Ram's Avatar
This class has been fairly static for much of the year, but got a little chaos introduced to it in the final week with several teams producing odd results. But one team has stood apart the whole season, end to end.

Region 1

Coming into the year, it was a given that South Warren was going to be the favorite in their region, and a co-favorite for their side of the state. They announced LOUDLY in Week 0 that they were perhaps the favorite for the entire state with a 43-12 thrashing of then-#2 John Hardin. Since that time, South Warren has occupied the stalking horse position of #2 right behind Johnson Central, piling up the wins en route to a perfect 10-0 campaign, never winning by less than 21 the entire season. Boasting a defense that allowed only 55 points on the year, the Spartans enter the postseason as the only unbeaten 4A team and finally occupying the top ranking. While the defense gets most of the publicity behind a ferocious D-Line and a strong line backing corps, headed by Austin McElwain and Devante Colton, the offense has done well for their part, despite a midseason injury to Ryder Litten. Litten has over 1,000 yards combined passing and rushing and Kayron Namvong has emerged as their go-to back with 660 yards on 104 carries. Hopkinsville is the only team in the entire postseason that would cause South Warren to have to travel outside the county borders, including the state championship game at Houchen-Smith Stadium.

Speaking of Hopkinsville, they have stood up as the most likely threat to the Spartans in Region 1. Teams more highly regarded in the preseason like Franklin-Simpson and Warren Central have stumbled while the Tigers rolled up to a 9-1 record, their finest in a decade. Only rival Christian County managed to top them, and Hopkinsville has scored more than 21 points in every game they’ve played, averaging 41.8 PPG, good enough for second in the class. They alone among western contenders have the dimension required to compete with South Warren – they pass. QB Jalen Johnson has been stellar, with 25 passing touchdowns on 111/220 passing for 1,629 yards. The Hopkinsville rushing attack is headed by JaTorion Dillard’s 628 yards, and in all the balanced offense achieved almost a 50/50 split in their production. The Tigers are knocked for what has been a rather pedestrian schedule, but they do have the advantage of home field advantage throughout the playoffs, and perhaps that might be enough to get them in the game with South Warren.

Hopkinsville is likely the only team in Region 1 with a remote chance at South Warren, but Franklin-Simpson shapes up as the most likely dark horse to make the region final. The Wildcats had an up and down season and fell short of preseason expectations, but ultimately closed with wins in three of their final four games, with none more impressive than dominating 1A ranked Russellville 34-12. Franklin managed to be down only a single score at halftime against a banged up South Warren team, and had a solid win over Monroe County. But the knock remains that they are almost 90% rushing, and it will be difficult for them to get anything going offensively against South Warren as a result.

Projected Regional Final: South Warren 40 Hopkinsville 14

Region 2

This region features 4A’s premier district top to bottom opposite the preseason favorite John Hardin. Indeed, District 4 has been by far the most entertaining watch in the class, with Franklin County and Spencer County getting out to strong starts, before Shelby County came up with clutch wins to wrest the #1 seed away at the end of the year. It’s Shelby County that opens as the “favorite” of a balanced region, suffering only a 31-28 loss to Franklin County as they posted a 9-1 season. The Rockets are led by Malik Manica, who posted 1,136 yards on 111 carries through nine games. Michael Perry also has a healthy 12.5 yards per carry on 47 attempts to compliment Manica, and a rushing attack that rolled up 2,658 yards through 9 games. The defense for the Rockets has been somewhat hit and miss, with six games holding opponents to 7 or less (hit), but four games giving up 21 or more (miss), with nary a result in between. Feast or famine.

Spencer County figures to be right behind them, with their only blemish coming in a 42-28 road loss to Shelby County on October 16th. Other than a game in driving rain against North Oldham, the Bears have not failed to top 28 points in any game and have scored over 40 points in all but three games while racking up 4A’s top per game average at 42.5 PPG. They boast not one, not two, but THREE 1,000 yard rushers, Logan Holbrook (1,460 yards, 22 TDs on 154 carries), Brandon Leff (1,441 yards, 16 TDs on 107 carries), and Kadin Smith (1,103 yards, 13 TDs on 70 carries). All three ranked among the top seven rushers in the entire class through 9 games. As a team, the Bears have rushed for over 4,000 yards, while attempting only 46 passes with 18 completions for 378 yards. With almost total reliance on the ground attack, they figure to have trouble should they make it to the state semis.

Somewhat overlooked is the team that some still consider to be the favorite in the region, the aforementioned John Hardin Bulldogs. There is no sugar coating the opening loss to South Warren, and the Bulldogs took it on the chin in losses to PRP and Central Hardin as well, and were less than impressive against Warren Central. But all of that came in the first five games, and once district play came in, John Hardin settled in and cruised. Even in a game that appears closer than it was against 5A ranked Christian County (38-26 result), the Bulldogs were up 38-14 and in no real danger. The Bulldogs are very balanced in their Wing-T attack, with five players rushing for over 200 yards and no player carrying the ball more than 70 times in the first nine games. There may be some doubt as to whether the late season improvement was more a result of their weaker schedule, but the Bulldogs will have a chance to prove themselves with what is likely the toughest road of any 4A contender. They open with Franklin County (BGP top 10), then likely would host Spencer County (BGP top 5), before finishing with Shelby County (BGP top 5), and then would likely travel to South Warren (BGP #1) in the state semifinals. Brutal road.

Franklin County is the dark horse from the region despite being the #4 seed in their own district. They actually may be most ideally placed among the 4A Region 2 schools to challenge South Warren with an aerial attack that has put up 1,821 yards behind the arm of Barrett Sanderson, but late season failures including a stunning 23-0 loss to Collins make it difficult to see them getting past the same hard road John Hardin faces. The Flyers have one of the leading receivers in 4A, Demarcus Kennedy, who had 600 yards on 42 receptions through nine games, averaging a score a game.

Projected Regional Final: Shelby County 28 John Hardin 21

Region 3

It’s no offense to Region 3, but they’ve been almost the ugly duckling of the class. Until Wayne County scratched their way into the top 10 the last couple of weeks, the class had no ranked teams the entire season. It has made them an almost afterthought, but there are a couple of good under the radar teams in the region. Wayne County is chief among those. The Cardinals faded from view early with a 34-20 head scratching loss to Madison Central, but have now won six straight in their 8-2 campaign, which included wins over region contenders Mercer County and Knox Central, as well as a season-ending win over 2A ranked Monroe County. It’s a return to form for the 2013 3A state runners-up, and they (broken record) feature a strong running attack that has averaged over 230 yards per game. Dalton Garner has led the attack with 747 yards on 112 attempts with Michael Lawson backing him up with 510 yards on 87 carries. QB Lorenzo Linsey has thrown when necessary, with 98 yards and 8 TDs. The Cardinals average margin of victory was 21.3 PPG this season, and only Bell County held them below 20 points.

Their chief rival in the region should be Mercer County, which had a very clear “tale of two seasons” type of year. The Titans entered the year having gone just 2-8 the year before, and promptly lost their first five games, results that must have sent panic into the locals. But perhaps the close 21-14 loss to Wayne County was a turning point, as the schedule softened up and they entered district play, winning their final five games to even up their record. The Titans averaged wins of 28.6 PPG down the stretch, and will have home field advantage up to the state finals. For a team that averaged 24.4 PPG, they posted a modest 2,488 yards of total offense through the first nine games. They feature a balanced attack, with a 60/40 split rushing to passing. No player carried it more than 76 times total in the first nine games, and no one topped 443 yards rushing from a team that totaled 1,460 yards on the ground in that span. Donald Smith is the lead back with both of those high totals, 76 rushes for 443 yards and 8 TDs. QB Drew Davis has a paltry 39.3 completion percentage, but is averaging 16.2 yards per completion as he totaled 954 yards and 8 TDs on 59 completions.

Knox Central is the most likely dark horse, and possesses easily the best win of any team in the region, an early season 28-24 victory over Louisville Central, the last loss the 3A power Yellowjackets suffered. Knox Central finished with a 6-4 record, with losses to 6A teams Bryan Station and Henry Clay, 5A ranked Southwestern, and Wayne County in-district. The Panthers are led by Donavan Arthur’s 884 yards on 124 carries, which he has converted for 9 touchdowns. Jaxon Stewart has paced the team with 48/94 passing for 754 yards and 7 TDs. Defensively, LB Jared Hall leads the team with 61 tackles. Other than Louisville Central, Knox Central doesn’t have any real wins of note, but they really don’t need any. They should be the likely opponent for Mercer County in round two, and they’ll be hoping to get another crack at Wayne County in the region finals.

Projected Regional Final: Wayne County 27 Knox Central 20

Region 4

All season long we salivated over the Week 9 matchup between Johnson Central and Ashland, and it did not disappoint. Ashland rolled up a huge offensive advantage, but fell short on the scoreboard 8-7, seemingly securing the 4A favorite status for Johnson Central with Ashland right behind them. Then came Week 10, where Ashland fell 41-22 to an average Tates Creek team while Johnson Central found themselves absolutely PLANTED by 3A #2 Belfry. It was a stunning turn that made South Warren viewed as the overwhelming favorite.

Johnson Central will be hoping they can make everyone gain amnesia as they look to make a run to the state title game. One explanation for their loss to Belfry was the absence of key offensive piece Bryce Workman, their QB that has thrown for 721 yards on just 30 completions and rolled up 433 yards on the ground on 50 attempts. He’s part of a rushing attack that averages nearly 300 yards per game despite no player rushing for more than 580 yards on the season. In all, seven players have rushed for between 100 yards and 600 yards for the Golden Eagles, which did not fail to top 35 points in any game until they combined for just 8 in the last two. They’ll have a favorable road in their first two games before a matchup between what will likely be the Ashland/Scott winner, and if they made it past that, a favorable matchup in the state semifinals. This has been a year Johnson Central has dreamed about for years as they pined for a class away from Highlands, and will hope to keep it from becoming a nightmare that Week 10 implies it could be.

Ashland is the obvious choice as the chief stumbling block for Johnson Central, owing to the close 8-7 decision and the presence of arguably the best running back in the state, Quenton Baker. Baker sat out most of Ashland’s loss to Tates Creek, leaving him at around 1,900 yards on the season entering the playoffs. Last season he nearly single-handedly carried them to a close decision against Highlands, and he ran all over Johnson Central two weeks ago. Ashland averages 33.8 point per game, but their performance without Baker also made it clear – he IS their offense. This is a team that has attempted 53 passes the entire season, and has games where they literally attempt none. Noah Roberts’ 434 yards on 63 carries backs Baker up, but the entire rest of the team combined hasn’t carried it as much as Baker has. As he goes, so goes the Tomcats. They do get a potentially dangerous first round game against Bourbon County before a likely second round matchup with Scott.

Scott is likely the only other serious challenger in the region. The Eagles posted a strong 8-2 record with only losses to 6A Conner and 6A juggernaut Simon Kenton. Scott announced their presence with a strong 8-7 victory over Newport Central Catholic in their opener, and scored 27 points or more in every game afterwards until their closing loss to Simon Kenton. Roberto London leads the Eagles’ ground game with 949 yards on 123 carries, the key player in a ground attack that posted 2,644 rushing yards through nine games. Like most of their brethren on the eastern side, they almost exclusively run, with close to a 70/30 split between ground and aerial. The greatest barrier to them making a run are the two teams above them. Johnson Central and Ashland enter the playoffs as the #2 and #3 teams, meaning Scott would likely have to go through the state’s #1, #2, and #3 teams to win a state crown. A tall task.

Projected Regional Final: Ashland 21 Johnson Central 15

Projected Semi-Final: South Warren 44 Shelby County 7
Projected Semi-Final: Ashland 35 Wayne County 7

Projected Class 4A State Championship: South Warren 35 Ashland 13