Nothing Upsetting: Favorites Roll
It was clear entering the Semi-Finals that despite fantastic seasons, both teams hosting their respective games had an uphill climb to knock off Mayfield and CAL respectively.
Somerset did everything necessary to give them a fighting chance in the First Half. The Jumpers kept the clock moving and added a pair of Field Goals to only trail 7-6. The game took a drastic turn when Jake Saathoff scooped a fumble and returned it 17 yards for a TD to change to complexion and extend the lead to 14-6 into the break.
The Second Half was all CAL. Milton Wright would post a 34-yard Touchdown run midway into the Quarter and Brandt Babin would score his second Touchdown on the next series on a 45 yard pass play. Babin would finish with 139 rushing yards in addition to the long reception for the score. Somerset would cut the deficit to 28-12, but QB Anthony Sabatino would end any hopes of a comeback with a late 5-yard score to set the final margin, 35-12.
In the Western Semi's, it was Mayfield who advanced to yet another State Championship appearance in their program's illustrious history with a 38-7 win at Walton-Verona. Walton-Verona held the powerful Cardinal Offense in check initially, only allowing a Field Goal through the First Quarter and a Half of football. Unfortunately for the Bearcats, Mayfield's coaching staff made the necessary adjustments moving forward starting with a 34-yard jet sweep to Alonzo Daniel to take a 10-0 lead.
Walton-Verona's last surge of momentum ended after one of their best drives of the night came up short deep in Cardinal territory and ultimately culminated with a turnover on downs. From that point it was all Cardinals. Jaden Stinson would immediately hook-up with Connor Guthrie for a Touchdown Pass on the ensuing drive. Ethan Couch would add a score on a fumble recovery and Stinson would tack on a 16-yard scamper to post an insurmountable 31-0 lead entering the final frame. Kent Trey Matthews would add one last score for the Cardinals as a late running clock began prior to the Bearcats finally hitting the scoring column late.
Five Things Mayfield Must Do to Win
1. Celebrate Diversity- Perhaps the thing that makes the Mayfield Offense so unstoppable is the fact it is a collection of multiple play-makers who take turns changing the game. Two different players can and have thrown passing TD's to nine different receiving threats, and five different players have scored on the ground. Against an elite Defense like CAL it is necessary to spread the love and look for mis-matches.
2. Create Negative Plays- CAL has an Offense fully capable of scoring enough points to win behind their vaunted Defense, but the Centurions have not necessarily been a picture of efficiency. Mayfield needs to keep CAL in 3rd Down situations where the Centurions are asked to have to make a play down the field or dial up an explosive play. The Cardinals have excellent DE's who can make this a reality.
3. Shining Stinson- Jaden Stinson has been absolutely superb throwing for over 3500 yards, 32 TD's, and only 4 INT's. This is par for the course in a Coach Morris system, but what Stinson brings to the the table that is inherently a strong point is his decision making. CAL will bring more pressure and a better secondary than Mayfield has seen all year, it will be vital for Stinson to see the Defense clearly and make the proper checks to avoid any turnovers.
4. Tres... err.... Trey's Leches- Kent Trey Matthews prowess as a top shelf rusher is well known, but what may be his biggest weapon against CAL is his ability to make plays in three different scoring disciplines. Matthews will need to excel as a safety valve and a pass catching Offense to soften the CAL secondary and force their LB's to play sideline to sideline.
Additionally, in a game where explosive plays will come at a premium for both teams, his ability to make a game changing play in Special Teams is equally important.
5. History Doesn't Help Win Games, But Experience Does- Considering many of these CAL players have a State Title ring of their own, you can bet they could care less how many State Titles are in the Mayfield trophy case. With that said, Coach Morris is one of the truly elite in-game coaches and you can bet he will call upon his past to dial up looks and situational football to give CAL eye candy they will not be ale to game plan from on film alone.
Five Things CAL Must Do to Win
1. Wright Now, Wright This Very Moment- There are reasons you limit your's stars touches in the regular season and earlier rounds. You may do it to avoid injury, promote balance, effect the film you have out, etc... but this is the final game of Milton Wright's illustrious career and he will be the best player on the field. Expect a paddock somewhere outside Kroger Field because the Centurions need to saddle their stud.
2. Realize Your Truth- When looking at CAL's recent history one trend is literally undeniable. When CAL wins the battle at the line of scrimmage they win the game. When they lose the line of scrimmage they lose. The teams who have defeated CAL in some instances had better talent, in other instances they just simply outplayed them. CAL's #1 priority is to make sure that if Mayfield wins the L.O.S it isn't from a lack of effort.
3. Can Cardinals Swim?- If CAL gets caught up playing Mayfield's style of game it could be hazardous to CAL's chances. The Centurions need to force the Cardinals to play in unfamiliar and deep water. It may not be fair to expect CAL to totally shut down Mayfield's high-powered Offense, but with the talent and ability of CAL it is fair to assume they can at least focus on taking away one of the things Mayfield does well and force them into having to make substantial adjustments.
4. Role On- Any hope of a CAL win requires Milton Wright changing the game. It is a foregone conclusion. With that said, guys like Brandt & Braeden Babin, Anthony Sabatino, Harrison Zimmerer, Luke Paulson, Jake Saathoff, Justin Howes, James Leeper, Jack Payne, and Nathaniel Clark will need will need to be the steady glue in between Wright's moments of shining brilliance. Protect the football, keep the chains moving, execute, and make the little plays all night on both sides of the ball.If CAL can play a clean game and execute the little things, they will no doubt have a shot.
5. Learn from 2017- Last season's Semi-Finals game won by Mayfield was a competitive game that came down to the little things making the difference. Inability to connect on short and intermediate passing, missed tackles leading to long gains, and a Special Teams unit that failed to create positive momentum. These are the two best teams in Class 2A and arguably two of the top 5 to 7 teams in all of Kentucky. The small things will reign big.