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REGION I

Is it time for change in Region I? After three consecutive regional championships by Elizabethtown, the Panthers slipped to 6-4 this season and seem more vulnerable than in years past. Caldwell County is still strong and Paducah Tilghman just completed one of their best regular seasons in years. Is that enough?

Elizabethtown, semifinal losers to Boyle County in 2017, suffered heavy losses due to graduation and began the season 0-3. Six consecutive wins, including yet another district championship, came next, before losing a one-point nail-biter to highly regarded Class 2A foe Glasgow. E'town (6-4) should have little trouble in their opener with Trigg County (5-5) but could face a stern test in round two against Paducah Tilghman. Tilghman (8-2) opens with a much-improved Hart County (7-3) team, but the Blue Tornado will still be a heavy favorite. Elizabethtown has eliminated Paducah Tilghman in each of the last three seasons, with the average margin of victory 34 points. The gap has closed, but the distance of travel is still the same, so look for E'town to move to another regional final.

On the opposite side of the bracket Caldwell County (7-3) looks to be a big favorite. The Tigers will open with Edmonson County (4-6) and with a win would face the winner of Union County at Larue County. Both Larue (5-5) and Union (7-3) have struggled at times on offense and this will be one of the premier first round games in Class 3A. Give home-standing Larue the victory, but Caldwell then topples Larue to move to the regional final.

In the final year of this alignment, with Caldwell County set to drop to Class 2A, could this be the year the Tigers finally best Elizabethtown? Caldwell is ranked higher, but the home field advantage will pay dividends again for E'town.

Region I Championship: Elizabethtown 28 Caldwell County 27

Region II

Metropolitan Louisville meets northeastern Kentucky in an odd cross-bracketing in Region II. Central has spent the entire season ranked in the top five of Class 3A while it took Russell nearly the entire season to establish themselves at the best in District 5.

The best game in the bracket should be Bardstown at Bath County. Youthful Bardstown (5-5), back in the postseason after failing to qualify in 2017, travels to Owingsville to meet the power running game of Bath County (7-3). This game looks dead even so the edge will go to Bath, as Bardstown has struggled with mistakes in big games late in the season. Meanwhile, Central (8-2) opens with Fleming County (4-6), the biggest loser in the three-way tie for second place in District 5. Look for the Yellowjackets to roll to a win in round one and then another victory over Bath County in round two.

One of the more interesting second round matchups is potentially taking shape between Russell and Waggener. Russell (6-4) should handle Thomas Nelson (4-6) without much trouble and Waggener (7-3) should do the same with West Carter (6-4). The Wildcats from St. Matthews then travel the length of I-64 for a tussle that should be a class. Russell has the home field advantage but will have to be at their best to beat Waggener.

With a win, Russell would host a second team from Louisville in the regional final. While Russell has been better as the season progressed, their offensive deficiencies against good defenses (seven points vs. Ironton, zero against Ashland, seven at Raceland) will be evident again as the Yellowjackets advance to the state semifinals for the eleventh time in thirteen years.

Region II Championship: Central 28, Russell 7

Region III

Region III is stacked with top teams this season. The four likely first round winners have spent all season ranked in the Bluegrasspreps' Top 10. Defending champion Boyle County is the favorite, but Belfry, Lexington Catholic, and Western Hills all have the ability to make a deep run.

Boyle County (10-0) plays host to Floyd Central (5-5) in round one and should have little trouble. They'll meet the winner of Western Hills at Lawrence County, potentially one of the most interesting opening night matchups. Both teams like to run the football and if Lawrence (6-4) can control the clock and keep the Wolverines off the field, the Bulldogs could advance. However, look for Wandale Robinson to show his superior talent and get Western Hills (7-3) to the next round, where a repeat of their regular season game with Boyle County isn't nearly as close.

In 2017, Garrard County was one of only two four seeds in Kentucky to win a first round game. The Golden Lions (2-8) will have a similar task in front of them in 2018, but the opponent is much stronger. Belfry (8-2) will advance to host Lexington Catholic, who should have little difficulty with Pike County Central (3-7) in the first round. Lexington Catholic (7-3) will want to make amends for their only previous meeting, a 43-0 loss in the state finals, but winning at Belfry is just too tough.

Since Boyle County was placed in Class 3A four years ago the commonwealth has looked forward to a Boyle County/Belfry playoff meeting. While both schools have won state titles during this stretch (Belfry in 2015 and 2016, Boyle in 2017), they've not played each other. That changes this year as Boyle County visits Pond Creek for the regional championship. In a game hotly anticipated by so many, the Rebels have just enough to keep going toward a second consecutive state title.

Region III Championship: Boyle County 35 Belfry 28

Region IV

The three best teams in Region IV all reside in District 8, but that doesn't mean this bracket won't be fun. Corbin, state runners-up in 2017, look to be the favorite after dispatching both Bell County and Corbin in the regular season. However, the Redhounds likely need second wins over both teams to make another deep postseason run.

Casey County at Powell County in the first round is the marquee game in the region. Powell (8-2) shocked the Rebels, 44-41, in the second round last season and Casey (8-2) has had a potential rematch with Powell marked on the calendar all season. Revenge should be sweet for Steve Stonebraker's crew, but it will be short lived as the season comes to an end the next week at the hands of Corbin (9-1), who'll face Morgan County (4-6) in the first round.

Two of the more pleasant surprises in Class 3A this season square off in the playoff opener. Breathitt County (7-3), who won their first district title since 2013, plays host to McCreary Central (1-9), who are making their first playoff appearance since 2009. Breathitt should advance with no trouble but it is great to see success at both schools. Breathitt's second game will be much tougher as Bell County (9-1), who hosts Estill County (4-6) in round one, travel to Jackson and should come away victorious.

That means longtime rivals Corbin and Bell County will get together one more time for a chance to win the regional championship. For Bell, it would be the first regional title since 2010 and a chance to show the state they are back. For Corbin, a fourth straight regional crown before they ship up to Class 4A would look great in the trophy case. Look for a closer game than in the regular season, but the Redhounds are just too much.

Region IV Championship: Corbin 28 Bell County 20

STATE SEMIFINALS

Two games, with three of the top four in Class 3A participating, along with a traditional power many wrote off for dead after August, get together on Thanksgiving Friday. Look for Central to have little trouble with Elizabethtown, while Boyle County proves last year's victory over Corbin was no fluke, although any road win at Campbell Field will be hard earned for the Rebels.

-Central 35 Elizabethtown 14
-Boyle County 35 Corbin 21


STATE FINALS: Boyle County 28 Central 14

In a classic matchup of two of the best programs in Kentucky over the last twenty years, Boyle County and Central meet on the Kroger Field turf in Lexington. Dominant defenses will try to stop explosive play makers on both sides. Central eliminated Boyle in both 2015 and 2016, but the stakes are higher and the Rebels are better this time around. Expect a hard-hitting classic between two of the best the commonwealth has to offer.