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In 2000, Rockcastle County won their first region championship. After years upon years of running headlong into dominant programs from Bell County, to Danville, to Boyle County, the light finally shined on Rockcastle County and they broke through with a 7-6 win over Sheldon Clark. They were summarily dismissed by a machine in Highlands, but the Rockets followed that up with arguably the finest teams in the program’s history, running to 14-1 and 13-2 records in 2001 & 2002, but having the misfortune to (once again) running into Boyle County both years, who swatted away their dreams of a state title. They returned to the state semifinals again in 2005, but that was to be, to date, their last region title. After losing in the region title game to Johnson Central in 2006, the Rockets began a long descent that saw only three winning seasons in the next 10 years, and no trips past the second round. But even though the 2015 campaign saw them exit in the second round yet again and with a losing record in tow, there were signs of life in the once formidable program. Most notably, they twice took Wayne County to the wire, falling 21-13 and 27-24 to a team that would finish 11-3 and likewise fell just short in their attempt to reach the state title game. That led into the 2016 campaign which began on a tear, with a 32-13 loss the only blemish on a 4-1 start that included a 42-14 pasting of Garrard County, which is at current time the #9 ranked team in 3A, as well as a win over Somerset, the #10 ranked team in 2A.

That all led into last Friday night when #7 Rockcastle County lined up against #2 Wayne County again for a crucial district contest. The Rockets had not beaten Wayne County since 2010 and have not won their district since 2011. For them to a realistic chance at the latter goal, they would have to stop the streak from the former. The game was a back and forth classic, with six lead changes and five ties. The Cardinals led at the half 21-14 and 34-28 with just over three minutes left in the game. Rockcastle County rallied, and QB Chayse McClure ran it in himself for the tying score, three yards of his 160 total to lead the Rockets. After a missed PAT sent it into overtime, Holdan Barnett got the rushing score for Rockcastle County, and an INT gave them the sorely needed win, all but guaranteeing a winning season and likely setting up a district title tilt at home on October 21st against Knox Central. Many, myself included, were a bit slow to pick up on Rockcastle’s progress, but there is no hiding them now. The Rockets are a legit player in District 6 and Region 3, and may well be the favorites to finally reclaim region glory a decade past their last dance with it.

Aside from that result, which was easily the game of the week in 4A, most of the rest went according to script. Johnson Central, Franklin-Simpson, Hopkinsville, John Hardin, and Knox Central beat their opponents by a combined 243-7 score, and Franklin-Simpson and Hopkinsville along with idle South Warren moved up at Wayne County’s expense. Spencer County almost had a stunning upset loss to winless North Oldham, winning just 21-13 despite absolutely crushing the Mustangs in the stat book with 328 yards of offense while holding North Oldham to 112. Austin Ashley outgained the Mustangs all by himself with 126 yards rushing on just 13 attempts, and Brandon Leff nearly joined him, adding 105 yards on 9 carries. The Bears will have to contend with Franklin County this week, themselves fresh off putting a scare into Collins, before a likely district title game against Shelby County on the 14th. If there was any other game of note besides the Wayne County/Rockcastle County game, it was #10 Mercer County falling to East Jessamine 30-27. Mercer County has hovered towards the bottom of the ranks, mostly due to their quality efforts in losses, including a 21-7 loss to Central Hardin and a 28-26 loss to Southwestern, a game they led by 21 at one point. That earned them the benefit of the doubt, but now, unlike last year when they had a strong finishing kick to the season, they find themselves in grave danger after a district loss to East Jessamine. The Jaguars were led by QB Kyle Gann (9/14/153, 2 TDs) and RB Aaron Fortenbury (26/109/2) in the winning effort. East Jessamine came from behind in to tie the game at 27 all in the third before going ahead on a field goal with 8 minutes left. This places greater emphasis on upcoming games for both teams. For East Jessamine, they can effectively wrap up the #1 seed if they can knock off Taylor County on the road this Thursday, themselves enjoying the quietest 5-1 season you could have. If Taylor County emerges victorious in that, it creates an opportunity for Mercer County the following week to gain a potential three way tie atop the district – unless West Jessamine really blows me away and throws a wrench in everything. Unexpected results often create fun scenarios – I’m rooting for chaos.

The game of the week this week is only slightly tarnished by Wayne County’s loss, but it is still easily #7 Wayne County at #9 Knox Central. Coming into the year, this was the game everyone expected to decide the district, and while it can no longer claim that on its own, it will obviously still have great repercussions. Knox Central has not lost since September 2nd when they fell to Southwestern 34-20 at Clay County. Since, they have not exactly been impressive, with much closer than anticipated wins over Harlan County and Russell County, as well as a rain shortened tie with Henry Clay to go along with a 41-0 splattering of Clay County. Last season these teams met twice to great hype. The first one was relatively tight in a 35-24 Wayne County win. The second, a surprising 42-14 blowout, was anything but. The Panthers will be looking to notch easily their most impressive win of the year, staying in the hunt for the top of the district standings, and gaining revenge for those losses. For Wayne County, it’s do or die. Lose here, and it’s on the road for the first week of the playoffs they’ll go.