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Much like Thanos – this was inevitable.

When the season began, Boyle County and Johnson Central were pegged as 1 & 2, and though the chairs behind them were filled by different teams from time to time as the season went on, those two never budged and remained on a collision course. Last Friday did nothing to change that.

We were, however, treated to a rare event not seen this season – Boyle County received a little push. The #1 Rebels hosted #9 Central in a game many thought we’d see in the 3A finals last year, but Corbin crashed that party. Boyle County entered the game having not played a game decided by less than 30 points all season. It became clear right away that this would not be as easy as those, as Central actually held Boyle County to a scoreless tie in the first quarter, then took a 6-0 lead just seconds into the second quarter on a Vernon Duncan QB keeper on 4th and inches, completing a 96 yard drive. But that would prove to be the highlight of the night for the Yellow Jackets. After the Rebels took the lead on the ensuing possession, Duncan was knocked from the game and stretchered off the field. Reese Smith would haul in a 24 yard touchdown pass on 3rd and 13 at the quarter’s midpoint to provide a 14-6 margin at the half. That lead was extended to 24-6 entering the final quarter before a Hathaway 56 yard run and subsequent two point conversion made it 24-14. McDaniel would slam the door shut for Boyle County with a 42 yard touchdown run with just under 8 minutes left, providing the final 31-14 margin. It was an admirable effort from the Yellow Jackets, worthy of their championship pedigree. They held Boyle County to 379 yards of offense, and believe me, with how the Rebels have played, I mean it when I say the “held” them to that. Hathaway led the Yellow Jackets with 90 yards rushing on 8 attempts, as along with Duncan, the two QBs accounted for all of Central’s scoring. Reed Lanter threw just his third INT on the season in the game, but was still 11/18 for 187 yards and two scores for the Rebels. Will McDaniel carried a heavy workload with 190 yards and two scores on 25 rushes, while Reese Smith kept up his stellar play with four receptions for 102 yards and a score. It was just the fifth time all year that Boyle County allowed more than 7 points to an opponent, and one of only two games where they did not gain the running clock. It was a strong tune-up for the championship to come.

Things were much more business-as-usual for #2 Johnson Central. The Golden Eagles were all over #7 Madisonville from the jump, racing out to a 21-0 lead after the first quarter and 29-7 at the half. The Maroons were never closer than two scores from there (after a score to open the third quarter to make it 29-14), and ultimately Johnson Central scored 23 straight to close the game out and gain yet another running clock. On the year, they have played only two games that didn’t feature a running clock margin, and none of those have come since September. Devin Johnson was looking to make a statement in the contest, posting 280 yards on 21 attempts with two scores as he squared off with one of the best rushers in the state on the other side of the field in Jeriah Hightower. Johnson won the contest on the scoreboard and in the statbook. Dillon Preston had a strong game as well, with 11 carries for 114 yards and a score. For Madisonville, Jeriah Hightower did have a strong game with 184 yards on the ground on 31 punishing attempts, but failed to find the end zone. He closed his career with 6,343 yards, good enough to enter the top 20 on the all-time rushing list. He crossed the 3,000 yard threshold against Johnson Central, finishing with 3,001 on the season, a top ten all-time effort in the state and the record for the proud Maroon program. Madisonville’s all-time leading rusher will be missed, both by the program and by those lucky enough to watch him.

That leaves us with #1 Boyle County squaring off with #2 Johnson Central. For Johnson Central, it is their fifth straight state title game appearance, but they’re seeking just their second title during that run. For Boyle County, they return to the title game after failing to make it in an upset in 2018 – they won the 2017 3A title. The Rebels are winners of 39 of their last 40 games and take a perfect 14-0 record into the contest. Johnson Central has won 27 of their last 28 games and are also a perfect 14-0 for the first time in school history – their 14 straight wins are a school record. The game will feature two contrasting styles. Johnson Central has rushed for over 4,000 yards this season, led by Devin Johnson and his 12.45 YPC along with a touchdown on every 6.5 attempts. Riley Preece has been economical in completing 74% of his passes, but only attempting 65 on the season. Meanwhile, no Rebel has rushed for more than 827 yards this season, but Reed Lanter has emerged as one of the top quarterbacks in the state in a pass-heavier attack for Boyle County. Lanter is 161/220 for 2,977 yards on the year. He has thrown only three interceptions against 39 touchdowns. Reese Smith is a stud at WR, with 1,353 yards receiving – he has a touchdown on every 2.7 of his 51 receptions for 19 this season. There will be stars all over the field and two dominant programs squaring off – I highly recommend you find your way to Kroger Field to take it in. As for a prediction, my playoff preview had it Boyle County 35 Johnson Central 21 – I think I’ll stick with it, but a flipped result would not be the most surprising thing ever.