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Region I (District 1 vs. District 2)

On paper, this is the most loaded region in 5A. Three of the top seven teams in this class call R1 home. South Warren, Bowling Green, and Owensboro are all worthy of a deep playoff run, but only one will survive long enough to see it happen. In fact, one of them is assured of a disappointing second round exit. Two of the most highly anticipated rematches of the season in 5A are a distinct possibility within this region, and the outcome of the first one will decide if the second even comes to pass. But before we get caught up in being presumptuous, let's take a look at the first round pairings.

District champions Owensboro (8-2) and South Warren (10-0) will host Greenwood (2-8) and Apollo (5-5), respectively. Neither team's starters should see much action in the 2nd halves of those games. Apollo began the year with much promise and a 4-0 start before dropping four straight and falling to the #4 seed in D1. Bowling Green (8-2), the #2 seed from D2 will play host to a familiar playoff foe, Christian County (4-6). The Purples have won four straight postseason meetings (six straight overall) versus the Colonels, dating back to 2012. Don't expect that streak to end this season. The Purples may be licking their wounds right now, but they've got more than enough in the tank to handle Christian County. The other two seed vs. three seed game features Graves County (5-5) hosting Grayson County (7-3). This should easily be the most competitive of the first round games in this region. The Eagles recovered from a 1-4 start to put themselves in position for a district title, but got dusted by Owensboro, 47-6. The Cougars are enjoying a resurgent season where they’ve won more games this year than the previous three combined. Graves County is the far more battle tested team with a tougher non-district schedule. That sort of thing tends to show up this time of year. The Eagles’ schedule strength should pay off for them in a game like this.

South Warren should lay waste to its second round opponent, but the crystal ball is very cloudy in regards to the outcome of the BG/Owensboro rematch. The regular season meeting resulted in a 21-12 Purples victory. Owensboro's running game was of little consequence then. They ran their way to victory over Graves County a couple of weeks ago, showing the ability to get it done on the ground when they want to. This time around, Will Warren's arm, the legs of Imonte Owsley and Trevon Green, and the Red Devils’ offensive line will power them to the upset victory. These two teams have experienced different paths since that first game. Owensboro is rolling, while BG absorbed two humbling losses in October. Psychologically, Owensboro has to be in a better place right now.

South Warren looks like a team destined for bigger things than district and regional championships, the latter of which they would host. Owensboro appears to possess the weapons capable of causing SW fits. The Red Devils might make South Warren play four quarters, but ultimately the Spartans prevail behind their suffocating defense and the playmaking of Cameron Harrison and Clayton Bush.

Projected Region I Final: South Warren 35 Owensboro 21

Region II (District 3 vs. District 4) - Winner hosts Semi-final

South Oldham (9-1) enters the playoffs as the slight favorite in R2, due in part to their victory over district and county rival Oldham County. The Dragons have ripped off nine straight wins since the season opening loss to CAL. The only real challenge they've faced in the subsequent weeks was the aforementioned 23-17 win over Oldham County. The Colonels matched their intra-county rival with a mark of 9-1. In the opposite district, Fern Creek (6-4) weathered a rugged pre-district schedule and came out on other side all the better for it. They ran roughshod over their district opponents by an average score of 40-6. There were no world beaters in D4, but the Tigers enter the postseason with a mountain of momentum behind them.

One seeds South Oldham (vs. Fairdale) and Fern Creek (vs. Bullitt East) should dispatch their first round opponents without any trouble. The same could be said for Oldham County, who hosts D4 #3 seed Doss (3-7). The Dragons possess some elite individual talent, but have severely underachieved this year. The last first round game in Region II is a rematch between Southern (4-6) and Bullitt Central (6-4). The Cougars handled the Trojans 40-14 back in Week 2. Despite the seeding, it wouldn't really be an upset if Bullitt Central hung a second loss on Southern.

Bullitt Central got caught up in a dizzying tornado of offense versus South Oldham a couple of weeks ago. The Dragons erupted for 70 points and nearly 600 yards in that game. So, it's not likely that anyone will stand in SO's path to a fourth consecutive regional championship game. The other regional semi-final, however, should be very competitive. Both Oldham County and Fern Creek have been playing well of late. And the Tigers saw the return of talented running back Anthony Teague a couple of weeks ago. You know the Colonels would love another shot at South Oldham, but the return of Teague and the fact that the game is at FC, will put the Tigers over the top in a nail biter.

That leaves us with a rematch of the 2015 region final between South Oldham and Fern Creek. The Tigers took that one by a point. This time around, the Dragons go to Louisville and breathe a little fire. South Oldham is simply too disciplined and doesn't beat themselves.

Projected Region II Final: South Oldham 38 Fern Creek 20

Region III (District 5 vs. District 6)

The 1st Round slate in R5 is relatively cut and dry. One seed Covington Catholic (10-0) should have the clock rolling on Woodford County (2-8) no later than the 2nd quarter. Ditto for 2nd seeded Highlands (8-2) over Madison Southern (2-8). Dixie Heights (1-9) is far more battle tested than first round opponent and host Montgomery County (8-2). But Pharoah Davis, Justin Korossy, and Josh Wheaton should propel the Indians to victory with only a little resistance. And D6 champ Anderson County (10-0) has a 1st Round bye.

Montgomery’s likely trip to Park Hills for the second round should turn ugly real quick. But the Anderson County/Highlands regional semi-final could be interesting, at least for a little while. No one has been able to slow down the Bearcats on offense this year. They've topped 40 points seven times this season, but they haven't seen anyone near the level of the Birds. Charles Collins and Brennon Maxberry have developed into a strong 1-2 punch out of the backfield, but QB Jagger Gillis will need to make plays with his arm in order for Anderson to hang around and make Highlands sweat. Ultimately, Highlands’ desire for another crack at CovCath will be too much for Anderson County to overcome.

So, here we are. The rematch that NKY is clamoring for. Covington Catholic versus Highlands Part II. The first go round was a tight affair that the Birds had an opportunity to tie late in the 4th, but a long, would be TD pass wasn't in the cards. The question is, has Highlands really closed the gap that much, or did they catch their archrival on an off night after so many consecutive “on nights”? Either way, Coach Eviston has earned the benefit of the doubt for his ability to game plan. The Birds had their chance a few weeks ago. And they swung hard, but missed. The Colonels will swing harder in the sequel, and connect on enough power punches to put the Birds away this time.

Projected Region III Final: Covington Catholic 35 Highlands 17

Region IV (District 7 vs. District 8) - Winner hosts Semi-final

Perhaps no region has deviated from the script like this one. Southwestern (8-2) was the preseason favorite in D7. And Harlan County, last year's surprise R4 champion, wasn't on many people's radar to win D8, especially after their 0-4 start. But as it stands, the Black Bears are your D8 champs, and we have no clear favorite in Region IV after Pulaski County (8-2) invaded the Reservation and took the D7 title from the Warriors.

Harlan County (4-6) is now in position to potentially stay at home through the semi-finals, as long as they keep winning. Their postseason quest begins versus South Laurel (5-5). This is the likeliest candidate for a 4 over 1 upset in 5A. The Cardinals looked good early on, winning four of their first five games. But they came unraveled down the stretch, losing four in a row at one point. Harlan County got their act together enough to win the weakest district in 5A, but they're hardly a team to feel confident about. Having displayed the better form in the back half of the season, and the fact that it's at HC, the Black Bears get it done in a tight one. The other 1v4 matchup pits Pulaski County against Whitley County (3-7). The red hot Maroons should roll behind the arm of Wiley Cain. And Southwestern should have little trouble with visiting Perry County Central (8-2), as the great career of Jayden Neace comes to a close. Two seed Letcher County Central (5-5) hosting Lincoln County (6-4) could go down to the wire, but the Patriots’ tougher schedule will have them better prepared for the postseason.

Pulaski was pushed hard by Lincoln County in their regular season meeting. The Maroons’ offense was ineffective in the 2nd half and allowed the Patriots to make a game of it in the 4th quarter. Look for Pulaski, in their current form, to put away Lincoln this time around. The other region semi is a rematch of last year's R4 championship where Harlan County pulled the upset over Southwestern. No dice for HC this time, as Southwestern makes short work of the Black Bears.

That leaves us with a rematch between Southwestern and Pulaski County for a spot in the state semis. Wiley Cain (352 passing yards) had a field day versus the Warriors on October 19th. And with the way Southwestern ended its regular season, you've got to wonder where their confidence level is currently at. The game will be tight again, but the outcome the same.

Projected Region IV Final: Pulaski County 28 Southwestern 24

State Semi-finals

South Oldham's running game has been humming along to the tune of nearly 300 yards per game this season. Fullback Keaton Martin has led the way with 1,178 yards and 16 TDs. His low center of gravity and tremendous lower body strength make him difficult to bring down on first contact. The Dragons don't throw it much, but when they do air it out, it's usually a big play to either Ethan Bednarczyk or JT Benson. QB Anthony Pierce has only completed 31 passes this season, but those throws have gone for 721 yards and 9 TDs against just one interception. South Oldham is a very well coached, fundamentally sound football team. But they haven't seen anything like South Warren in a while. The Spartans’ collection of talent on both sides of the ball will present a stiff challenge. SW's defensive front seven should be able to neutralize South Oldham's ground game enough to force them to throw the ball to win, which is not their strength. If the Spartans can find some balance on offense with Gavin Spurrier’s arm and Cameron Harrison's legs, they should create some distance between themselves and the Dragons.

Projected Semi-final: South Warren 35 South Oldham 19

Whoever CovCath encounters in the semi-finals, it should be all Colonels, all night. Pulaski has a great quarterback with a great target to throw to. But there's been very little balance between the pass and the run this year. Covington Catholic's front seven would likely have its way with any offensive line coming out of Region IV. Conversely, CovCath should be able to move the ball at will against someone like Pulaski, who has the worst scoring defense (25.6) of anyone that cracked the top 10 this season. Expect a semi-final rout for the defending champions.

Projected Semi-final: Covington Catholic 48 Pulaski County 14

State Championship Game

Let's roll back the clock to August. If you didn't think Covington Catholic would rep the east at Kroger Field, chances are you resided in Fort Thomas. Most people expected the Colonels back in Lexington. But the west was a little more congested at the top. Bowling Green occupied the position of western favorite early on. But as the season wore on, South Warren appeared to assume the role of co-favorite before putting the Purples squarely behind them on October 19th. This would be the best possible championship game fans could ask for. The Spartans possess the top scoring offense and defense in 5A. CovCath ranks in the top 5 in both. Each team can boast a future golden domer. Both coaches own championship rings. And over the course of the regular season, they put together the two best resumes in the class.

Some key match-ups to watch out for - How would Lacey fare against the best offensive line he's seen all year? How much of a factor would the size advantage that CovCath's receivers have over SW's secondary be? Would Spurrier's cool, steady hand give the senior QB an edge over sophomore Caleb Jacob on the biggest stage?

Projected State Finals: Covington Catholic 27 South Warren 21