BluegrassPreps Class 3A Preseason Preview

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    by gchs_uk9 is offline Premium Member
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    1. Belfry Pirates (2016: 14-1; Class 3A State Champions)
    Is this the year Pond Creek runs dry come the first weekend in December? Four consecutive seasons have ended with Coach Philip Haywood's Belfry Pirates taking the state championship trophy back to Pike County, but for the first time in years they are not a prohibitive favorite. The offensive line will have to be retooled somewhat, although early indications are the big boys up front should be able to hold their own. They'll be paving the way for last season's top two rushers, Derek Wellman (970 yards, 11 touchdowns) and Taveon Hunter (799 yards, 11 touchdowns). Who pilots the ship could be a different story. Masterful quarterback Noah Corbett is gone and will likely be replaced by Avery Browning who has seen spot starts and mop-up duty often the last two seasons. While not the leg threat that was Corbett, Browning does bring a passing game improvement. It will be interesting to see the route Haywood takes.

    Defensively, Belfry returns its top two tacklers (Austin Fields and Wellman) and team leader in interceptions Devin Varney. Last year's Pirates allowed 12.5 points per game and this season's schedule will test the mettle of that defensive unit. Matchups with West Virginia powers Huntington and Cabell-Midland, road tests at Bryan Station and Newport Central Catholic, and home challenges against traditional mountain/state powers Pikeville and Johnson Central should have Belfry primed for yet another postseason run.

    Key Game: Johnson Central (October 27)
    The Pirates and Golden Eagles played a classic to finish the 2016 regular season with Belfry winning, 21-16. Both defending state champions will square off in the 2017 finale in what should be the game of the year in the mountains.

    2. Corbin Redhounds (12-2; Lost to Belfry in state semifinals.)
    Is this the year Corbin wins their first state title since 1982? The Redhounds have challenged Belfry in the state semifinals the last two seasons only to fall short - games that many Belfry fans have said were the toughest of the postseason. Corbin returns star quarterback Cameron Sizemore who passed for 2,706 yards and 31 touchdowns while also running for 451 yards and eight scores. It will be a challenge, however, for coach Justin Haddix to replace do-everything wide receiver A.J. Moore, although expectations are for Chase Estep to fill those shoes.

    Concerns for Corbin are on the disruptive defensive line where Haddix must replace three starters. There are also holes in the defensive secondary. The schedule for Corbin is brutal where they'll face perennial powers Pulaski County, Beechwood, and Mayfield, up-and-coming neighbor Whitley County, and Tennessee Titan, Alcoa. If they can survive, stay healthy, and develop depth, come October the Redhounds should be in the thick of things for a state title.

    Key Game: at Beechwood (September 8)
    Yet another challenging schedule for Corbin makes it difficult to determine the most difficult game. We're going with the road trip up I-75 to Beechwood. While a 1A program, defending state champions Beechwood are expecting to field one of the better teams in the Commonwealth. If Corbin can win on the road early in the season it could set the stage for winning on the road late in the season when the playoff path leads to, and perhaps through, Belfry.

    3. Elizabethtown Panthers (10-4; Lost to Central in state semifinals.)
    After a 13-1 season in 2015, veteran coach Mark Brown's E-town Panthers responded with a second straight state semifinal appearance, falling in a nail-biter to Central. This year's Panthers may be even better as they return eight starters on offense and nine on defense. Elizabethtown's balanced attack was coordinated by quarterback Tyler Durbin who tossed for 1,150 yards and 17 scores. Meanwhile, running backs Jay Becherer, Derek Smith, and Kass Disney could all be in the market for 1,000 yard seasons.

    On defense the Panthers allowed 14.7 points per game and should be at about that level again this season. While not in the strongest district, E-town has upped their non-conference schedule where they'll play defending Class 2A state champion Christian Academy-Louisville, Class 4A runners-up Franklin-Simpson, and traditional powers North Hardin, Bardstown, and Glasgow. Brown's club should be battle tested come postseason.

    Key Game: at Christian Academy-Louisville (September 8)
    Elizabethtown wants to be considered a state championship contender and they will have a chance to prove themselves in an early season contest with one of the best small school teams in the state. If the Panthers can win at CAL, then whispers of perhaps being the best team in Class 3A could start to get louder.

    4. Central Yellowjackets (9-6; Lost to Belfry in state finals.)
    What happens to a program when the coach responsible for the best run in school history - a run that resulted in five state titles and two more second place finishes - leaves? We are about to find out. Ty Scroggins won over 70% of his games in ten seasons at the helm on Chestnut Street, but will now be coaching at DeSales. Marvin Dantzler takes over after head coaching stints in Oklahoma and Louisiana. Dantzler inherits a very talented ball club (one that many think could have been ranked higher had known commodity Scroggins remained as coach) and he looks to diversify the offense this season. The new coach told the Courier-Journal that he intended to throw the ball more than past Yellowjackets teams have, while still emphasizing stopping the run, long a staple of Central football.

    Ukari Baker, Devon Hall, and Rico White all return as big play receivers, but who will fill the shoes of departing rusher Corey Johnson? Takaius Linton is the leading returning rusher, be he only carried the ball 21 times for 233 yards and two scores. As always, the schedule is brutal so both the Yellowjackets and coach Dantzler will have to learn quickly.

    Key Game: at Waggener (October 5)
    Scroggins used to talk about whether he had a 3A team or a 6A team. This year Central will tackle four 6A powers (Manual, Ballard, St. Xavier, and Pleasure Ridge Park), 5A riser Fern Creek, and 4A neighbor Western. The good thing is none of those games matter in the standings. We'll pick the road trip to district foe Waggener as the game of the year. If Waggener wants to be considered a challenger, they'll have to beat Central. If Central wants to stay at the top of 3A, they'll have to beat Waggener.

    5. Lexington Catholic Knights (7-6; Lost to Central in regional finals.)
    In what was an unusual non-winning regular season for Lexington Catholic in 2016, the Knights struggled early against a murders row of opponents, losing five in a row over August and September. As the calendar turned to October, though, Lexington Catholic found themselves in familiar territory, winning their third straight district crown and fifth in the last six years.

    Sophomore quarterback Beau Allen, who is already receiving interest from Kentucky, takes over full time after assuming the majority of snaps late last season. He'll look to wing it to a depleted receiving corps - although Lexington Catholic rarely fails to replenish the ranks. Running back Dameon Jones and his 1,113 yards return and will run behind an offensive line that returns four starters. As it always the case with Lexington Catholic, if the defense can perform (and they allowed an ugly 25.6 points per game last year) then they can challenge for a trip deep in the postseason.

    Key Game: at Boyle County (October 13)
    In a rivalry that is always balanced and sometimes bitter, these two old foes will likely square off once again with a district title on the line. Lexington Catholic leads the series 13-12 and has won eight of the last nine. The Knights have lost eight times in twelve tries at Boyle and this year's game is at Rebel Field. Expect another classic.

    6. Boyle County Rebels (7-5; Lost to Central in the second round.)
    When Chuck Smith returned to the Boyle County sidelines in 2014 there were some who envisioned an immediate return to the mountaintop and an eighth state championship (Smith won five straight from 1999-2003). It hasn't been as easy as many predicted. The Rebels returned to Class 3A at the same time Belfry was reaching its zenith and Central held a stranglehold on the western part of the state. Not only that, Boyle has struggled to get past district rival Lexington Catholic, having lost eight of the last nine meetings with the Knights and not yet posting a district championship in Smith's second round.

    That could all change this season. Boyle returns the most talent they've had under Smith in his second stint. Ten returning defensive starters should go a long way toward shoring up a defensive unit that allowed over thirty points five times in 2016. On offense, after a campaign that saw season-long questions as quarterback, it appears the Rebels have settled on sophomore signal called Reed Lanter. Last year's starter Sam Tiller will move to wide receiver, where he joins explosive playmaker Reese Smith. Boyle should also get production from Landen Bartleson, who won the 100 meter state championship in Class AA last spring.

    Key Game: Lexington Catholic (October 13)
    Per usual, Boyle County will face a gauntlet of opponents, including three potential state champions, but no game means more than the annual slugfest with Lexington Catholic. If Boyle can beat the Knights (and hold serve against Western Hills and Garrard County), they'll secure home field advantage through the first two rounds of the postseason, and perhaps even a regional final. For a program suffering through an atypical Boyle dry spell, defeating Lexington Catholic is step one on the way back up to the mountaintop.

    7. Russell Red Devils (10-2; Lost to Belfry in regional finals.)
    First some good news: Russell has ended the last three seasons with playoff losses to Belfry but due to cross-bracketing that starts in Class 3A in 2017, the Red Devils can't face Belfry until the state championship game. Now the bad news: Because of said cross-bracketing which pairs District 5 with District 4 (Lexington Catholic, Boyle, Western Hills, Garrard), Russell could win their district and host a top-15 club in the first round and be an underdog in a second round home game. All of this while trying to replace eight defensive starters. Challenge extended.

    If Coach T.J. Maynard has proven anything in his three years on the job thus far, itís that he will put a solid product on the field. Russell quarterback Austin Church passed for 1,634 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2016 and the Red Devils may need more this time around as star running back Nick Conley has graduated. The offensive line should again be strong. Defensively, Russell loses all three linebackers and several members of the secondary. However, in a district that appears to show only Fleming County as a realistic threat, look for Maynard's Devils to emerge at the top of the hill once again.

    Key Game: Fleming County (September 29)
    Russell won the district last season in many ways on the back of a 30-7 rout of Fleming County. It was just two years ago, however, that Fleming County came to Flatwoods and won, allowing West Carter to sneak into first place in the district. Now the Panthers come back to the banks of the Ohio River for their first visit since 2015 in a game that should decide the district race.

    8. Caldwell County Tigers (8-5; Lost to Elizabethtown in regional finals.)
    After three reasonably close losses to powerful opponents to start the 2016 campaign, Caldwell County reeled off six straight wins and notched their fifth consecutive district title. Athletes return all over the field but it is what doesn't return that begs questions for veteran coach David Barnes. The Tigers will have to replace their entire offensive line and word came in early summer that quarterback Shane Burns, who has thrown for over 3,000 in each of the last two seasons, would not be playing football as to focus on his collegiate baseball career at Murray State. Replacing Burns should be junior Joby Jaggers, who is low on experience, but Barnes has a history of plugging quarterbacks into his wide open offense and having success.

    Caldwell's defensive unit will have to be more consistent this season. Last season saw the Tigers pitch three shutouts, but allow an average of 35 points per game in five losses. With a bevy of returning starters on the defensive side of the ball, including Hunter VanHooser, Dylan Gray, and Cole Baker who each recorded over one hundred tackles last season, expect a much stouter defensive crew.

    Key Game: Christian County (August 18)
    This will be an odd choice in the eyes of many but with several question marks on the offensive side of the ball, if Caldwell County can hold their own against 5A power Christian County, the future will look very bright moving forward.

    9. Paducah Tilghman Blue Tornado (6-6; Lost to Elizabethtown in second round.)
    Remember that time Tilghman won the state championship in 2009? Remember how they were 4-6 during the regular season before winning five straight playoff games? Remember how they almost fired their coach during the regular season? It seems like the Blue Tornado have been trading off of that success ever since without much in the way of results. Well call us suckers, but once again we're drinking the Blue Tornado Kool-Aid.

    This year's Tilghman contingent will be coached by Steve Duncan, their fourth coach in five years. Duncan last coached at Logan County and had a great deal of success in the Purchase Area at Murray. There are questions across the board but also lots of athleticism. Bryson Brooks and Jordan Harmon are big time athletes that will need to make plays for the Tornado.

    Key Game: at Caldwell County (September 22)
    If Tilghman wants to move to the top of Class 3A they first must move to the top of District 1 which means they must beat Caldwell County. Since being paired together as district mates in 2015, the Blue Tornado has lost both meetings by three touchdowns. With some questions at Caldwell, along with those in Paducah, this could be the year Tilghman puts it all together. Now everybody take another drink!

    10. Western Hills Wolverines (7-4; Lost in first round to Bardstown.)
    After finishing one of the best regular seasons in school history in 2015, the Western Hills Wolverines were summarily destroyed by Bardstown in the first round of the playoffs. That loss didn't dampen the spirits of what should be an explosive offensive unit, led by junior WanDale Robinson, a high-major Division I prospect. Robinson ran for 2,015 yards and 28 touchdowns in his sophomore campaign and should be an even more dynamic player this season.

    There are concerns, however, on the defensive side of the ball. Western Hills returns only four starters from a unit that wasn't great to begin with (they allowed 324 yards and 36.3 points per game). If Coach Don Miller can plug holes in the defensive sieve, then Hills could be in line for their second playoff win in school history, their first since 2009.

    Key Game: Garrard County (October 13)
    With Lexington Catholic and Boyle County ranked ahead of the Wolverines it would seem those would be the biggest game. We'll go with Garrard County, though, because it could be the difference between a three and four seed. Western Hills beat the Golden Lions for the first time in 2016 and will look to make it two straight in 2017. If Western Hills can topple Garrard, they'll likely avoid a first round road trip to Russell.

    11. Fleming County Panthers (8-4; lost to Belfry in second round.)
    Just outside the top ten are the Panthers from Fleming County who won eight games last season before falling to Belfry in the second round. Quarterback Josh Crump returns to pilot an explosive offense that averaged over 31 points per game in 2016. Crump, who passed for 2,319 yards and 26 touchdowns last season, will have his three leading receivers back. Questions remain in the trenches were several starters graduated, but there is enough size and talent to make a run at Fleming County's first district championship since 2001.

    Key Game: at Russell (September 29)
    While West Carter and Bath County both return talented rosters, the district championship should come down to Fleming County and Russell. District 5 is in the western bracket this season and is paired with three preseason top ten teams so attaining the top seed is paramount for a deep playoff run. Fleming County won at Russell during their last visit in 2015.

    12. Waggener Wildcats (6-5; Lost to Lexington Catholic in first round.)
    Are we talking solely about talent? If so, then Waggener should be right at the top of Class 3A. Cornerback Jarius Brents has numerous Division I offers and lineman Tahj Rice has committed to Duke. Those same talented players were at Waggener last season when the Wildcats couldn't topple Central or Bardstown, then fell unceremoniously to Moore to finish fourth, which resulted in a first round playoff blowout at the hands of Lexington Catholic. The jury is still out on whether Waggener can clear the district hurdles to make a postseason run.

    Key Game(s): at Bardstown (September 29); Central (October 5)
    Just as it has been the last two years, Waggener will play a daunting pre-district schedule. Matchups against Lexington Christian, Boyle County, and Danville should give a nice indication of where Coach Jordan Johnson's team is heading into October. Two games in back-to-back weeks will ultimately determine the fate of this east Louisville bunch. If Waggener can beat district rivals Bardstown and Central on consecutive Fridays, there might be room near the top of the rankings for the Wildcats.

    13. Lawrence County Bulldogs (4-7; lost to Fleming County in first round.)
    New coach Alan Short inherited a team that lost a good measure of talent heading into his debut season of 2016 and it was evident as Lawrence County struggled to open the year. As the season progressed, however, the Bulldogs showed continued improvement, losing a heartbreaker to Pike County Central, beating Sheldon Clark and Prestonsburg, before falling by a touchdown to Fleming County in the first round. Quarterback Noah West, last season's leading rusher, returns to guide the offense. The talent is there for Lawrence to resume their customary role near the top ten in Class 3A.

    Key Game: at Pike County Central (October 6)
    While beating Belfry in District 6 might be a bridge too far, Lawrence County has to beat Pike County Central to avoid a long first round bus ride into District 3. Pike Central won last year's meeting 21-20 and Lawrence will have to win on the road this time around. Both teams are expected to be very even.

    14. Bardstown Tigers (10-2; Lost to Lexington Catholic in second round.)
    After one of the best seasons in recent memory, it is back to the drawing board for David Clark's Tigers. Bardstown will lean on quarterback Montrez Railey, who passed for 21 yards and ran for 25 in 2016, along with running back Drew Mason, who rushed for 24 yards. This is a very young team without much experience, but Clark has shown the ability to get the most out of his teams.

    Key Game: Waggener (September 29)
    Asking for a district road win at Central might be too much, but a home win against Waggener could elevate the status of Bardstown's young team. Bardstown shouldn't be worse than third in their district, but a second place finish would assure a first round home playoff game.

    15. Casey County Rebels (10-2; Lost to Corbin in regional final.)
    Steve Stonebraker's return to Casey County couldn't have went much better in 2016 as the Rebels set a school record for wins and won two playoff games for the first time. Replacing talented quarterback Breece Hayes and receiver Collin Miller will be tough, but Casey's success last season allowed several young players to get extra snaps during mop-up time. Austin Campbell should have the reins at quarterback and Preston Tucker will provide athleticism out of the backfield. The schedule isn't brutal, which should allow Stonebraker's young kids to develop early.

    Key Game: at Bell County (September 29)
    If Casey County is to take the next step from flash-in-the-pan to annual contender, they'll need to win on Log Mountain. Bell County suffered through an awful 2016 campaign, but return three-time head coach Dudley Hilton. Casey should be more talented but can they win a key road game? A favorable playoff route is the reward for whoever finishes first or second in District 8.

    16. Bell County Bobcats (4-8; Lost to Corbin in second round.)
    How much is Dudley Hilton worth? These Bobcats struggled last season, but Dudley on Log Mountain has a tendency to produce magnificent results.

    Key Game: Casey County (September 29)

    17. Union County Braves (6-5; Lost to Adair County in first round.)
    Union County is seemingly always good but never good enough. With questions at quarterback for Caldwell County and all over for Paducah Tilghman, could Union sneak up the standings?

    Key Game: at Paducah Tilghman (October 13)

    18. Estill County Engineers (9-3; Lost to Casey County in second round.)
    Mike Jones annually produces unheralded, but hard-nosed and successful football teams in Estill County. The Engineers lose two of their best running backs but do return Logan Beckler (1,153 yards and 11 touchdowns). Estill should be the favorite in District 7.

    Key Game: Powell County (October 6)

    19. Garrard County Golden Lions (5-6; Lost to Central in first round.)
    Garrard loses Jacob Foley but does return several key contributors. Quarterback Connor Isaacs is back for a second year, running back Jacob Warren (674 yards and 6 touchdowns), and wide receiver Anthony Justus (3 touchdown catches) all return. The defense has to get much better.

    Key Game: at Western Hills (October 13)

    20. Pike County Central Hawks (5-7; Lost to Russell in second round.)
    Pike County Central has won a first round playoff game in five of the last six years but have only been to the regional final once (2013). Second year Coach Eric Ratliff has his quarterback and lead running back in the fold again, along with the two leading tacklers in 2017. Ratliff did nice things at Shelby Valley - are the Hawks on the verge of similar success?

    Key Game: Lawrence County (October 6)


    Postseason Changes
    As part of an overall change to postseason bracketing in 2017, Class 3A will pit the following districts against each other:

    Region I
    District 1 (Caldwell County, Fort Campbell, Paducah Tilghman, Trigg County, Union County) vs. District 2 (Adair County, Edmonson County, Elizabethtown, Hart County, Larue County)

    Region II
    District 4 (Boyle County, Garrard County, Lexington Catholic, Western Hills) vs. District 5 (Bath County, Fleming County, Lewis County, Pendleton County, Russell, West Carter)

    Region III
    District 3 (Bardstown, Central, Henry County, Thomas Nelson, Waggener) vs. District 6 (Belfry, Floyd Central, Lawrence County, Pike County Central, Sheldon Clark)

    Region IV
    District 7 (Breathitt County, Estill County, Knott County Central, Magoffin County, Morgan County, Powell County) vs. District 8 (Bell County, Casey County, Corbin, Jackson County, McCreary Central)
    Last edited by hoops5; Aug 15, 17 at 05:36 AM.

  2. #2
    Director of Football Operations
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    Great work gchs.

  3. #3
    DevilMayCare's Avatar
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    With Belfry, presumably, coming back to the pack a bit, 3A suddenly becomes very interesting. There are a lot of traditional powers at the top of this class. Should be very competitive after the past couple of years of Pirate domination.

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    Hoping to get to see Belfry from day in Hazard.

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