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Class 3A - Region I has a 2016 bracket almost identical to the one from 2015 and if things go as predicted it will have the same end result. While this season hasn't produced the quality of teams as last season, there are still four potential challengers for the region crown.

Caldwell County (6-4) has spent much of the season ranked near the top of the class and are the District 1 champions, although the Tigers struggled to win against superior competition (falling to Christian County, Franklin-Simpson, North Hardin, and Mayfield). Expect an easy first round victory over Hart County (3-7) and then a second round triumph over Adair County (7-3) as the Indians have reeled down the stretch.

On the opposite side of the bracket the top choices are Elizabethtown and Paducah Tilghman. After running the table last season before losing in the state semifinals, Elizabethtown (7-3) had several holes to fill this season and early progress was slow. The Panthers have now won five straight, however, including a convincing win over Glasgow, the 9th ranked 2A squad, in the season finale. As champions of District 2, E'town is assured of home field advantage through the first three rounds, and will open with Fort Campbell (2-8). A second round matchup should pit the Panthers against Paducah Tilghman (5-5), and while the Tornado have played much better of late, the long trip up the Western Kentucky Parkway for the second round may be too much to ask.

Last year's region final ended with E'town scoring a late touchdown to topple Caldwell County, giving further fuel to the argument that Caldwell can't win when it matters most. The Tigers have lost in the regional final each of the last three years and unfortunately for the good folks in Princeton, I expect the same thing this year.

Region I Championship: Elizabethtown 28 Caldwell County 21


No region in Class 3A has been as powerful from top to bottom this season as has been Region II. Six of the eight playoff teams have spent time in the Bluegrasspreps Top 10 and two others are having their best seasons in years.

Despite a challenging early stretch that saw them lose five straight games, Lexington Catholic looks like the favorite to come out of the region for a second consecutive year. The Knights have won four straight, three in the district and one against 5A power Southwestern, to set themselves for a potential run to a second straight championship game appearance. Lexington Catholic (5-5) will open against athletic but enigmatic Waggener and should win comfortably, though Waggener (6-4) could pressure the Knights. A second round classic could then await between Catholic and a one-loss Bardstown squad. Bardstown (9-1), however, will have a challenge in the first round against Western Hills (7-3) and their superstar sophomore running back WanDale Robinson.

Meanwhile, Central won their eleventh consecutive district title and will be the one seed once again. The Yellowjackets lost a ton of seniors from last year's team but this version of Central, while young, made positive late-season strides against a typically murderous schedule. If Central (5-5) can stop the powerful run game of Garrard County (5-5) in the first round, a second round date for a second straight year against Boyle County (6-4) could be in the cards. Also young, Boyle has had their ups-and-downs and could have a first round tussle with Moore (7-3).

When the dust settles, however, look for Central and Lexington Catholic to contend for the region title just like last year, and with the same result.

Region II Championship: Lexington Catholic 28 Central 24


Before we get too deep we should put the obvious out there first: Belfry is going to win this Region. Just like the last three years when the Pirates won state championships and every year since 2010, Belfry is head and shoulders above the regional competition.

That isn't to say, however, that there won't be good games in this bracket. Belfry (9-1) will cruise past Bath County (4-6) in round one and will likely host Fleming County in round two. The Panthers have had a terrific season but ended with an inexplicable loss to East Carter in the finale. Fleming (7-3) hosts Lawrence County in the first round and while this isn't a vintage Bulldog squad (too many graduate losses the last two years), look for Lawrence (4-6) to give Fleming a good push.

In the other half of the bracket, Russell (9-1) gets a first bye by virtue of Sheldon Clark dropping out of district play this season. The Red Devils, who have been dominant defensively for much of the season, will host either West Carter or Pike County Central (4-6) in the second round. West Carter (6-4) won their first ever playoff game last year and is likely a slight favorite to get a second win this year. West Carter struggled to move the ball in the regular game at Russell, gaining only 98 yards in a 28-3 loss. Look for a similar result this time.

Belfry and Russell will then square off in the regional final, the 25th meeting all-time and 8th playoff matchup between these two rivals. Look for Russell to hold the line for a while but the powerful Belfry offensive machine to put it away in the second half.

Region III Championship: Belfry 36 Russell 8


While Region I has depth among contenders, Region II has been strong all season, and Region III has the state championship favorite, Region IV is perhaps as weak as it has ever been. That hasn't, however, stopped Corbin from taking their rightful place as the second best team in Class 3A. The Redhounds have succeeded behind a powerful defense and an explosive offense and may have the formula to give Belfry a test.

Corbin (9-1) will open the playoffs with Knott County Central (5-5) for the second year in a row. After that, a second round matchup will see either Bell County or Breathitt County (4-6), two old time powers now struggling to find wins, come to Campbell Field. Look for Corbin to dispatch old foe Bell County (3-7) this time around.

Opposite Corbin, two programs, Estill County and Casey County, which have been pleasant surprises should face each other in a terrific second round game. Casey (8-1) won their first seven games before falling to Corbin in the district championship. Estill (8-2) split their first round before starting a streak of six straight wins. Look for both to cruise past their first round opponents, Estill over Jackson County ((2-8) and Casey over Powell County (4-6), before Casey wins a close one at Estill in the second round.

Corbin was able to methodically put away Casey County in the regular season meeting and look for a similar result in the region final. A Casey County squad that has never played in a regional final ends a terrific season, while Corbin prepares to face Belfry at home in the state semifinals.

Region IV Championship: Corbin 38 Casey County 7


-Lexington Catholic 35 Elizabethtown 17
-Belfry 28 Corbin 19

STATE FINALS: Belfry 42 Lexington Catholic 14