2011 Kentucky High School Football Class 3A Playoff Preview
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2011 Kentucky High School Football Class 3A Playoff Preview
Favorite: Paducah Tilghman has been to the semifinals in three of the last years and won an unlikely state title (after a 3-6 start) in 2009, but the last two trips have been eventful, winning a pair of nail-biters in the fourth quarter at Russellville.
But with the Panthers now back in Class A, it's left to Fort Campbell to be the foil. Tilghman won their first meeting 31-7 to win the district title, but in reality the game was anything but a blowout. The Tornado trailed 7-3 until the final play of the third quarter, then dominated the final 12 minutes with a suffocating defense that was able to force a key turnover and establish excellent field position.
The Tornado, however, isn't quite the same team as it was then. Two defensive starters and veterans — rover DeCardia Key and linebackerr Shaquille Jordan — have been felled by season-ending knee injuries..
Still, Tilghman has the biggest dose of speed and athleticism in the class, outside of defending state champion Louisville Central. The defense lost some experience and toughness, but may be faster with the replacements in place, and the Tornado still has a dangerous big-play threat in receiver-safety J.D. Harmon.
Harmon (6-3, 205) is one of the state's better athletes, having won the long jump and triple jump at last year's state track meet, and will eventually sign with a Division I school this winter — he is reporttedly considering Kentucky and Arkansas State, but others could be in the mix. Harmon has had a productive season (40 catches, 587 yards) and is also a dangerous return man. He's also run back a pair of interceptions for scores this season.
Transfer quarterback Tyler Presnell has adapted well to the Tornado offense, completing better than 60 percent of his passes with a 15-4 touchdown-to-intercepion ratio. Still, Tilghman needs to prove that, in big games, it has credible weapons other than Harmon. And the losses of Key and Jordan also affect Tilghman's ground game.
Top challenger: Edmonson County is ranked higher than Fort Campbell, primarily because of its 10-0 record, but the sneaking suspicion is that the Falcons are a little better. Edmonson cruised through a mostly soft first eight games on the schedule, but needed overtime to beat both Monroe County and Butler County in its final two contests — thhe Monroe win decided the district title.
Edmonson has a strong three-pronged running game, with Jacob Tobias leading a crew that has combined for over 2,000 yards and 40-plus touchdowns, and the knowledge it can win in tight situations with three overtime victories. Fort Campbell's offense seems to have found its rhythm after Aaron Hills was moved back to the quarterback spot after a brief spell as a hybrid back and receiver. Monroe County battled Edmonson to the wire for the district crown, and could give Tilghman a tougher second-round test that some expect.
Projected regional final: Paducah Tilghman 17, Fort Campbell 13
Favorite: Central is 3A's biggest, baddest kid on the block, losing just one postseason game in the last three years — a 2009 semifinalls visit to Paducah Tilghman when the Yellowjackets were missing several starters. Central avenged that loss a year ago, beating an injury-riddled Tornado squad 35-18.
Tailback Anthony "Ace" Wales is one of the state's biggest weapons, not in size but in performance, with 2,211 yards and 32 touchdowns against a schedule that includes several strong Class 6A foes. In face, Central's three losses have all been close games against 6A heavyweights — an overtime loss to St. Xavier, a three-point decisiion against Manual and a two-point loss to Pleasure Ridge Park.
And, as usual, Central has 3A's finest collection of speed and athleticism. Linebackers Korry Cornelius, Donald Styles an Phillip Francis lead a defense that is among 3A's best, although it's generally overshadowed by the attention afforded to Wales.
Central also has quite a home-field advantage, something that needs to serve it well for a tough third-round game with #2 Bell County. And no one else in 3A plays the rugged schedule that Central puts itself through every fall. Without question, that invariably turns into an advantage for the Jackets in November.
Top challenger: No one is surprised that Bell County is a prime-time contender after the move down from Class 4A, where it was already one of the state's best programs — the Bobcats won a state title in 20008 and were eliminated by the eventual state champions in 2007 (Lexington Catholic) and 2009-10 (Boyle County.)
Even with a new coach, former Knox Central mentor Wayne Mills, the Bobcats have continued to roll. After a close loss to Lexington Catholic (#3 in Class 4A) in the season opener, Bell has rolled to nine straight wins — two of them have come against ranked teams from biggger classes, 6A Lafayette and 5A Harlan County.
Tailback Cory Davenport (1,482 yards, 23 TDs) leads Bell's always-rugged running game. It's that kind of ball-control, combined with excellent line play, that will fuel a potential upset on the road at Central.
Projected regional final: Central 27, Bell County 23
Favorite: Is there really one? Neither of the district champions, Garrard County and Lewis County, were ranked in the BGP top 10 at the start of the season, and you can make a case that runners-up Bourbon County and Russell are collectively just as good or better.
Garrard's breakthrough season includes an eight-game winning streak after a 22-14 loss to Danville in the Admirals' bowl game in August. The Lions have a strong running attack led by 1,000-yard rushers Cory Wilson and Markell Hayes working behind 265-pound tackle J.K. Howard, with linebacker Bret Howard leading a defense that needs to become a little stingier in the postseason.
Top challenger: Lewis County raised some eyebrows with its 14-7 late-season upset of Russell, completing a turnaround from a 3-7 record to an 8-2 mark and a district title. But the Lions, picked to finish last in the district in one preseason poll, have a rare distinction in Kentucky's playoff system — a district winner with a first-round gaame against a team it lost to during the regular season. Powell County revisits Lewis after battering the Lions 25-6 there in early September.
Bourbon County finished strong, losing to Garrard County in overtime in the game that decided the district title. Russell remains a tough out in the postseason, and Powell County looked to be a contender before a late-season slide that included close losses to Bourbon County and Western Hills and a 34-0 loss to Class A unbeaten Fairview in the final. Still, even though Powell lost four of its last five games, this is still the same team that knocked off Pike Central early in the season.
Projected regional final: Garrard County 27, Bourbon County 21
Favorite: Belfry's motto remains the same, summed up by an acronym that is lot tougher than it sounds: KISS, which means "Keep it simple, stupid."
The Pirates keep rolling behind Phillip Haywood's tried, tested and true style — a strong running game led by a reliable offensive linee and a balanced stable of capable backs. Four Pirates (Trey Willis, Justin Johnson, Josh Dixon and Josh Robinson) have rushed for more than 500 yards this season, which also gives them some insurance in case of an injury.
Belfry was 9-0 before a season-ending loss to Class 5A power Johnson Central. In turn, the Pirates beat the Ashland squad that handed Johnson Central its only loss this fall.
Top challenger: Breathitt County is as unlikely to be challenged in the first two rounds as Belfry is. The Bobcats put together a perfect 10-0 mark this season, with their two most impressive weeks coming in back-to-back wins at home in mid-September, a 20-0 win over Class 2A contender Somerset and a 35-34 squeaker past a Hazard club that's looking to get back to the Class A title game for the second straight year.
William Collins is a 1,000-yard rusher that takes some of the heat off quarterback Richard Trent, who has some impressive passing stats (1,631 yards, 21 TDs and three picks) and 748 yards and 14 TDs on the ground.
Projected regional final: Belfry 34, Breathitt County 22
Projected semifinals: Central 34, Paducah Tilghman 17
Belfry 33, Garrard County 14
Projected championship game: Central 39, Belfry 14