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Class 4A

Region 1

Region 1 may be the most competitive among the top teams of any region in the class. Three teams in the top 5 hail from the region, including the defending state champion South Warren Spartans. Coming into the year, the general impression was that South Warren would simply reload and mow down everyone just as they had done the previous season. And they did reload, just not quite to the same level. The Spartans have put up a solid 7-3 record, but the cracks started to appear immediately, with a lackluster first half against an Apollo team that missed the playoffs, and opened into chasms when Greenwood shocked everyone with a 17-16 win over South Warren in Week 3. The Spartans have rebounded to solid wins over Central Hardin and North Hardin, but have failed to win more than three games in a row this season, as well as suffering their first district loss in four years. The team is still led by senior QB Ryder Litten, who has missed some time at QB with various injuries, but still accounts for over 1700 yards of offense on the year on the ground and through the air. Primary weapons for him include RB Kayron Namvong (129 rushes, 686 yards, 10 TDs) and WR CJ Hayes (31 receptions, 526 yards), each of which has also missed time. The defense is not the force they were last year, allowing almost 20 points a game, and appear to have some vulnerability through the air.

The region favorite that dealt that district loss to South Warren was Franklin-Simpson. The Wildcats just completed their first undefeated regular season since 1975, and were the only Class 4A team to escape without a blemish. The Wildcats have done it with a strong mix of offense (37.9 PPG) and defense (8.8 PPG). Only Hopkinsville gave up less points than Franklin-Simpson, and that was against a schedule where teams combined for 8 less wins than the teams Franklin faced. Only three teams scored more than 7 points against Franklin-Simpson, and only South Warren did it in Franklin, where the Wildcats will open the first three rounds. They’re paced by a trio of talented RBs, headlined by Saul Brady, a junior who has averaged over 10 yards per carry despite also leading the team in carries, and just went over 1,000 yards. Josiah Robey (51 rushes, 632 yards, 8 TDs) and Carlos McKinney (87 rushes, 416 yards, 6 TDs) complete the three headed monster, which is also added to by QB Jackson Caudill (47 rushes, 243 yards, 5 TDs), who has passed for more this season, adding nearly 1,000 yards. It is that passing dimension that enabled them to beat South Warren in their September meeting, and adds the second dimension that could perhaps take the Wildcats all the way to a state title.

Hopkinsville completed their second straight 9-1 season, beating most of their helpless schedule by running clocks. Christian County was the only team the Tigers played that was capable of beating them, and the Colonels went on to take Hopkinsville down, despite being dominated on the stat sheet. The 16 points scored by Hopkinsville were 23 below their next lowest effort, and the 19 points they allowed were the second most on the season. They’ve allowed only 20 points since. The schedule is a reason for concern, but just like last year, they have the crucial dimension that so many 4A teams lack, a passing game. Junior QB Jalen Johnson has continued his stellar play, posting 1,438 yards on 97 completions for a 26:5 TD:INT ratio. Standout Jaxon Janes leads the #1 defense in 4A with over 50 solo tackles, and the Tigers forced 20 turnovers in their first 9 games. The Tigers open with a more dangerous than they look Warren East team, but will have the expected matchup with South Warren in the second round circled. Franklin-Simpson should be waiting on the other side.

Projected Regional Final: Franklin-Simpson 22 Hopkinsville 21

Region 2

Just like last year, the story of this region is the best top to bottom district in the class against the titan of District 3, John Hardin.

Also like last year, Shelby County opens as the favorite, albeit in slightly different circumstances. The Rockets that unenviable position of replacing a pair of 1,000 yard rushers from last year, and early on, it appeared that they might take a step back from the sterling 12-2 campaign they posted in 2015. An opening loss to solid Garrard County gave way to three straight wins before a mind-boggling 56-31 loss to Bullitt East raised eyebrows (since credited as a Rocket win on forfeit due to an ineligible kicker). At that point their stock was the lowest, but they answered by running through District 4 unbeaten, winning each game by at least 26 points and winning by an average of 31 PPG. They closed the regular season with their best win yet, a 33-32 heartstopping victory over previously unbeaten and 5A ranked South Oldham. They have a ton of momentum, entering the postseason on a 5 game (or 9 game depending on how you view the forfeit) win streak, and will not have to leave their homefield unless it is to play in the state finals. They are ground heavy again, with 2,523 rushing yards as a team, led by Caleb Morehead, who has 912 yards on 103 carries, adding 11 touchdowns. Defensively Sr DB Brandon Davis has done excellent work in the secondary with 5 INTs, but the Rockets have allowed over 2,000 yards on the ground defensively. If there’s a worry for the team, that’s it. Shelby County has allowed more than 31 points in a game four times this year.

John Hardin is the most likely team to line up against Shelby County in the region finals, and like usual, has had a strong late season push after a rough go against a tough early season schedule. The Bulldogs began 1-3, with their sole win coming over winless Warren Central. Chief among those losses was a stunning 25-10 loss to North Hardin, in which John Hardin outgained the Trojans by 120 yards, but couldn’t get the ball into the end zone. But they broke out with a strong 14-7 win over Central Hardin in mid-September, and aside from a surprisingly close win over Valley, stabilized right up until Christian County dropped a roof on them in the season finale, a 38-0 road loss. The only consistent thing about John Hardin in recent years is their inconsistency, but also that you can bet on them being ready come the postseason. They won’t see a team like Christian County in their region, and no other team has faced an opponent like Bowling Green. They’re battle tested for certain. As usual, a balanced ground attack leads the Bulldogs. They’ve rushed for over 200 yards per game, with four players amassing more than 200 yards on the year and none more than the 508 yards on 66 carries by Steven Livers. The defense is allowing just over 200 yards per game, but they have allowed 20 or more points in six out of their ten games. They’ll open with Franklin County, just like last year, and likely will host Spencer County in the second round – just like last year.

Spencer County is likely the only team to qualify as a dark horse. The Bears have been maddeningly inconsistent. Their opening loss to Bardstown was completely out of nowhere, after defeating the Tigers by 34 a season ago. They followed that with six straight wins, before another surprising loss to Franklin County, which was followed by a 62-31 pasting by Shelby County, albeit in a game that Spencer County actually led at the half. The talent appears to be there, but it doesn’t always produce the sough after results. Brandon Leff has paced the Bears, averaging over 10 yards per carry while racking up 1,378 yards, which leads class 4A.

Projected Regional Final: Shelby County 42 John Hardin 28

Region 3

Last year for most of the season Region 3 was a bit rough. Then Wayne County made a late run and acquitted themselves well against Johnson Central to raise its stature. This season will require no such runs for us to think well of them, and the #1 reason is Rockcastle County. The Rockets were a revelation this season, riding the momentum of last season’s surge (winning 4 of last 6) to a 9-1 campaign that included wins over Wayne County and Knox Central, both of which were picked over them. The Rockets enter the postseason on a six game win streak, and will be looking to advance past the second round for the first time in a decade. Like most teams in 4A, a strong ground game leads Rockcastle. They’ve churned up almost 2,500 yards rushing, with three different players carrying for more than 400 yards. Chayse McClure leads the way with 97 rushes for 738 yards, an average of 7.6 YPC. Holdan Barnett leads the team in carries and scores, with 113 rushes for 692 yards and 10 TDs. Rockcastle County went over 26 points in seven of their ten games with that powerful offense. They’ll have a slightly more difficult draw than one would expect, with the winner of Mercer County and Knox Central waiting in that second round that Rockcastle is aching to surpass.

If Rockcastle is the A team in the region, Wayne County is the B+ team. Everything was going to plan for the Cardinals, but then they took a 41-34 OT loss to Rockcastle County, on the road, which cost them the district title. It was a back and forth affair that the Cardinals led at both the half and entering the fourth quarter. Then they held on to survive against a tough Knox Central team, 20-16. The defending region champions feature a balanced attack, with about a 60/40 rush/pass split. QB Lorenzo Linsey has thrown for over 1,000 yards and 14 TDs, while adding 54 carries for 200 yards and 5 scores on the ground. Dalton Garner has taken the overwhelming majority of runs for the Cardinals, scoring 16 times on 108 carries for 750 yards. He’s averaging a TD every 6.75 times he carries it – not too shabby. Grant Shoemaker and Stetson Simpson lead the receiving corps with 25 and 23 receptions respectively. The Cardinals defense has been standing strong, allowing 16.6 PPG, holding teams to 6 or less four times on the year. A pair of 7-3 teams in Taylor County and East Jessamine are in their way on the road to the region finals, but with both Rockcastle and Knox Central on the other side, they have to like their chances of at least reaching there.

East Jessamine may be a possible dark horse, with a knack for coming through in the clutch – certainly they have competed in tense games more than anyone else in the region. Seven of their ten games were decided by 6 points or less, and the Jaguars went 5-2 in those games. None were more crucial than their 30-27 and 29-28 wins over Mercer County and Taylor County respectively, which gave them the district crown. RB Aaron Fortenbury is an absolute workhorse, with 251 carries, posting 1,385 yards and 16 TDs on those runs. He enters the postseason #2 in class 4A for rushing yards. They likely will be staring across the field against Wayne County in the second round.

Projected Regional Final: Wayne County 35 Rockcastle County 27

Region 4

What a difference a year makes. Oh, Johnson Central had a great season by almost any measure a year ago. They went 13-2, with both losses coming to the state champions of 3A (Belfry) and 4A (South Warren). But whoa, those losses. After operating as the favorite for most of the year, the Golden Eagles got planted by Belfry, falling 41-0. By the time they met South Warren in the finals, the Spartans were the heavy favorite, and looked like it, winning 36-6. A 13-2 season with the losses coming by an average of 35.5 PPG was not how the script was supposed to go. Well here they are again, sitting at 9-1, off a loss to Belfry. But this year, the loss was by 5 (21-16), in a game that saw the Golden Eagles squander several great chances in the red zone. That’s not a good thing, but still speaks to the progress Johnson Central has made. The wins are better as well, with a 27 point blasting of LexCath and a 17 point win over Capital, WV headlining the schedule. Johnson Central has scored 30 points or more in eight of their games, and allowed more than 8 points in just three. This year, they appear primed headed into the playoffs. RB Joe Jackson is a huge reason for that success. Operating as the primary back, the sophomore carried the ball 93 times through 9 games, posting 1,186 yards and 17 TDs on those carries. When you average 12.75 YPC, that’s a doggone good stat line. Three other Golden Eagles have topped 300 yards on the season, with two more over 200. They have rushing weapons everywhere, and without a dedicated, lights out run stopper in the way, it seems to indicate positive vibes for Johnson Central’s chances. The fact that they have homefield until the state finals sure doesn’t hurt either.

Ashland found life without Quenton Baker a bit challenging early on, and they weren’t really on the rankings radar after an 0-2 start (albeit against good competition), which was part of a 1-5 stretch spanning the end of last season. But they responded with six straight wins, and aside from a blowout loss to Johnson Central, they haven’t fallen again. That includes dealing Russell their only loss of the season, and avenging a surprising loss from last season, entering the playoffs on the right foot with a win over Tates Creek. QB Braxton Ratliff has been the primary offensive weapon, posting just over 1,800 yards combined through eight games, throwing for 12 TDs and running for 8. The team has achieved an even 50/50 split, a perfectly balanced offensive attack. But their 43-6 loss to Johnson Central does throw into sharp relief their chances of actually escaping the region.

No other team in the region really qualifies as a dark horse. No team in District 7 posted a better record than 5-5, including district champion Bourbon County, which saw four of their five wins come within the district. It’s the Johnson Central and Ashland show, and let’s be honest – it’s the Johnson Central show.

Projected Regional Final: Johnson Central 49 Ashland 14

Projected Semi-Final: Franklin-Simpson 28 Shelby County 21
Projected Semi-Final: Johnson Central 28 Wayne County 14

Projected Class 4A State Championship: Johnson Central 27 Franklin-Simpson 21