A year ago, Johnson Central was our preseason #1 team, and held that position for the first nine weeks. For nine weeks we had them pegged as the class favorites – then came Belfry. That made clear a truth that we had long denied, that South was the clear class of 4A, and then they backed it up in the state title game. But that was last year. This year, Johnson Central is on a similar, but even more impressive track. After opening with a victory over Capital High, the #2 ranked team in West Virginia, they doubled up Lexington Catholic 54-7, before notching another out of state victory over South Charleston last week, 30-6. As usual, a powerful ground attack leads the way, as the Golden Eagles are averaging nearly 400 yards per game rushing. Joe Jackson leads the way with 386 yards on 49 carries, while freshman Cody Rice has an eye popping 17 YPC on his 12 carries thus far, notching 204 yards. The offense is still fairly one-dimensional, but that may not be the problem it was last year as South Warren’s defense, while still formidable, is not the lights out run stopper it was. One issue that may hurt Johnson Central is the relative lack of opposition they will face between now and October 28th’s rematch with Belfry, so it remains to be seen just how different this year will be from last. But one thing is almost certain – Johnson Central is your #1 team from now until then.
Speaking of South Warren, the deposed #1 needed a statement following their stunning loss to Greenwood, and they got it, via a 27-20 OT win over 6A #10 Central Hardin. During the week all the talk was about the myriad of injuries the Spartans had suffered, and would they be able to overcome the Bruins that were out to avenge a loss last season. Rider Lytten ultimately was able to go for the Spartans, and turned in a solid 11/18/134 line through the air, spreading out the ball to six different receivers in the absence of Hayes. Central Hardin ultimately outgained South Warren by five yards, but their regulation comeback was thwarted by a fumble in overtime, allowing the Spartans to escape with a needed win. They’ll have another difficult 6A opponent in North Hardin before they’ll visit Franklin-Simpson on September 23.
As for Franklin-Simpson, they had easily the game of 4A last week, taking on 5A #4 Greenwood, fresh off that victory over Sparta. The game did not disappoint, as Franklin raced out to a 17-7 lead, but appeared to falter late, as Greenwood took a 20-17 lead with 2 minutes left. Enter a crazy ending, as a sure interception in the end zone by Malcolm Johnson bounced off his hands up in the air, and into the waiting arms of Hunter Janes, who had not given up on the play. The crazy finish gave the Wildcats a 24-20 win, and continued to announce this year is different. Franklin-Simpson is now 4-0 for the first time since 1996’s 5-0 start.
Two more results of note were Mercer County’s narrow 28-26 loss to 5A #8 Southwestern, and Rockcastle County’s thunderous 42-14 win over 3A #5 Garrard County. Mercer County jumped up on the Warriors 20-6 by halftime, by could not hold the lead in the third quarter, giving up 22 straight points before getting a chance at a tie but failing on the two point conversion. Despite the loss, it adds to a decent starting resume, with wins over Anderson County and Bell County bookended by good efforts against Central Hardin and Southwestern. They’ll get formidable Wayne County this week, but look good to win out from there. Meanwhile, Rockcastle County continued a resurgent season, jumping out to 3-0 by plastering Garrard County. It’s the first 3-0 start in five years for the Rockets, and the win over Garrard County bodes well, given that the Golden Lions had already knocked off Shelby County earlier in the year. Junior Holden Barnett is off to a tremendous start for Rockcastle, with 256 yards and 3 TDs on 34 carries to key the rushing attack. A challenging three weeks awaits with a visit to Pulaski County followed by a homestand against Somerset and Wayne County, but the Rockets are proving that last season’s surge was no fluke. In all, Rockcastle has won 7 of its last 9 games.
This week’s best game inside of 4A is the aforementioned Wayne County/Mercer County tilt, a rare inter-district matchup. A year ago, the Cardinals won by the skin of their teeth 21-14, kicking off a 9 game winning streak, while the Titans launched into a six game winning streak of their own. The two represent a potential region final matchup if everything shakes out right, giving us a mid-September postseason treat. But probably the best game, and almost certainly most intriguing, is #5 Hopkinsville against 5A #2 Christian County. The Tigers have been remarkably consistent this year, averaging 42.5 PPG while scoring between 41-44 points in each game. Most of it has come across a weak schedule, though their 44-22 win over Graves to opens the year stands out. No one else left on their schedule has a prayer, so this is all that stands between them and an undefeated season. Hopkinsville has beaten the Colonels just once in the past 8 seasons, and Christian County is no pushover again this year. Jalen Johnson has thrown 16 touchdowns in just four games, while both Stephen Cager and CJ Henangan have reeled in 7 TD receptions apiece. They have a very formidable, balanced attack, with just 18 yards passing more than rushing thus far. They have one of the most diverse and experienced attacks in the entire class. Now we get to see what it can do against an opponent with some teeth.