Class 4A Playoff Preview
A year ago Region 1 was tabbed as one of the most competitive in the state. Last year entering the playoffs, three teams in the region were rated in the top 5. It is in some respects still quite competitive, so long as you’re talking about below the top team. Franklin-Simpson enters the playoffs as defending region champions and last year’s state runners-up, toting a #5 rating in 4A. The Wildcats started the year rough, getting their doors blown off in the second half by Elizabethtown and getting running clocked by South Warren. But after starting 2-3 (which included a very close loss to 6A Meade County), they haven’t lost again, reeling off five in a row to enter the postseason. None were closer than 16 points, and they won their district games by an average of nearly 35 points per game. As with each year, the running game has led the way for Franklin and their Wing-T attack. With over 3,000 yards on the ground, they have the second most rushing yards in 4A. Tre Bass provides the most explosiveness, leading the team with 1,005 rushing yards on just 63 attempts, and nine TDs. Carlos McKinney is the workhorse at fullback, nearly rushing for more attempts than Bass and Saul Brady combined at 141 attempts for 935 yards. His 12 scores lead the team. Saul Brady hasn’t been asked to do as much as in the past, but still averages nearly 8.5 YPC with 718 yards on 85 attempts. Rylan Thomas has settled in at QB after a rough start, but isn’t asked to do much through the air. He’s attempted just 65 passes. The Wildcat defense isn’t up to the same level as last year’s attack, and the key to their success appears to be 20 points. They’ve won every game when holding opponents below that level. They’ve lost all three when they failed to. Both South Warren and Elizabethtown found success through the air against Franklin, with almost 40% of their season total allowed coming in those games. Something to keep your eye on down the road should they meet Collins in the semis.
Behind Franklin there is a jumble of teams looking to contend. Logan County is the story most are familiar with, and are the only other ranked team from the region. At 10-0, what more needs to be said about their remarkable turnaround? Frequently doubted, they have found a way to win at every turn, pulling out heartstopping last second wins against Madisonville and Hopkinsville to win their district. Gary Hardy has accounted for over half of their rushing yardage on the year with 1,098 yards and 10 touchdowns, with Tyler Ezell has averaged almost 150 yards per game through the air with 16 touchdown completions. They’ll likely face the winner of Warren East/Hopkinsville, two very even teams that are the most likely to challenge Franklin-Simpson. Warren East hung tough with Franklin for just over half, holding a 7-3 advantage at the break and a 14-10 lead during the third, but were blown out from there. The Raiders took a big blow earlier in the year losing quarterback Dwayne Cook to injury, but freshman Nolan Ford has performed admirably, keeping up enough of a passing threat, and hitting short passes to his talented playmakers. Caleb Huskey (29 receptions, 781 yards, 9 TDs), Thomas Maxey (131 rushes, 839 yards, 6 TDs), and Trevor Naftel (130 rushes, 819 yards, 7 TDs) are the names to know on offense, and Isaiah Boards has continued his stellar play from the linebacker position on defense. For Hopkinsville, they’ve bounced back with three straight wins after disappointing losses to Madisonville and Logan County, but ultimately are likely going to be a very talented longshot after the offseason losses they suffered. Bland has stepped up at QB with 1,455 yards passing and 11 TDs, but the rushing game has been nonexistent. The Tigers showed off their strength in a 31-6 blowout of Greenwood last week, and are capable of some damage. Allen County-Scottsville and Madisonville-North Hopkins will play for the right to face Franklin-Simpson, but like the others, will be considered longshots to take them down.
Projected Regional Final: Franklin-Simpson 35 Warren East 13
The faces have changed some as Region 2 is District 4 and District 5 this year. Gone is the John Hardin district – enter East Jessamine. What hasn’t changed from a year ago is that District 4 has the favorite for this region. In fact, the entire side is expected to run through #4 Collins. The Titans have looked the part from the jump in Week 1, dominating Madison Southern 38-7, who is rated in the top ten of 5A. Aside from a close 34-28 loss to Ballard and a blowout by Boyle County (no shame), Collins has rarely been challenged. Oldham County is the only other team to come within single digits of Collins, and they rolled up their district mates by an average of 34 points per game. JR Lucas is back for his eighth year at QB (really the fourth), and has been extremely efficient, with a touchdown pass on 1 of just under every 10 attempts, and a shade under 1 out of every 5 completions. He has thrown only five INTs against 21 touchdowns. He also has led the team in rushing with 865 yards on 185 attempts, which also counts sacks, so he likely would be at or around 1,000 yards without it. There’s not many teams more reliant on a single guy, but they will rise and fall on Lucas’s golden arm and legs. Nick Eades has been a monster in the linebacking corps, with 49 solos and 112 total tackles. The Titan defense has given up 32 points combined in their last five games entering the playoffs, and look primed for their first region title since their state title run in 2013.
Like Region 1, there’s not really another team considered to be a significant challenge to the favorite. No other team is ranked, though several have had their moments in the top 10. East Jessamine is the champion of district five, and enters the playoffs on a four game winning streak, including a clutch streak against Mercer County (three point margin), Taylor County (8), and rival West Jessamine (5). Of course, the other side of clutch means that they were extremely close to being out of this position entirely. The Jaguars favor a rushing attack, led by workhorse Connor Hearn (142 rushes, 650 yards, 6 touchdowns) and Storm Wilson (75 rushes, 518 yards, 3 touchdowns). The Jaguars have actually been outscored on the season, scoring 224 points against 242 allowed. Franklin County will be their likely opponent in the region semifinals, but have yet to win (or lose) two straight games this season. They put up a surprisingly dominant 30-3 win over Shelby County on September 22nd, and are led by 1,000 yard passer Jesse Thurman, who also was their rushing leader through eight games. They’ll have the extra motivation of a revenge game against Mercer County, who knocked them off 35-25 in a neutral site game in the second week of the season. Shelby County likely carries the most potential of any threat to Collins, having come the closest by margin in a 38-19 loss. The Rockets started the year 6-2 before losing their last two games. One issue is that when they lose, they lose BIG. Their 19 point loss to Collins actually qualifies as their closest margin in a loss, with other losses of 27, 42, and 45 points. They remain an exclusively ground attack, with Caleb Morehead notching 1,016 yards and 12 touchdowns. But still, barring something completely unforeseen, this is Collins’ region to lose.
Projected Regional Final: Collins 41 East Jessamine 14
In contrast to the first two regions, Region 3 probably has the feeling of a completely wide open region, albeit one with a clear favorite. With cross bracketing, District 3 will meet up against District 6, where District 6 will operate as likely heavy favorites.
It all starts at the top with #1 Wayne County. The Cardinals have ably navigated to a 9-1 record, good enough for second best in all of 4A. Their only loss was to potential 3A champion Boyle County, in a 38-14 beatdown on the road. Wayne County has two of the more impressive out of class wins this year, knocking off last year’s 5A runner-up Pulaski County 29-27 in the second week of the year, and last week dropping a surging Madison Southern team 24-14. But it was in district play where they made their biggest statements, blowing the doors off Rockcastle County (27-0) and Knox Central (51-28), both of whom remain in the top 10 of 4A. Most years Wayne County features stellar quarterback play and Lorenzo Linsey continues that tradition. His air raid attack has accounted for 2,182 yards and 24 touchdowns. Stetson Simpson has been his most prolific receiver with 12 touchdowns and 880 yards, while Aubrey Weaver has been his chain mover with 44 grabs. German Ruiz’s 830 yards rushing provide some offensive balance, but it is the air attack that is the bread winner. Clay Shelton’s 62 solo tackles and Bryce Howard’s 6 interceptions lead a defense allowing just over 17 PPG. They open with Valley before a likely angle with Rockcastle County in the second round.
A trio of teams are considered the likely challengers to Wayne County. First off is Western, a team that has truly been forged in the flame of competition. The district 3 champions are coached by Preston King, and he made sure they were ready for the postseason with a brutal schedule that featured the likes of Central, Butler, Manual, and Male. Sure, they lost all of them, but they put scares into Central – a possible 3A champ who won just 13-12 – and traditional power Manual (7-6). There isn’t a single team in 4A as good as Male, and few who can claim to be the equivalent of the others. Their 1-4 start turned into five straight wins to close the year, winning by an average of 28.2 PPG. They have a roughly 67/33 split between rushing and passing, with bellcow Kenneth Thompson’s 1,051 yards and 13 touchdowns accounting for half of the 2,119 rushing yards by Western. Tyon Pearson keeps teams honest with 936 yards through the air. The Warriors force 2.5 turnovers per game, and haven’t allowed more than 22 points outside of their losses to Male and Butler. Meanwhile, Knox Central rode below the radar, biding their time en route to a 7-3 record. The Panthers likely lost to the three teams they should – Danville, Corbin, and Wayne County – with each team among the favorites in their class. They’ve had a couple of closer results than they should, which likely contributed to them being slightly out of sight, but their current #7 ranking is their highest of the year. Knox has an almost perfect 50/50 split in their offensive attack, with 2,064 passing yards between Brady Worley and Blevin Campbell, with Worley taking full control of the offense at midseason. He boasts a nearly 61% completion average and a 10:3 TD:INT ratio. Jermel Carton operates as the feature back with 128 rushes for 1,195 yards and 12 scores – nearly 10 yards per carry. Nick Martin (47/753/2) and Kevionte Turner (35/545/4) are the names to know in the receiving corps, and Tucker Holland has nearly 100 solo tackles to lead a defense that has forced 28 turnovers. Their 31-8 win over Rockcastle County cemented their status as a challenger, forcing five turnovers and holding the powerful Rockets to their third lowest total of the season. Speaking of Rockcastle, the shine is off after a 4-0 start, but they remain a dangerous team. They still likely remember a season ago entering the playoffs as a district champion only to falter, and would love nothing more than to make it to Wayne County and inflict that on the Cardinals. They’ve won three of four, with Jaden Payne (144/1,076/14) and Holdan Barnett (96/712/10) leading a rushing attack that has accumulated 3,181 yards on the ground, third most in 4A. But their defense has been gashed through the air, and their offense, which has six times scored 40 points or more, has sputtered in their three losses. They combined for just 14 points in falling to Somerset, Wayne County, and Knox Central. All three of those were on the road, and their win over Garrard County last week marked another close result on the road. The Rockets are comfortable at home, but they likely won’t be there at all in their hope for a run. They open on the road at Moore.
Projected Regional Final: Wayne County 35 Western 14
If you’re like me, you felt pretty confident about how this region and indeed the state would go two weeks ago at this time. Johnson Central was 8-0 at the time, and hadn’t failed to score 31 points in any game this year. Then came a road trip to Ashland where the Tomcats stunned the Golden Eagles 21-18 via 212 yards and 3 touchdown passes by Braxton Ratliff. The encore was a matchup against rival Belfry where Johnson Central flexed their muscles in jumping to a 19-0 lead before getting blasted with 35 in a row by the 3A favorites. This has dropped Johnson Central to #3 in 4A, and theoretically no longer the favorite in a region and state that they dominated a year ago. And maybe it’s just that inability to let go of a year ago, but the general consensus seems to be still that Johnson Central is the favorite, they’ll just have to earn it. Their 3,596 rushing yards leads 4A and is second in the state regardless of class. They have featured a diverse attack after the loss of fastball Joe Jackson in the season opener, but Blake Gamble has still had the bulk of the work with 1,380 yards on 177 carries, along with 17 scores. He’s added 4 touchdowns receiving and 240 yards as the leader in receptions on the team. Riley Preece has shown an ability to hit a big play from time to time with 892 yards passing and 10 touchdowns. Still, it’s the run game behind a dominant offensive line where the Golden Eagles win the games. Their defense had seemed to turn the corner after three games allowing 20+ to open the year, but suddenly they have allowed 56 in their two losses – easily the best two teams they’ve played since the opener. There’s plenty of reasons to doubt the Golden Eagles who don’t feature nearly the defensive prowess of a year ago, but they are still formidable.
Ashland likely chafes at the idea of not being the clear favorite. After all, they are “the man who beat the man”. Few gave the Tomcats a chance going in to that Johnson Central game, and they pulled off their first win in the series in six seasons. They’ve won seven in a row after opening 1-2, and Braxton Ratliff is the playmaker that has plowed the road. He carries an 18:4 TD:INT ratio with 1,475 yards through the air, and has added 107 rushes for 517 yards on the ground with 11 scores. Aroq Colburn has pulled double duty as the preferred runner with 92 attempts, 719 yards, and 10 touchdowns, as well as the preferred pass catcher with 519 yards, 29 receptions, and 7 touchdowns. His 55 yard touchdown reception was the proverbial stone that brought down the Johnson Central goliath. Those two in particular are as good a playmaker as any in the state, and will give Ashland a chance against any opponent. The Tomcat offense is hitting on all cylinders going into the postseason, averaging 45.6 PPG in their last seven. They have the favorable draw as the champions of District 8, with Bourbon County and Greenup County the likely challengers on their side. Greenup was stout in their fight against Ashland three weeks ago, falling just 49-35 in a shootout. They are not a gimmie. Back on the top of the bracket Scott is the champion of District 7, another team that has been below the radar, in the shadow of titans in District 6 and District 8. The Eagles haven’t lost to a Kentucky team since falling to Conner in early September, and has navigated some nailbiters along the way to their district crown. They are 3-1 in single digit margin games on the year, including a 23-22 win a week ago versus Lloyd Memorial. Like most teams in 4A, they heavily feature a ground attack, with 2,857 yards on the ground against 916 through the air. Chad Ohmer has been solid at QB, though, with 11 touchdown completions, good enough for a passing score on 1 out of every 4 completions. The Perrins have led the rushing game with Quincy Perrin the feature back, with 138 carries for 1,227 yards and 13 scores while Nelson has also nearly posted 10 YPC with 674 yards on 68 rushes, 7 of them touchdowns. Scott has allowed less than 1,000 yards defensively, with a meager 295 yards coming through the air. They likely won’t need that secondary when they host Johnson Central in the second round, but if they manage to get by that, any team they play the rest of the way is likely to feature an aerial attack. Could serve them well.
It’s a tough call, but…..
Projected Regional Final: Johnson Central 27 Ashland 21
Projected Semi-Final: Collins 35 Franklin-Simpson 28
Projected Semi-Final: Wayne County 29 Johnson Central 28
Projected Class 4A State Championship: Wayne County 42 Collins 35
Director of Football Operations