DragonFire's Avatar
Class 4A

District 1

Coming into the season we knew that District 1 would be one of the most competitive at the top of any district in 4A, and that bore out in the form of a three-way tie for the #1 seed. Logan County drew first blood, knocking off Madisonville-North Hopkins with a Hail Mary in a 26-24 victory in September, but fell to Hopkinsville 21-6 just six days later. Madisonville climbed back into the race with a 20-18 win over Hopkinsville on October 11th, and the tiebreak was pretty much sealed. When the dust settled, Hopkinsville’s 17-15 win over Paducah Tilghman in Week 11 vaulted them to the #1 seed, and gave them the coveted matchup with Calloway County, a team they defeated 43-0 on September 27th. The Tigers have spent the entire year in the 4A Top 10, and have run up an impressive 7-3 record against a moderately challenging schedule. As in recent years, they feature a passing-first offensive attack. Javier Bland has thrown for 25 touchdowns against 7 interceptions and 1,842 yards, completing just under 50% of his passes. Reece Jesse has been a stud receiver with 54 receptions for 1,018 yards and 14 touchdowns. Defensively, the Tigers are allowing just over 200 yards per game and 15.7 PPG. They’ve been very stout against the run, giving up just under 75 yards per game on the ground. They probably won’t be the highest ranked team in the district entering the playoffs, but their first round game amounts to a bye, and they’ll get to host the survivor of the Madisonville/Logan County matchup.

Logan County slides into the #2 seed with an 8-2 record. The Cougars have continued their program renaissance with another sterling season, but they are not coming into the playoffs with the strongest momentum. They are 2-2 in their last four, and were knocked around in their Week 11 matchup with South Warren, falling 53-6. QB Tyler Ezell has thrown for 2,140 yards, 33 touchdowns, and just 8 interceptions on the year, but had to leave the South Warren game with a leg injury, and appeared on the sideline in an air cast. If he can’t go against Madisonville, it’s a devastating blow to their chances. They’ll have to lean more heavily on Gary Hardy, who has 900 yards on 98 rushes this season with 10 touchdowns. Hardy has run for nearly 4,000 yards in his career for the Cougars. The Cougars were able to run for only 55 yards the last time they met Madisonville but threw for 308 yards. The health of Ezell is going to be crucial. For Madisonville, they are 3-2 in their last five, but their 53-50 loss to Mayfield is a much more solid indicator for the postseason. A win there would have given them the district, but they more than proved their mettle in the contest. Madisonville was the preseason favorite, and at 8-2, they have proven worth that designation, even if the Hail Mary loss ultimately dropped them to #3. When you talk about the Maroons it invariably centers around stud RB Jeriah Hightower. Hightower has run for 2,231 yards on 233 attempts with 23 touchdowns this year. He leads the state in rushing yards and yards per game. He had 301 in the first matchup with Logan County, and figures to be dominant again. Hayden Reynolds doesn’t throw as much as some other quarterbacks because of Hightower’s presence, but he has thrown for 23 scores against just 3 interceptions this year, rolling up 1,409 yards. The Maroon defense is allowing 80.4 yards rushing per game, and 17.5 PPG. In short, they control the clock with their ground attack and they limit the same from the opposing team.

Projected District Final: Madisonville-North Hopkins 21 Hopkinsville 14

District 2
District 2 has placed a team in the state championship for four straight seasons, but it appears this will be the year that comes to a close. No one in the district is above .500. Franklin-Simpson appears to still be the dominant force, even moreso as they are getting healthy. Winners of three straight district titles, the Wildcats uncharacteristically started 0-4 as they adjusted to graduation losses and injuries. Once mid-September rolled around the Wildcats appeared closer to their old selves, scoring five straight wins by an average of 30 PPG. Franklin features one of the most balanced rushing attacks you’ll see. No player rushed for more than 67 attempts or 653 yards through 9 games, but the team had nearly 260 yards per game as a unit. Leandre Stutzman was the leader in both categories with 653 yards on 67 attempts, but Omar Harrison (42/406), Tedric Partinger (44/3540, Chase Gooch (46/349), and Malik Carter (64/257) all topped 250 yards for the team. Luke Richardson still passes only when desperately needed, with only 556 yards through the air through 9 games. Stutzman carried the load when they played first round opponent Russell County the first time, with 144 yards on 10 rushes. While the 35-21 result was closer than expected, the Wildcats have appeared much healthier since, culminating in a 28-21 barnburner loss to Glasgow in the season finale. Russell County has strong speed from leading rushers Dylan Bland (140/1,279/16) and Collin Darnell (155/1,186/12), and can give some problems if they can get to the edge. But ultimately, if they couldn’t defeat a diminished Franklin team at home in early October, it makes them a longshot to do so on the road in November.

Allen County-Scottsville and Warren East would both also track as longshots to knock off Franklin, with a 10 point loss and 27 point loss to the Wildcats respectively. ACS defeated Warren East for the first time in three years with a 27-10 result on the road on October 18th, and that ultimately brought them their first home playoff game in 7 years. The Patriots started the season with a slightly more pass-oriented attack, but have shifted to the traditional ground game that they are known for in the latter half of the year. Landon Witcher is their speed back and leading rusher, while Jaquez McPeak is a hammer, frequently breaking tackles and dragging players with him. Defensively, the Patriots are a bend don’t break type, but their previous matchup with Warren East marked their best defensive performance of the year. Warren East enters on a three game losing streak that began with the loss to ACS, and are just 3-6 since opening the year with a victory. The Raiders lack the home run threat at running back that they have enjoyed in previous years, and lean heavily on QB Nolan Ford. Ford is their leading rusher with 103 attempts for 760 yards and 13 touchdowns. He is completing just over 50% of his passes and has 1,107 yards passing with 10 touchdowns. Their 10 points against ACS was their second lowest score of the year, and Ford threw two interceptions in the contest, as penalties also derailed the Raiders. Look for a more focused effort this time around from the Raiders, but the Patriot’s field that has been chopped up slightly from weather over the last two weeks may be an equalizer compared to the turf at Warren East.

Projected District Final: Franklin-Simpson 42 Warren East 14

District 3

District 3 is a bit of a red-headed stepchild in the “western” half of the bracket. The district is overshadowed this year by District 1 and 4 with their top tier teams, and lacks the historic prestige of District 2. Moore has the 3rd highest RPI of the #1 seeds in the western four districts, and put together a solid 6-4 campaign, closing the year with five straight wins. They climbed to the top by surviving close calls against John Hardin (22-14) and Valley (31-27). The Mustangs slant heavily towards the run with 73% of their yards coming from rushing, with QB Rae Von Vaden accounting for almost as many yards on the ground (748) as through the air (819). Jamari Wilson leads the team with 1,045 yards on 119 attempts with 7 touchdowns. It always sounds common sense that the more you score the more you win, but for the Mustangs, the key number is three touchdowns. They haven’t lost when scoring 22 or more. They haven’t won when scoring less. Their opening game may be the most possible of 4 seed upsets in the entire class as Valley lines up against them. Valley has just two wins on the season, but has lost three games by six points or less. The Vikings are just two years removed from beating Moore, and it will have been just three weeks since their close call when the two meet, albeit this time at Moore.

Even less time will separate the rematch between Spencer County and John Hardin that handed Spencer County the 2 seed. The Bears went on the road and came up with a 45-31 victory over John Hardin on October 25th, part of their three-game winning streak heading into the playoffs. The result was a bit surprising given their blowout loss to a Moore team that John Hardin was right there with. In that game, Spencer County threw a single pass, with Jon Smith completing it for 26 yards. Seth Thompson exploded for 233 yards on 20 rushes with three touchdowns, and Lawrence McLemore added 105 yards on 15 rushes, also with three scores. That is right in-line with Spencer County’s offensive attack for the year. 83% of their yards come on the ground, with Thompson turning 143 rushes into 1,015 yards with 9 scores. As a team, Spencer County has completed only 40 passes this year. John Hardin rushed for 236 yards in their matchup with Spencer County on the 25th – a season-high – but could find no success through the air either, as Kadon Wilson was just 4/13 for 35 yards. The Bulldogs are just 4-6 this year, and three of those four wins have come by single digit margins. Offensively, the Bulldogs did not average 200 yards per game through their first nine games, and have topped 14 points only four times on the season.

Projected District Final: Moore 28 Spencer County 14

District 4

While the district race shook out cleaner than District 1, this district was almost every bit as competitive. Franklin County emerged as the favorite as the season ran along, and ultimately finished undefeated overall for the first time in seven seasons. In fact, they have won 18 of their last 19 games stretching to last season. They played only two games decided by less than 10 points, the last of which was a thrilling 14-12 victory over Louisville Central to clinch the #1 seed in the district when they turned away a two point conversion for the tie midway through the fourth quarter. Behind QB Nick Broyles, the Flyers live up to their name and let it fly through the air. Broyles completed 64% of his passes this year, throwing for just shy of 2,000 yards through nine games, and sports an impressive 26:3 TD:INT ratio. Broyles leads the team in rushing as well, with 686 yards on 89 attempts with 7 scores. Tariq Lester compliments the rushing attack as the lead back with 80 rushes for 566 yards and 12 scores. No other Flyer has rushed for more than 75 yards. Fred Farrier leads the team with 35 receptions for 602 yards and 7 scores. Franklin County features a 55/45 split in favor of throwing the ball – a modern passing offense. Defensively, the Flyers allowed only 12.7 PPG and forced an average of just shy of 2 turnovers per game. They’ll meet a game Waggener squad that they beat 37-20 in mid-October. Broyles threw for 226 yards and ran for 125 in that contest. Waggener has lost four straight, but was competitive in most of them, with three decided by 12 or less and the 17 point loss to Franklin County the only outlier. They have almost a 50/50 split in terms of passing/rushing, but like Franklin County they rely heavily on their QB. Alijah Sickles has 1,593 yards passing and 645 yards rushing, leading the team in both aspects. The Wildcats allowed no less than 26 points in any of their five losses, and held four of their five opponents in their wins to ten points or less. They will have to find a way to slow down Franklin County’s attack to have a realistic shot.

Central, the defending 3A state champions, fell to the #2 seed with their loss to Franklin County, but are still formidable. They are known for their “Dark Side” defense, they have shut out three opponents this year and held three others to 14 points or less. But scoring has proven challenging at times too, as they’ve had six games of 14 points or less as well. Dayshawn Mucker virtually is the offense, with 240 rushes for 1,238 yards and 11 touchdowns this season. He has 74% of their rushing total this season and 52% of all offense for the team. The team has forced 22 turnovers, with an impressive 16 interceptions. They have returned three interceptions and one fumble for scores. Their margin of error is going to be very thin because of their extreme reliance on defense, but no team in the district managed more than 14 points against them – if they can score at all, they have a real shot. They won 14-0 against their first round opponent Shelby County, in a game where Dayshawn Mucker had 26 rushes for 134 yards and a score and Shelby County was held to 131 yards of offense. That was the last game Shelby County lost, and they enter on a three-game winning streak, and winners of five of their last seven. It’s easy to see why Central is a bad matchup for them – they almost exclusively run the ball, with 2,417 rushing yards and just 381 yards passing on the season. That sort of one-dimensional offense doesn’t work well against Central. Anthony Bradford leads the team with 683 yards rushing and 13 scores, averaging over 7 yards per carry. That dropped to 28 yards on 10 attempts against Central in their first matchup.

Projected District Final: Franklin County 14 Central 6

District 5

It’s not an argument that most would entertain, but there is an argument to be made that Boyle County is the best team in the entire state, regardless of class. They’re averaging 50.7 PPG while allowing only 9.7 PPG. Only two teams all season long have scored more than 13 points against them, and in those two games the Rebels dropped 71 and 64 points. Boyle County has won 35 of their last 36 games and didn’t have a game all year closer than 30 points. They have been purely and simply dominant. QB Reed Lanter has completed 73% of his passes for 2,000 yards through 9 games, throwing only one interception against 24 touchdowns. WR Reese Smith has caught only 36 passes, but has turned that into 1,043 yards and 14 touchdowns. That’s a touchdown on just barely every 1.5 catches. No player had more than 500 yards rushing on the season, but the team has put together 1,569 yards on the ground through a diverse rushing attack. Will McDaniel leads the way with 62 rushes for 488 yards and 9 scores. Defensively, they have forced 16 turnovers and returned three for scores. They are an overwhelming favorite in the district and likely only Johnson Central is a team that can conceivably challenge them classwide. They’ll open with Anderson County, who they torched for a 52-7 result on October 18th.

Lexington Catholic is the only other team that could conceivably pull a miracle in the district. They fell 64-28 to Boyle County on October 11th, but have otherwise proven their mettle against a difficult schedule to finish 6-4. Those losses include a 39-38 loss to CovCath, 42-31 to Frederick Douglass (who had allowed only 14 points on the season), and 43-42 to Lexington Christian. The Knights can typically score with anyone, but they have also allowed 31.4 PPG. QB Beau Allen is a Mr. Football candidate, possibly the frontrunner. He is 196/285 and 3,025 yards on the season, with 33 touchdowns against just 4 INTs. He also leads the team with 403 yards rushing and 9 scores. He has a pair of 800+ yard receivers in Jackson Corbett (60 receptions, 1,021 yards) and Blake Busson (42 receptions, 874 yards). If they were in virtually any district other than this and perhaps Johnson Central’s, they’d be at worst co-favorites. But it is hard to see them as anything but drawing dead against Boyle County in a final. They open with Bourbon County, who they beat 48-15 on October 18th.

Projected District Final: Boyle County 55 Lexington Catholic 21

District 6

Like District 3 on the western half, District 6 in the eastern half is rather overlooked. No team is ranked in this district, and they overturned what we thought we knew when Holmes pulled a surprising 50-38 win on the road against Scott on October 25th to take the #1 seed. Scott had entered that game 6-2 and had blown out their district opponents, while Holmes had nearly lost to Harrison County the week before. Tayquan Calloway was huge in that game, with three touchdowns on 14 rushing attempts for 203 yards and a pick-six – one of two pick-sixes for the Bulldogs. Holmes is 7-3 and winners of five in a row, scoring a combined 103 points in their last two games. Tayquan Calloway has 1,034 yards rushing on the season while brother Quantez has 911 yards passing on 54 completions. The Bulldogs are a run-first team, accounting for 64% of their production on the ground. They’ll open with Harrison County, who despite their 4-6 record lost only 8-7 to Holmes on October 18th. Harrison County opened that game with a score and led 7-0 at the half. Holmes did not take the lead until a Calloway pass to Tate on 4th down for their only score of the game. QB Tyler Hudgins has completed only 16 passes all season – the team has rushed for nearly 2,000 yards on the ground. Expect them to run and try to control possession during this one. They have won only two of their previous seven games, and one of those was a 20-17 win over Boyd County that ultimately put them in the postseason.

Meanwhile Scott has been licking their wounds since the loss, falling to Dixie Heights a week later to limp into the postseason on a two game losing streak. Quincy Perrin is the start of their offensive attack, rushing 128 times for 1,129 yards and 17 scores. He had 252 yards and four scores on just 16 rushes when they met first round opponent Rowan County in September, keying them in a 54-28 victory. QB Gus Howlett turned in a good performance in that game, going 14/20 for 192 yards and 3 touchdown passes. Scott’s challenge will not be looking ahead to a potential rematch and taking Rowan County for granted. But if they get to that game against Holmes, they should feel confident that if they can take care of the ball better than they did in the first matchup that their offense should be able to carry the day.

Projected District Final: Scott 42 Holmes 28

District 7

This district came down to the last week of district play and indeed, the closing seconds of play. Wayne County trailed 16-15 against Corbin with less than a minute left, and lined up to go for two and the district #1 seed. They didn’t get it. Forced to onside kick, they made the most of that opportunity, recovering the ball, driving the field, and kicking a field goal for the win. That win was part of a seven game winning streak entering the postseason, with a 35-27 decision against Pulaski County their only loss on the year. QB Brody Weaver has put up solid numbers with 1,253 yards passing and 14 touchdowns, but he has been called on much less this season that last, when he attempted 6 more passes per game. That’s because RB Braedon Sloan has stepped up to fuel the offense. Sloan has piled up 1,752 yards on 159 rushes, and has 29 scores on the ground. He is also the team’s leading receiver with 413 yards on 17 receptions, with six scores. He was already a 1,000 yard back from the previous season, but he has amped it up to another level. The Cardinals are averaging 46 PPG and have scored less than 41 points only twice – the Corbin game and Pulaski County game. The Cardinals have dropped only two home contests since 2015, and will have the benefit of the first two rounds at home. They’ll open with Lincoln County, who they topped 55-21 on October 11th.

Naturally, Corbin is the team that would be expected to seriously challenge Wayne County. Corbin hasn’t closed particularly strong, dropping four of seven games, but has the postseason pedigree, going to the state finals in 3A a season ago. Three of their four losses have come by two points or less, and as detailed before, the margin against Wayne County could scarcely have been closer. The Redhounds score just over 25 PPG while allowing 20 PPG, so they don’t often have room for error. Cameron Combs leads the balanced offensive attack, with 1,076 yards passing and 239 yards on the ground. Nick Yeager leads the team with 639 yards rushing and 8 scores while Jacob Steely serves as the go-to receiver with 38 catches for 568 yards and five scores. The team has forced ten turnovers with 29 tackles for loss on the year, led by Austin Lewis’s 56 total tackles, 2 sacks, and 1 TFL. They open with Knox Central, who they knocked off by a 38-21 margin on October 11th. That marked their season high score as they racked up 420 yards of offense. Combs threw for a touchdown and ran for two more in that contest. Knox Central started the year with two “quality losses” against Ashland and Bell County, then knocked off Southwestern before promptly losing five games in a row. Their 34-33 OT victory over Lincoln County moved them into the 3 seed to match up with Corbin, but this likely remains a rebuilding year for last year’s state semifinalists.

Projected District Final: Wayne County 21 Corbin 13

District 8

Johnson Central has made the state finals in each of the last four seasons, winning one title during that span. While Boyle County has a theoretical peer in Lexington Catholic, Johnson Central has no such peer in what will almost certainly be two blowout rounds against their district mates. The Golden Eagles have numbers almost as gaudy as Boyle County. Their 10.1 PPG allowed to competition is second behind only Boyle County, as are their 46.9 PPG scored. They haven’t allowed more than 16 points against a Kentucky team – only South Charleston (WV) scored more in a 59-29 blowout – and they have held five opponents to less than ten points. They completed their first unbeaten regular season since 2014 after several near misses in the previous four seasons. Their closest margin of victory in district play was 43 points, in a 49-6 win over Perry County Central. Their first-round opponent is Letcher County Central, who they beat 48-0 on the road two weeks ago. By virtue of their RPI, they won’t have to travel away from home for any of the first four rounds of the playoffs, and they haven’t lost at home to a Kentucky team since 2016. The table is set up well for the Golden Eagles, aside from more difficult games in the region final and state semifinal rounds than Boyle County will face. The Golden Eagles do what they normally do, run first, run later, run some more, and then, when you least expect it….. run again. Devin Johnson has 1,074 yards on just 92 rushes for a ridiculous 11.7 YPC, and has 12 scores on the ground. Three other Johnson Central players have 470 yards or more – Bryce Tackett (63/491/7), Cody Rice (59/487/10), and Riley Preece (48/471/11). QB Riley Preece is averaging nearly a first down every carry himself, and has added 711 yards on 26 completions for 12 touchdowns in those extremely rare occasions that they throw the ball. The team has forced 19 turnovers, and Preece shines there too. He has three INTs, and took two of them to the house. Both Cody Rice and Hunter McCloud had two INTs, and they housed all of them.

There is no dark horse to this district – Johnson Central will win it. Their district final will be against either Harlan County or Clay County. Harlan County earned the two seed with a 21-7 win over Clay County on September 27th. They have a 7-3 record, and are led by Ben Landis with 122 rushes for 784 yards and 10 scores. Like Johnson Central, they very rarely pass it, with 319 rushing attempts against 54 passing attempts on the season. They attempted only five passes in their first game against Clay County, but rolled to 301 rushing yards in the game, with Landis putting up 151 yards and 2 TDs. Clay County has won four in a row entering the postseason en route to a 7-3 record, a turnaround that hasn’t been noticed much thanks to their prominent district mate. It’s their first winning record since 2010, and they are seeking their first postseason win since that year. Chandler Hibbard is one of the top rushers in the state, with 1,711 yards rushing on 231 attempts with 12 touchdowns, and he went for over 100 in their first matchup with Harlan County.

Projected District Final: Johnson Central 56 Harlan County 7

Projecting beyond this isn’t as easy as it was before the RPI, but these are our predictions based on projected results and the matchups those RPIs would create.

Projected Region Final Districts 1-4 RPI #1 vs. RPI #4: Franklin County 42 Franklin-Simpson 21
Projected Region Final Districts 1-4 RPI #2 vs. RPI #3: Madisonville-North Hopkins 49 Moore 14
Projected Region Final Districts 5-8 RPI #1 vs. RPI #4: Boyle County 56 Scott 14
Projected Region Final Districts 5-8 RPI #2 vs. RPI #3: Johnson Central 28 Wayne County 14

Projected State Semifinal Remaining RPI #1 vs. RPI #4: Boyle County 49 Madisonville-North Hopkins 20
Projected State Semifinal Remaining RPI #2 vs. RPI #3: Johnson Central 49 Franklin County 28

Projected 4A State Final: Boyle County 35 Johnson Central 21