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Four years ago, Class 3A saw a massive realignment that brought with it loud exclamations of expected dominance. Boyle County and Lexington Catholic were expected to dominate a class that many viewed as perhaps the least balanced in the commonwealth. A funny thing happened, though. That expected dominance never occurred as longtime 3A heavyweights Belfry and Central won three of four state championships. Realignment has once again brought massive changes and with it expected dominance by new members of the class. What will the next four years hold?

What's New
Of the thirty-nine schools that comprise Class 3A, twelve are new to the class. Four have moved up from Class 2A, while another eight have dropped down from Class 4A. And these are no cupcakes. Five of Bluegrasspreps.com's preseason top ten are new to the class, with another three checking in just outside the top tier.

Defending Class 2A state champion Christian Academy of Louisville joins the fray as the preseason #1 team in the state. While CAL will be without former head coach Stefan LeFors, who left for Louisiana, they'll look to continue their success with another former Louisville quarterback, Hunter Cantwell, who spent the last two years at Carroll County. Offensively, the Centurions return their quarterback, two 1,000 yard rushers, and three receivers that combined to catch 21 touchdown passes. They'll do it all behind all-state lineman and four-star Kentucky recruit John Young.

If CAL is to make a deep run, they will have a huge hurdle to clear just down the road. DeSales also moves up to Class 3A and brings with it a championship pedigree of their own. The Colts won state titles in 2013 and 2014 and have advanced to at least the regional finals in seven consecutive seasons. The Colts begin the season ranked second in the state. However, with district opponents pitted against each other in the first two rounds of the postseason, at least one of these two will be gone after the second round.

It isn't just the River City that brings a sense of new to Class 3A. Ashland, Glasgow, and Taylor County are each coming off monster 2018 campaigns and are among the Top 10 to start the 2019 season. Ashland spent part of the 2018 season ranked #1 in Class 4A, while Taylor County advanced to the state semifinals for only the second time in school history, falling to eventual Class 4A winner Franklin-Simpson. Meanwhile, Glasgow makes the jump from Class 2A where they were a regional finalist in 2018, and bring with them running back Nick Mitchell who toted the ball for over 2,000 yards and 30 scores.

What's the Same
Just like in 2015 when other teams were getting all of the post-realignment, preseason ink, the Belfry Pirates are once again lurking in the shadows with a team capable of spoiling dreams and winning state championships. The denizens of Pond Creek won titles in 2015 and 2016 before falling to Central and Boyle County in their last two playoff appearances.

Belfry will once again rely on their powerful running game, led by the 1-2 punch of Ben Bentley and Isaac Dixon. Dixon was a game changer for the Pirates in 2018, with breakaway speed and the ability to score every time he touched the ball. Depth is the biggest concern for Belfry, but they're in the easier half of the state for postseason play.

Mark Brown's Elizabethtown Panthers will once more be force in Class 3A. Denied a fourth consecutive state semifinal appearance by a late Larue County rally last November, the Panthers will look to make it five consecutive district championships, but the road will be difficult. Bardstown returns 20 starters from a very young 2018 team that improved as the year progressed and won a road first round playoff game. Larue County, who toppled E-town in the playoffs, lost several key players but return a dozen starters for Coach Josh Jaggers.

Finally, the Pride of Log Mountain, Dudley Hilton's Bell County Bobcats are again being mentioned among the premier teams in Class 3A. Bell traded a district with powerhouse Corbin for a much more manageable slate of Rockcastle County, Garrard County, and Estill County. Quarterback London Stephney accounted for 30 total touchdowns while throwing only one interception in 69 attempts in 2018. The schedule isn't great, but the Bobcat pedigree is such that Hilton's team should be in the running when it's all said and done.

Just Like Old Times
Paducah Tilghman has won 25 district championships and three state titles in its illustrious history, but couldn't clear the Caldwell County hurdle over the last four seasons. With Caldwell dropping down to Class 2A, second year head coach Jonathan Smith's club should be the heavy favorite in District 1. Tilghman will again do their damage on the ground, an area where they piled up over 3,500 yards in 2018. Union County and Trigg County appear to have the best chances at upending the Blue Tornado.

Just because CAL and DeSales are making the move to Class 3A doesn't mean they're leaving their rivalry behind. The Centurions and Colts have met twice per season for the last eight years, with CAL holding an 11-5 advantage in those match-ups. Postseason play, however, has been a different animal, with the two Louisville powers having split eight playoff meetings in as many years.

For a dozen years at the turn of this century no rivalry in eastern Kentucky burned as hot as Bell County vs. Rockcastle County. The two mountain powers won every district title from 1999-2010, with Bell County claiming eight and Rockcastle the other four. They met another seven times in the postseason with Rockcastle County holding a slim 4-3 advantage. After nearly a decade apart these two rivals return to a shared district and are expected to run 1-2 again in 2019.

While seven of the eight Class 3A districts have at least one preseason Top 10 team, District 6 appears to be wide open. Fleming County, Lewis County, Mason County, Pendleton County, and Powell County have a combined sixteen district championships total, and none have advanced to a state championship game. Furthermore, there's no established favorite for this year. Fleming County likely gets the slight edge with eight returning seniors. Powell County and Lewis County each lost significant contributors from last year's clubs, while Mason County is still struggling to regain form after Coach David Buchanan left for Mercer County. Pendleton County began play in 2003 but has had trouble building continued success.

Finally, three northeastern Kentucky schools within 20 miles of each other will compete in the same district for the first time ever in 2019. Ashland, Greenup County, and Russell have played each other often through the years but never with as much riding on the outcomes as this season. Ashland will rely on their rushing game, while Greenup County will count on quarterback Eli Sammons (2,084 yards/23 touchdowns) to continue the form that led him to sign with Marshall University. Russell lacks some experience at the skill positions but do return quarterback Charlie Jachimczuk, a strong defense that held five opponents to single digits in 2018, and a deep junior class that has waited their turn.

Games to Watch
1. Christian Academy of Louisville at Boyle County (September 20) - CAL's early schedule is stacked with games against big-school powers South Oldham, Christian County, and Ballard. But it's their trip to Title Town that will give us the best indicator of how good this CAL team is. If the Centurions can win at Boyle, can they be challenged in 3A?

2. DeSales at Christian Academy of Louisville (October 11) - Two old rivals meet for what could be the first of two games this season. The winner likely gets the top seed and avoids a tricky first round match-up with Mercer County. However, do the coaching staffs keep a couple of arrows in the quiver knowing a second round is coming five weeks later?

3. Johnson Central at Belfry (November 1) - This annual classic on the final day of the season has long been hard to judge because these teams have been known to rest injured starters in preparation for deep playoff runs. After four tough games to start the season, the back half of the Belfry schedule is weak. A win over the powerful Class 4A Golden Eagles could be just the boost to push Belfry toward another championship.

4. DeSales at Paducah Tilghman (October 4) - An atypical inter-sectional meeting between two state contenders late in the season is certainly exciting for Class 3A. Tilghman has tough games with Mayfield, McCracken County, and Graves County, but none will give us a sense of where the Tornado stand in Class 3A until they play the Colts.

5. Elizabethtown vs. North Hardin/John Hardin/Central Hardin (August 30-September 13) - E-town can crown themselves Hardin County champions and maybe announce themselves as 3A contender after this treble of local match-ups. North Hardin is among the top five in 6A, while John Hardin and Central Hardin annually field high-level teams.

6. Taylor County at Glasgow (October 18) - There are questions aplenty as both teams make the move into Class 3A, but district supremacy is likely on the line in this match-up. Both the Cardinals and Scotties are coming off impressive seasons, but is the talent there to make it two in a row?

7. Knox Central at Bell County (August 30) - Bell County's schedule doesn't give many opportunities to judge their caliber, but this early season tilt with one of the best teams in Class 4A should at least give a glimpse of what to expect from the Bobcats.

8. Larue County at Elizabethtown (October 18) - We all remember what happened the last time Larue County went to Elizabethtown. I'm sure the Panthers are still smarting from last year's playoff loss and would like nothing more than a little revenge on their southern district rivals. This is the first of two key district home games for E-town, who hosts Bardstown the next week.

9. Powell County at Fleming County (October 4) - While not on the radar for most people, this match-up could decide the top seed in District 6. Fleming last won a district championship in 2017, but proceeded to fall to fourth seeded Garrard County in the first round of the playoffs.

10. Nelson County at Thomas Nelson (October 25) - County rivals square off in the last week of district play for what could be the final playoff berth in District 3. Nelson County hasn't played in the postseason since 2014, while Thomas Nelson made their inaugural appearance in 2017 and has lost in the first round in both trips to the playoffs.

Preseason Top 10
1. Christian Academy of Louisville (15-0; Class 2A State Champion) - Centurions return multiple play makers from last year's state championship team. How will they respond to a new coach and new class?

2. DeSales (11-2; Class 2A Region Finalist) - Colts return a good deal from last season but will have to find a quarterback. They'll likely have to play CAL twice, but may only have to beat them once, which could be enough to bring a third crown to Kenwood Drive.

3. Belfry (10-3; Class 3A Region Finalist) - The talent is there, but what about the depth? Dixon and Bentley will be tough to stop, but who is the bell cow fullback Philip Haywood's teams always rely on?

4. Bell County (11-2; Class 3A Region Finalist) - While Bell County has fielded two straight good teams, this year's version looks to move to great. The district is winnable, but running back Colby Frazier's move to Pineville will hurt the Bobcats.

5. Ashland (11-2; Class 4A Region Finalist) - The good news is Johnson Central is no longer in their district. Ashland has built a program on solid running and tough defense. That will play in the eastern half of Class 3A, but is it enough to get by Belfry and Bell?

6. Elizabethtown (8-5; Class 3A Region Finalist) - It might be a year too soon for the Panthers, but we learned long ago never to count out a Mark Brown team. Joseph Becherer will look to improve on his 1,332 yards rushing and 14 scores.

7. Paducah Tilghman (9-3; Class 3A Second Round) - After so many heartbreaking losses to Caldwell County and Elizabethtown, can the Tornado make a move to the upper echelon of Class 3A? The talent is always there and Jonathan Smith did a terrific job as interim head coach last season.

8. Glasgow (11-2; Class 2A Region Finalist) - Despite a move up in class, the Scotties are bringing talent with them. Running back Nick Mitchell was a monster in 2018 while quarterback Tanner Abernathy threw for over 1,100 and 20 scores.

9. Taylor County (12-2; Class 4A Semifinalist) - Expectations are cautiously high for the Cardinals. Coach Jason Foley left for Southwestern, but the new head man is Sam Marple, former coach at Casey County. Taylor has holes to fill but also has Eastern Kentucky commit Tre Goodin, who scored touchdowns rushing, receiving, kick returning, and passing last year.

10. Larue County (8-6; Class 3A Semifinalist) - There's no more Anthony Adkins, who is now at West Point, but don't sleep on Jeremiah Belton, who rushed for 1,300 yards and 10 scores in the Hawks surprising run to the final four.

Next Five
11. Bardstown (6-6; Class 3A Second Round) - A strong start in 2018 got tougher along with the schedule in district play, but the Tigers did win a playoff game and look capable of another big step in 2019.

12. Mercer County (5-7; Class 4A Second Round) - The district (CAL/DeSales) is brutal, but the talent is there. Dual-threat Kaelin Drakeford returns, along with a bevy of backfield talent.

13. Russell (8-5; Class 3A Region Finalist) - Starting 0-3 had many in Flatwoods concerned, but a six game winning streak and strong showing against eventual champion Central gives the Red Devils something to look forward to this season.

14. Union County (7-4; Class 3A First Round) - Braves have been good but never great in recent history, struggling to beat Caldwell and Tilghman and thus being relegated to a road first round playoff game. Quarterback Solomon Teehan, who passed for 1,006 yards and 15 touchdowns, returns for Union County.

15. Trigg County (5-6; Class 3A First Round) - The gap between the top of the district and where Trigg County was in 2018 is wide (the average margin of defeat in their three district games was 25 points), but the Wildcats return quarterback Cam Jordan's 1,500 yards passing and 900 yards rushing. The defense, which allowed 31 points per game last year, has to get better.

Five More
16. Greenup County (6-5; Class 4A First Round) - Musketeers drop in class, but they bring rival Ashland with them. Quarterback Eli Sammons passed for over 2,000 yards in 2018 and tossed 23 touchdowns against only five interceptions.

17. Fleming County (4-7; Class 3A First Round) - After winning a district crown in 2017, the Panthers took a step back last season. Bill Spencer's team brings back numerous starters on both sides of the ball but will have to get better on both sides after scoring just 17 points per game while allowing 36 in the most recent campaign.

18. Rockcastle County (5-6; Class 4A First Round) - Rockcastle carved out five wins in 2018 while being outscored by 14 points per game. The Rock will likely compete with Garrard County and Estill County for a first round home playoff game. Quarterback Noah Parkey returns to lead the run-heavy Rocket attack.

19. Lawrence County (7-5; Class 3A Second Round) - Gone is superstar quarterback Noah West, but Coach Alan Short has steadily rebuilt the program in Louisa, going from 4 to 5 to 7 wins. Now, we'll see if the Bulldogs are here to stay.

20. Western Hills (7-4; Class 3A First Round) - Perhaps no one in the commonwealth lost as much as Western Hills, who saw Mr. Football Wandale Robinson pile up close to 3,000 yards of total offense and 45 touchdowns before dashing off to Nebraska. There is some talent remaining in the Wolverines program, although depth is an issue.