Rebels and Redhounds Pick Up Big Wins on Way to Potential Playoff Showdown
Undefeated Boyle County has spent the entire season ranked first in the Bluegrasspreps' Class 3A Rankings. The debate about who should be second has centered around three teams: Corbin, Central, and Belfry. Each of the three has their strong qualities and none of the three have a taken a bad loss. On Friday night, however, with two games being played between ranked teams in Class 3A, Boyle County and Corbin gained resounding victories and served notice they were both more than capable of yet another deep run in the postseason.
Boyle County, who's dealt with injury issues all season, saw three returning players come back to the starting lineup and paid big dividends in their 40-14 victory at Lexington Catholic (5-3). One was Reese Smith, playing in a cast, whose 66-yard pass reception on the second drive made it 14-0 early and the Rebels never looked back. Boyle rushed for 319 yards and passed for another 158 on the night.
The win puts Boyle (8-0) in the driver's seat of District 4 but it will take a win next week over Western Hills to secure the crown. And even with a district championship, the road to the finals could still require wins at both Belfry and Corbin.
As Smith late told the Advocate, "we’ve still got a long ways to go."
While Boyle County was jumping out early on Lexington Catholic, Corbin had to withstand an early blow from Bell County before moving ahead to pick up a 33-14 win. Just like Boyle, the win for Corbin didn't assure a district championship as the Redhounds must win at Casey County next week to guarantee the hardware.
Bell County's London Stephney scored from four yards out to give the Bobcats (7-1) an early 8-0 lead. Corbin wouldn't score until the second quarter, but they scored twice within one minute to take a lead they would keep for the rest of the night. Grant Gibson scored on a two-yard touchdown run two minutes into the second quarter and Noah Taylor had a ten-yard scoop-and-score to give Corbin a 14-8 lead on Bell's next possession. From that point forward Corbin (7-1) controlled the clock with a punishing ground game that rushed for 274 yards and four scores.
For Corbin, a win next week at Casey County (7-1) assures the opportunity for four home playoff games. The fourth could quite possibly be against Boyle County in a rematch of last year's Class 3A state championship game. Then we could settle once and for all who should be ranked where in Class 3A.
Three Trophies Ready for Engraving
Going into Friday night's games only one team in Class 3A - Caldwell County - had already secured a district championship. Three contests were certain to provide a champion and they did just that, with two expected results and one that most didn't see coming.
Elizabethtown used seven Larue County turnovers to coast to a 42-14 victory in Hodgenville. Elizabethtown's win, the fifth straight after a 0-3 start, was highlighted by Joe Becherer's 136 rushing yards and three touchdowns. E'town has now won four straight district titles and will have home field advantage for the first three rounds of the playoffs, which in turn could mean a fourth straight regional title.
Central scored once in the first quarter, then five times in the second to build a commanding 39-0 lead on the way to a 45-6 victory over Bardstown. Central (6-2) did most of their offensive damage on the ground rushing for 448 yards and six touchdowns as a team. The defense was its usual steady self, forcing four turnovers and holding its sixth opponent in eight games to single digits. Central's victory clinched a thirteenth consecutive district championship.
Finally, Breathitt County, winners of three state championships and nineteen district titles, won their first crown since 2013 with a 50-34 win over Powell County. Breathitt (6-3) has struggled in recent years, going 4-7 each of the last four seasons and losing in the first round of the playoffs each time, but has seen a resurgence this season. Led by the rushing duo of Tyson Gross and Braxton O'Hara, the Bobcats are piling up close to 240 yards per game on the ground. It was a good way to end the district campaign for a program dropping to Class 2A in 2019.
McCreary Central Breaks Some Droughts
Going into Friday night, McCreary Central was 0-8 (the only winless team in Class 3A) and needed a victory in their final district game to advance to the postseason for the first time since 2009. Never fear, though, as both droughts ended in a 40-14 romp over Jackson County. I asked McCreary Central coach Lucas Ford about the importance of the win:
"It was extremely important for our kids to get a victory over Jackson County. We have played a very tough schedule [eight previous opponents have combined for a 44-20 record, with undefeated Lynn Camp coming in two weeks] with a very young football team but they have continued to work hard and have kept battling. To finally see the rewards of that type of effort and mentality is going to be very beneficial for the overall football program in McCreary County."
As for going to the playoffs where they'll face Breathitt County in the first round, Ford said: "Since re-entering district play last season [after playing an independent schedule in 2015 and 2016] our ultimate goal has been to get back into the playoffs. Our kids have stayed the course throughout this season and have made that goal a reality. To say our team and coaching staff was excited would be an understatement."
Ford listed Caleb Cox, Johnny Ridner, and Andrew Renfro as three players who have been key contributors on Friday nights while also being solid leaders during the week. And he knows that it will take more work from more kids like those, as well as the coaching staff and administration, to build a successful program at McCreary Central.
"The biggest challenge of building a program at a school that doesn't have a ton of football tradition has been being able to block out all the outside noise and remain patient. There are times we wish we were further along than where we are, but when we take a look back and see how far we have come as a program we are proud of our accomplishments. We are lucky to have an administration that realizes all good things take time and we believe we are headed in the right direction as a program. Our expectations going into the offseason and for next year are to continue to improve the overall culture of our program which will hopefully lead to more playoff appearances and playoff victories."
Around the Rankings
#4 Belfry rode another big night from Isaac Dixon to a 56-28 victory at Lawrence County. The 3A Notebook incorrectly stated last week that a win would give Belfry a district title. Belfry (7-1) needs a win this Friday over Pike County Central to lock up an eighth straight championship.
#6 Caldwell County waltzed over Fort Campbell, 48-15, behind quarterback Joby Jaggers' 389 yards passing and four touchdowns. The win was the sixth straight for the Tigers (7-2).
#8 Paducah Tilghman assured themselves a first round home playoff game, winning 43-10 at Union County. The 6-2 start for Tilghman is their best since 2011.
#10 Western Hills (6-2) used five rushing touchdowns and passing score from Wandale Robinson to hold off Garrard County, 42-34. The Wolverines can win the district title if they beat Boyle County this week and get a little outside help.
Bath County got 166 yards rushing and three touchdowns from Landan Swartz on their way to a 32-0 blowout of Fleming County. With a win over Russell this Friday, Bath (6-2) can clinch their first district championship since 1997.
Hart County (5-3) continued their solid season with a 41-13 win over Edmonson County. John Shoulders passed for 151 yards and three touchdowns while Daveon Wood ran for 135 yards in the win.
Morgan County (3-5) took a 14-13 lead into the break against Knott County Central and made it stand in the second half, clinching a playoff berth for the second consecutive year. Garrett Adkins passed for 232 yards and two touchdowns in the win.
Three to See (Each week the 3A Notebook will preview the three best games featuring Class 3A teams for the coming week)
1. Boyle County at Western Hills. The best team in Class 3A vs. the best player in Class 3A. Boyle County is the heavy favorite but if Western Hills can get Wandale Robinson open and in space, something they couldn't do in two meetings last season, the Wolverines could be a problem. A Western Hills win, coupled with a Garrard County upset of Lexington Catholic, would give the Wolverines an improbable district championship.
2. Russell at Bath County. The two preseason favorites in District 5 meet with the winner assured a district title. Both took a somewhat circuitous route to get here, with Russell losing their first three regular season games and Bath County suffering a shocking road loss at West Carter. Russell (5-3) has defeated Bath in each of the last three seasons, but last year was a one point nail-biter.
3. Corbin at Casey County. Fresh off their victory over Bell County, Corbin has to travel to Casey County for what could be a tough rebound game. Casey is 7-1 and an upset win over Corbin would likely push District 8 into a three-way tie. A Corbin win puts Casey County on the road in the first round of the playoffs.
Just One More (Tired of the same teams every week? Want to go off the beaten path for a 3A game this Friday night? Each week we'll look at an under-the-radar matchup to watch in Class 3A)
Elizabethtown at Bardstown. In a rare, late-season cross-district matchup, red hot Elizabethtown travels up the Bluegrass Parkway to youthful Bardstown (5-3). Both teams have secured their respective playoff seeds but this game could give us a read on what two expect from each in the postseason.