Class 4A Notebook (8/28): The Defense Begins
While much of 4A’s rankings crashed and burned a week ago, Johnson Central enjoyed their usual “Week 0” bye week and took it all in from high atop their 4A summit. Last year’s defending champions did not enter with an overly long win streak thanks to a regular season loss to Belfry, but did enter with wins in their opening game of every season since falling to Boyle County in the 2010 season opener. For that matter, Johnson Central has not lost before the last game of the regular season in any season since 2012. So there was a pretty good chance that Matney’s Golden Eagles squad would come out strong, and they didn’t disappoint. Johnson Central jumped out to a 19-0 lead minutes into the second quarter against Capital, the #2 team in West Virginia. While Capital closed to 19-14 at the half, Johnson Central pushed it back to 31-14 before settling in for a 31-20 victory. Blake Gamble did the bulk of the damage for the Golden Eagles, amassing 108 yards on the ground on 25 carries, adding in two touchdowns. Dawson Stalker added one of the biggest plays of the game on defense, recovering a fumble in the end zone to stake Johnson Central to that early 19-0 lead. Superstar RB Joe Jackson averaged nearly 10 yards per carry on seven rushes for 66 yards, but exited with what has been said to be a knee hyperextension. That Johnson Central managed a double digit victory over Capital without the services of Jackson for much of the game says just about everything right there. So long as reevaluation doesn’t find Jackson to have a more significant injury, the Golden Eagles should be full speed ahead and well on their way to steamrolling their competition all year.
Two other top five games stood out this week. Last week the tilt between #5 Mercer County and Franklin County was made our game of the week, and the action lived up to that billing. Franklin County entered this year just 5-11 in their last 16 games, but opened the year with a solid win over Western Hills. The Flyers looked to keep that momentum rolling, and jumped out to a 25-7 lead early in the third quarter, aided at the end of the first half by a hook and ladder play where Thurman found a receiver who pitched it back to Simmons who took it the rest of the way for a 42 yard score. Mercer County had earlier scored on some trickeration themselves, as Mr. Everything Trevon Faulkner took a fake reverse and threw a 40 yard touchdown pass to Aaron Johnson, but found themselves down 18 with 10 minutes left in the third. But they showed why they are the #5 team in the class, denying the Flyers a second win with 28 unanswered, scoring on every possession for the rest of the game. The capstone was provided on a 4th and Goal one yard touchdown run by Bryson Yeast. Mercer County’s Trevon Faulkner had a passing touchdown, receiving touchdown, and an interception in the effort, while Gunnar Gillis threw for 175 yards on 13/20 passing. Jesse Thurman was a standout for Franklin County, with 212 yards passing for two scores as well as 16 rushes for 62 yards and a score. Tre Simmons added three catches for 161 yards and two scores in the losing effort.
But while that was the “look forward” game that turned out well, the best game of the week belonged to Wayne County and Pulaski County. Pulaski County isn’t quite the same team that has marched to four straight 5A title games – winning one title – but they are still quite formidable with Wiley Cain at quarterback. The two teams answered each other punch for punch, with two ties at 7-7 and 13-13 (halftime), before five second half lead changes that saw Wayne County take the lead with just over 40 seconds remaining in the game when QB Lorenzo Linsey called his own number for the winning score. The final drive covered 53 yards in a little over 2:30. Linsey and Weaver were the difference for Wayne County, with Linsey putting up a line of 19/33 for 241 and 2 touchdowns in addition to 10 rushes for 54 yards and the winning score on the ground, while Aubrey Weaver reeled in 10 receptions for 125 yards and a score. The effort further cemented Wayne County as the clear stalking horse to Johnson Central, and aside from their September 8th trip to Boyle County, will be certain favorites in each matchup for the rest of the year.
Other games of note:
-Franklin-Simpson bounced back from their loss to Elizabethtown with a 48-0 drubbing of Monroe County. The Wildcats returned to their bread and butter, with 244 yards on the ground, led by Carlos McKinney’s 96 yards.
-Ashland had the strongest bounceback effort, avenging their 2016 loss with a 14-0 shutout win over 1A #6 Raceland. By all accounts the offensive and defensive lines were much more stable than in their opening week loss, a key need for the Tomcats.
-Greenup County continued their solid program momentum with a 34-28 overtime win against Russell, the #7 team in 3A. The game yo-yo’d with Greenup County jumping out to a 14-0 lead before Russell roared back for a 20-14 advantage entering the fourth quarter. Greenup scored two touchdowns to jump up 28-20 before Russell forced the extra session. After a blocked Russell field goal, Greenup County got the win on a corner touchdown pass. While almost every game has been a one score affair, it was the first win for Greenup County over Russell since 2010.
-Western had the most impressive loss of the night, falling just 13-12 to an always strong Central team, our #4 team in 3A. Central entered fresh off a win over 6A ranked Manual, but Western staked a 6-0 lead at the half and scored halfway through the third on an offensive fumble recovery in the end zone on 4th and 1 to take the 12-0 lead. Central scored back to back touchdowns in the fourth quarter while forcing two interceptions to claim a narrow 13-12 victory, but it was more notice that Western is ready to be a force. Their schedule is absolutely brutal, but they are not to be overlooked.
Upcoming Game of the Week
Tough call this week as we still don’t have any intra-4A matchups from the top 10 happening, but perhaps the best game will be #4 Franklin-Simpson heading to take on 5A #8 South Warren. The two had been district rivals the last two years, squaring off in each of the last two 4A Region 1 finals with the winner going on to play for the state title. There is not much distance between the two schools, and probably even less love lost between the two. South Warren has risen higher much faster this year than what was expected, and will likely enter as home favorites. It’s a chance for the Wildcats to fully wipe away the memory of their loss to Elizabethtown.
Director of Football Operations
Great article @DragonFire
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