 13