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Defending Champion Centurions Win First of What Could be Four Straight Road Playoff Games

Six weeks ago, Christian Academy of Louisville lost two Mercer County, 45-42. The score was closer than the game actually played out and it marked a third consecutive loss for the Centurions who were ranked first in the Bluegrasspreps.com Class 3A preseason rankings. A double overtime loss to DeSales two weeks later assured CAL they'd have to begin postseason play on the road. Three straight wins to finish the season, along with the return of a healthy Brandt Babin, gave CAL a boost on their way to Harrodsburg for round one. And after a 34-14 victory at Mercer County the Centurions are one step closer to another state championship.

"We felt like we had a good game plan...and to their credit the guys came out and executed," CAL coach Hunter Cantwell told the Louisville Courier-Journal. "Coaches can put guys in position to be successful, but guys have to go out and make plays. They did it in spades." (CAL beats Mercer County in Class 3A opener, gets rival DeSales next).

CAL jumped ahead 6-0 behind a four yard touchdown run from Babin, his first of two rushing touchdowns on the evening. Mercer took the lead with a 39-yard touchdown run from Dillon Warren but that would be the last lead for the Titans. Gage Geren caught a 60-yard touchdown pass from Anthony Sabatino near the end of the first quarter and two more touchdown passes from Sabatino gave the Centurions a 27-7 lead midway through the second frame. It was all part of a monster night for Sabatino in which he threw for 298 yards and three scores.

"I feel like we had a great first half, and we just took it from there," said Sabatino in the same Louisville Courier-Journal article linked above. "We’re feeling good...We’re strong right now, and this was a good win." (CAL beats Mercer County in Class 3A opener, gets rival DeSales next).

For Mercer County, the loss was a difficult end to a terrific season. The Titans finished 8-3 with losses to Boyle County, DeSales, and now CAL. In what most consider the toughest district in Class 3A, coach David Buchanan's club proved itself more than capable of competing.

"We’ve played some awful good football,” Buchanan told the Danville Advocate-Messenger. "It was a huge accomplishment for us to get a home playoff game in this district, and our kids did it. It gives us a lot to build on, and I’ll forever be grateful to this football team." (CAL spoils rematch, ends season for Titans - The Advocate-Messenger | The Advocate-Messenger).

Quality Rematches Highlight a Stacked Second Round Playoff Schedule

With the advent of intra-district postseason play for football, it was a given that rounds one and two would produce rematches. What has proven even more exciting is the nature of those rematches in the upcoming district championship games. Three games will feature teams both ranked in the Bluegrasspreps.com Top 10. Another three matchups pit a ranked team against one just outside the top ten. Allow the 3A Notebook this opportunity to glance back at the first round and look forward to what should be an excellent upcoming Friday night.

District 1 - Union County at Paducah Tilghman
As expected, Paducah Tilghman piled up the points in a hurry on their way to a 48-12 victory over Webster County. The Blue Tornado, unranked by Bluegrasspreps.com but second in the KHSAA's RPI ratings, will host Union County who surprised Trigg County in round one, winning 26-13. Just two weeks earlier, Trigg had romped over the Braves, 33-7. Union used 100-yard rushing games from both Matthias Ervin and Corinthian Seales-Portee in the win.

Union County must now make a second trip of the season to Paducah Tilghman, in a rematch of a 49-13 game won by the Blue Tornado on October 18. If Tilghman wins, they'll be assured of a third round home playoff game.

District 2 - Taylor County at Glasgow
Results went as expected in District 2, although perhaps the margin of one game came as a surprise. While Glasgow was coasting to a 42-8 win over Adair County, Taylor County trailed Casey County by one at intermission before scoring three third quarter touchdowns on their way to a 40-27 victory. Taylor welcomed back Tre Goodin, who ran for 161 yards and two touchdowns on only nine carries.

Glasgow will play host to Taylor County for a second time this season. The Scotties were victorious in the first game, 31-28, behind an Alex Elizalde field goal, his only field goal of the season. And while Glasgow has been more impressive than Taylor in the latter half of the season, look for another tight contest this Friday night.

District 3 - Bardstown at Elizabethtown
Two games, two shutouts in District 3 as Elizabethtown beat Thomas Nelson, 49-0, and Bardstown topped Larue County, 47-0. The wins setup a second round showdown between two teams who already played an instant classic on October 25, when E'town beat Bardstown in overtime. Both offenses are balanced, with each side effectively running and passing the football throughout the season. Elizabethtown enters the game having won seven straight, while Bardstown has won nine of ten with the only loss coming against E'town.

District 4 - Christian Academy of Louisville at DeSales
As CAL was taking care of business against Mercer, DeSales was doing the same in a 49-7 rout of Western Hills. James Johnson carried the ball four times for 92 yards and each carry ended in the end zone. Defensively, the Colts were again dominant, allowing a mere six yards on the ground and just 37 through the air. DeSales will host CAL for the district championship on Friday, the tenth consecutive year in which the two private school powers from Jefferson County will have twice during the season.

District 5 - Rockcastle County at Bell County
Old mountain rivals Bell County and Rockcastle County will meet again in the postseason as both cruised to wins in round one. Bell easily dispatched Garrard County, 44-0, while Rockcastle County walloped Estill County, 50-14. The Rockets had squeaked by the Engineers by five points earlier in the season.

The wins set up another Bell County/Rockcastle County playoff meeting. Bell and Rockcastle met in the playoffs seven times over a nine year period from 2001-2009 with Rockcastle winning the first four and Bell the last three. Undefeated Bell won the regular season game, 39-6, although the red-hot Rockets enter the game on a five game winning streak since that loss to Bell.

District 6 - Mason County at Fleming County
An unpredictable district in the preseason will conclude in a predictable manner as longtime rivals Fleming County and Mason County will square off for a district championship. Fleming dominated Pendleton County, 50-8, on Friday night while Mason County shutout Powell County, 27-0. The first meeting was a tight 29-19 victory for Fleming County. Expect more of the same this weekend.

District 7 - Russell at Ashland
Speaking of previously tight first meetings, Ashland and Russell will renew their Ohio River rivalry in the second round and if it is played anywhere close to the level of the first game, then it should be nothing short of a classic. In that first meeting, Russell took an early 14-0 lead before Ashland roared back to win 21-14.

Both squads took early leads in the first round games and never had to worry about a comeback. Ashland ended the outstanding career of Greenup County quarterback Eli Sammons, winning 49-14. Sammons, who has committed to Marshall, passed for over 7,500 yards and 83 touchdowns in his career. A few miles away, Russell waxed East Carter, 41-0. While the result might not have been surprising, the margin certainly was.

District 8 - Pike County Central at Belfry
Belfry began what they expect to be a deep postseason run a day early, rolling Floyd Central 46-7 on Thursday night (the game was played on Thursday due to Floyd Central's participation the state volleyball tournament on Friday). Belfry will next host Pike County Central, 39-23 winners over Lawrence County in round one. The Hawks jumped ahead 21-7 after one quarter but struggled to put away the pesky Bulldogs. Pike Central played close with Belfry for a quarter in the first meeting but will need to put together four quarters to have a chance at their first ever win over the Pirates.

Checking In on the RPI

KHSAA's offseason implementation of the RPI has caused lots of discussion throughout the back half of the regular season but hasn't meant much to this point. That will all change after this week's district championship games. Two halves of the bracket will be reseeded in an effort to get the four best teams in Class 3A to the state semifinals. Let's take a brief look at the rankings at this point. (Remember, ratings ceased at the conclusion of the regular season. No team benefits or was hurt by rounds one and two).

Teams Remaining (Rating in Parentheses)
Western Half: #2 Paducah Tilghman (.665), #4 Elizabethtown (.650), #5 DeSales (.639), #6 Glasgow (.638), #10 Bardstown (.624), #11 CAL (.611), #14 Taylor County (.591), #18 Union County (.532).

Eastern Half: #1 Bell County (.703), #3 Russell (.662), #7 Belfry (.637), #9 Ashland (.632), #12 Fleming County (.603), #13 Rockcastle County (.596), #15 Pike County Central (.573), #21 Mason County (.503).

Best Shape
Western Half: Paducah Tilghman. Heavily favored in round two, Tilghman will host a third round game with a win over Union County. Who they'd face is another question. If the home teams all win, the Blue Tornado would host Glasgow in the regional final. Elizabethtown would host in round three if they beat Bardstown. DeSales could host, but will need to top CAL and hope either Tilghman or E'town fall.

Eastern Half: Bell County. Much like Paducah Tilghman, Bell will also be heavily favored in their second meeting with Rockcastle County. Unlike Tilghman, though, Bell could have a very winnable third round game, most likely the winner of District 6 (Fleming or Mason). Interestingly, Russell is rated third in the RPI in Class 3A but must travel to lower rated but regular season winner Ashland for round two. A Russell win would give the Red Devils a home game in round three. Belfry is the third highest rated team in the eastern half, but will need a win against Pike Central and hope homestanding Ashland takes care of Russell in order to get a third playoff game at CAM Stadium.

Making Sense of It All
Remember that after the third round the final four teams are reshuffled with the best remaining team according to the RPI playing host to the remaining team with the lowest RPI. The second best RPI will host the third best. But there's a lot of football still to be played before we get to that point.