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  1. 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
  2. For the past four years, 4A at the top has been extremely predictable. Johnson Central has been perpetually in the top 1-2 teams, and has made four straight 4A title games, winning once. The District 2 representative has been lined up across the field from them in each of those four games, with the last three coming against Franklin-Simpson. The two teams have their very own Clemson-Alabama type rivalry going, with Franklin-Simpson taking the last two titles. Even Wayne County has gotten in on the consistency train, with three semifinal appearances in four years. That means three teams have accounted for 10 of the 16 semifinal appearances in 4A the last four seasons. But just when you thought you knew all you needed to know about 4A, along comes realignment. The class boasts four finalists from last season’s state title games. 4A just went from one of the shallowest classes in terms of quality teams to one of the deepest. It's a new day in 4A. 1. Boyle County (2018: 13-1; 3A State Semifinalists) Head Coach: Chuck Smith The Rebels enter their new home in 4A still smarting from unfinished business in 3A a season ago. After winning the last 12 games of 2017, including capturing the 3A title, they kept it rolling into a 13-0 start, and what was ultimately a 25 game winning streak. But it all came crashing down in a 21-0 loss to eventual state runner-up Corbin. Boyle County entered the game averaging nearly 42 PPG – they were shutout for the first time in seven years and accounted for just 208 yards of offense. Only ten seniors graduated from that 13-1 squad, and the Rebels return almost the entirety of their offensive and defensive production. So, as you can imagine, they’ll be out to finish the job this time. Senior QB Reed Lanter returns to build on his 2018 campaign which saw him throw for 2,949 yards, 39 TDs, and just 6 INTs. He has nearly 6,000 yards and 67 passing TDs for his career entering his third season as a starter. Four of his five linemen from last season return, and he’ll have the services of his primary receivers from a season ago. None are more crucial than Mr. Football candidate and West Virginia commit Reese Smith. Smith hauled in 53 passes for 1,173 yards a season ago, scoring 20 touchdowns on those receptions. That’s roughly two TDs for every five passes caught. He additionally had three interceptions on the defensive side of the ball, including taking one of those to the house. Senior RB Landen Bartleson will look to take over the primary ball carrier role, finishing second on the team in 2018 with 768 yards on 109 rushes, 12 of them for TDs. Defensively, the majority of starters return for a unit that forced 25 turnovers last year. That includes one man wrecking crew Wilson Kelly, pulling double duty on the offensive and defensive line. He posted 25 tackles for loss in matching returning linebacker Ezarious Roller for a team leading 72 solo tackles. Boyle County moves into 4A District 5, which features fellow Top 10 team and traditional rival Lexington Catholic as well as a strong Anderson County team dropping down from 5A. With the new playoff format, that means those teams, along with Bourbon County, are who they will go against in the first two rounds. For the region final round, teams like Johnson Central and Corbin will be in play with the new RPI formula. Boyle County is our favorite, but it will not be an easy road. 2. Johnson Central (2018: 13-2; 4A State Runners-Up) Head Coach: Jim Matney The old 4A was good to Johnson Central, yielding the aforementioned four title game appearances and state title. Their title series with Franklin-Simpson ended with the Wildcats taking the rubber match as Johnson Central fell just short at 14-12. Averaging 46.4 PPG entering the title match, the Golden Eagles could manage only six points until a Joe Jackson TD run with just 57 seconds remaining. They tried a pitch to Jackson for a two point conversion and the tie, but the play never had a chance, losing two yards on the play and the championship. The singular state title is a relative bit of disappointment considering all the appearances, but still – this program has gone 51-8 in the last four seasons. They are a blueprint of success by any measure. 19 seniors depart from last year’s squad, but Johnson Central actually returns quite a bit of production. Six offensive starters and seven defensive starters return. Devin Johnson will be asked to take on a much larger share of the carries and step in for stud graduate Joe Jackson. Johnson ran for 1,218 yards and 14 TDs on just 108 carries, averaging an eye-popping 11.28 YPC. Averaging a first down every time you touch the ball is considered pretty adequate. Riley Preece returns at quarterback, and will be a fourth year starter at the position. He mostly throws to keep teams honest, with a modest 1,039 yards passing a season ago, but was the team’s third leading rusher with 852 yards and 19 scores on 89 carries – almost averaging a first down per carry himself. Bryce Tackett (68 carries, 521 yards, 6 TDs) also returns at fullback to help anchor the rushing attack that is the staple of every Johnson Central team. This is a squad that had rushing account for 84% of their over 6,000 yard output. Expect to see the ground and pound often. They do lose three of five starting linemen, but every backup from last year returned. The news is similar on the defensive side where they lose two of their three down linemen, but return the backups. Devin Johnson will be expected to continue his strong play on that side of the ball as well, notching 107 total tackles, including 21 tackles for loss a season ago from his linebacker position. Hunter McCloud (96 total tackles, 19 TFL) joins Johnson in anchoring the linebacker corps while Braiden Castle (65 total tackles, 14 TFL) is the lone returning lineman, manning the middle at nose guard. The Golden Eagles will open the season with Lafayette, playing on the opening week for the first time in seven years, and play an out of district schedule that includes three teams out of state along with powers Simon Kenton and Belfry. Their chief rival Ashland leaves the district for 3A, leaving Johnson Central as even more of a favorite than they’ve been recently. It should be smooth sailing for them through the first two rounds before the all-important RPI re-seeding takes place. They’ll be strong favorites if they can grab the top seed, but may have to contend with Boyle County or Corbin in the region finals otherwise. 3. Corbin (2018: 13-2; 3A State Runners-Up) Head Coach: Justin Haddix Corbin has been achingly close to ending their now 37 year state title drought in the past two seasons. Coach Haddix guided the Redhounds to the last two 3A state title games, but came up empty in each. Last year was the more heartbreaking, as Corbin lost just 20-19 to Central a week after shutting out the class favorite Boyle County. A failed two point conversion and missed field goal proved to be the difference in that one. Corbin has made the region finals or better in each of their seasons under Haddix, and have made at least the state semifinals in the last four seasons. The Redhounds did lose a very sizable senior class from the 2018 campaign, graduating 20 players. That included three starting offensive linemen and most crucially, QB Chase Estep and his 3,026 yards passing. Sophomore Evan Poore is the only QB on the roster that threw a pass last season, going 2/6 for 44 yards. While they develop that position, freak athlete Treyveon Longmire will be heavily leaned on. He led the team in rushing a season ago, posted 611 yards and 4 scores on just 69 attempts, good enough for 8.85 YPC. Longmire is heavily sought after, commanding offers from Kentucky, Louisville, Tennessee, Purdue, and Florida State. He’s a threat in the receiving game as well, scoring once out of every three receptions he had last year while posting 7 TDs and 524 yards. Top receiver Jacob Steely also returns off a season where he had nearly 1,000 yards, settling in at 960 yards on 57 receptions. Expect more of a rushing attack than last year, at least early on. Defensively, they face similar challenges with departures. Four starters return, led by DE Ethan Wine. Wine was #2 on the team last year in solo tackles, posting 36 while recovering 2 fumbles. He also turned in a staggering 21 sacks, so he knows how to get after the QB. Cole Shelton also returns at the rover position, posting 30 solo and 50 assisted tackles a season ago. He picked off four passes, returning one for a touchdown. A great deal of this ranking is taken on faith in the consistency of the Corbin program and their recent performance. They will be extremely battle tested by the time the postseason rolls around, as they will run a veritable gauntlet. They take on Beechwood, Bowling Green, Lafayette, and Pulaski County in non-district play, and will be contending with strong programs like Knox Central and Wayne County in their district. It is fair to say that they and their district-mates may have the hardest road to Lexington, beating up on each other before likely facing either Boyle County or Johnson Central before they even reach the state semifinal round. 4. Franklin-Simpson (2018: 14-1; 4A State Champions) Head Coach: Doug Preston The margins were much closer in the 2018 postseason for Franklin-Simpson, but the end result was the same – a state title over Johnson Central. The numbers for Franklin last year were hugely impressive – 40.1 PPG scored, nearly 28 PPG average margin of victory, and only a loss to 5A state champion South Warren on the resume. It was their defense that ultimately secured the victory against Johnson Central, stonewalling their two point conversion attempt for a tie in the title game, earning a 14-12 victory. A lot changes from that edition, particularly on offense. Three linemen plus the tight end depart off the line, as does a staggering 3,800 yards and 52 touchdowns in rushing production with the graduation of Tree Bass and Carlos McKinney. Tedric Partinger returns as a starter at wingback, turning in a solid 453 yards and 6 scores on just 34 carries. He’s a burner, just like Bass was. Sophomore Luke Richardson returns for another turn at quarterback. Passing has not been a major cog of the Wildcat attack, but Richardson did post 828 yards a season ago, and went 5/7 in the championship game to help keep the Johnson Central defense honest. The pass made a prominent appearance in their smashing of Apollo in their last scrimmage. If that dimension opens up for the Wildcats, there will be few defenses – if any – in 4A that can truly handle them. Malik Carter (33 rushes, 197 yards, 2 TDs) should step into McKinney’s fullback role, while Leandre Stutzman (13 rushes, 130 yards, 2 TDs) should man the other wingback position. Stutzman made an impact a season ago catching passes out of the backfield, with 253 yards on 10 receptions. Defensively, the story is a little better. AJ Burr and Dalton Hunter return on the line, while Connor Rogers returns as an anchor at linebacker. Rogers notched 30 tackles for loss a year ago and 71 solo tackles. Burr and safety Chase Gooch combined for 14 sacks. Partinger will be asked to do his part on the defensive side of the ball as well. He plays weak safety, where he had 56 solo tackles and 2 INTs last season – one returned for a score. Unlike their counterparts on the eastern side of the bracket, the realignment has done little to rock Franklin’s world, at least not early on. Their district adds Russell County, but the Wildcats will remain an overwhelming favorite in district play and the first two rounds of the playoffs. Central is added to the mix as a challenger in the region final round, but Madisonville figures to be their biggest challenge there. Meade County and South Warren appear to be the only true challengers to Franklin in their non-district schedule. There’s every reason to believe Franklin will be no worse than 10-2 when they reach the region finals. 5. Madisonville-North Hopkins (2018: 10-3; 4A Region Runners-Up) Head Coach: Jay Burgett It wasn’t Johnson Central that truly pushed Franklin-Simpson most in their title run, but rather the Maroons of Madisonville-North Hopkins. The champions from District 1 took a 7-0 lead on Franklin early in the second quarter, becoming the first team to take a lead on them in 10 games. They still led 10-0 with 3 minutes left in the third quarter, but fell behind by the final 12-10 margin with 5 minutes left in the game. It was a bit of a surprising result for Madisonville, which stumbled to a 2-2 start which included a blowout loss at Owensboro and a loss to lightly regarded Union County. But they found the key in winning some low scoring games, with four victories scoring 21 points or less in an eight game winning streak. And they have virtually all their production returning. Just nine seniors graduated off of last year’s squad. Jeriah Hightower returns to again lead the Maroon offense. The senior running back averaged 136 yards per game and finished 3rd in total rushing in 4A with 1,769 yards. He is the leading returning rusher in the entire class, and he’ll be running behind an offensive line that returns four of five starters from a season ago. The Maroons don’t attempt many passes, and even fewer down field, so you can expect them to feature their usual heavy ground attack. Especially as leading passer JD Gilbert (857 yards, 10 TDs) graduates, though backup Hayden Reynolds returns with a 31/66/297 stat line a year ago. Marquise Parker is the leading returning receiver, converting his 8 receptions into 273 yards and three scores. The news is good on the defensive side of the ball as well. Krey Cunningham will be back at linebacker after leading the team in tackles a season ago with 114 (51 solos). Blake Moody (52 solos, 6 sacks), Dru Fleener (40 solos, 5 sacks), and Jared Gobin (25 solos) all return on the defensive line. Nick Grant and Gunner Dameron each had four interceptions a season ago and return in the secondary. In all, six of the top eight tacklers return from a unit that pitched two shutouts and allowed just under 15 PPG a season ago. Realignment did not touch District 1 at all, but both Hopkinsville and Logan County remain very dangerous. Grabbing the top seed and staying away from one of those two in the first round will be crucial. That is especially true given that Madisonville’s game the last week of the regular season is against powerhouse Mayfield. The Maroons definitely don’t want to chase that game with anything less than a certain win. Their four regular season games against Hopkinsville and Logan County in the last two years have been decided by a combined total of 35 points. 6. Lexington Catholic (2018: 8-4; 3A Second Round) Head Coach: Nigel Smith Lexington Catholic’s time in 3A began almost perfectly in 2015 – they ran out to an 11-4 record and finished as state runners-up to Belfry. That is to date the last time they have captured a region crown, dropping from the playoffs at the hands of Central, then Boyle County, then Belfry again last year. While they step into a difficult district that they still share with Boyle County, perhaps the change of class will put them back on the track they enjoyed at the start of the 2010s, when they captured five straight region titles. Naturally, the name to know when considering the 2019 Knights is Kentucky commit Beau Allen. Allen enters his third year as the sole starter for the Knights, and the career numbers are impressive. He has thrown for over 7,700 yards in his career while completing 63.4% of his attempts, racking up 89 TDs against just 21 INTs. It may be a stretch to see him getting the 56 TDs that he’d need to pass Elijah Sindelar for the most ever in a KHSAA career, but simply matching last year’s feat would put him in the top 5 all-time. He had the highest yardage per game average in the state a year ago, and his 3,729 yards trailed only Wiley Cain’s 3,987 yards – Allen attempted 144 fewer passes. Allen also led his team in rushing with 740 yards on 99 attempts, scoring eight times. It’s the departure of 22 seniors and most starters that keep Lexington Catholic out of the top five on our list. RB Ryan Nichols returns after a 83/425/4 line a season ago as the second leading rusher behind Allen. The top three receivers from 2018 depart, but they do have junior Jackson Corbett hauled in 27 receptions for 450 yards and 5 TDs last season. The Knights also lost their top five tacklers from a unit that allowed over 28 PPG a season ago. That sounds bad, but simply outscoring opponents has been the strategy at Lexington Catholic for quite some time. They haven’t held opponents to less than a 20 PPG average since 2007, and as recently as 2017 were actually outscored by opponents on the year despite a winning record. So expect the usual high-octane offense and back and forth scoring at LexCath this season. The Knights play an absolutely brutal schedule, featuring non-district games against Frederick Douglass, DeSales, Covington Catholic, Pulaski County, and Indianapolis Howe. A losing record is not out of the question, but with Allen at the reins, they will never be totally out of a game. 7. Central (2018: 13-2; 3A State Champions) Head Coach: Marvin Dantzler Since the advent of the six class system, no program has better represented the growth that the KHSAA hoped for from moving to the format in 2007. Prior to that time, Central had won a region title just twice – in 1995 and 2006 – and had never advanced further than the state semifinals. In 12 seasons of the new 3A, Central won six state titles, finished as runner-up two more times, and won 10 region titles. The last of those came a year ago with a 20-19 win over Corbin, a game that capped a ten game winning streak to boot. The incredible Yellow Jackets defense posted seven shutouts and held five other opponents to single digits. They come to 4A with a championship pedigree and as one of the most established programs of the last decade. It’s that pedigree and trust in the program that has earned this ranking, because there is a staggering amount of production lost from a year ago. Keileon Hathaway moves over to QB having never attempted a pass for Central – in fact, only sophomore Vernon Duncan has. His one attempt was intercepted. Deondre Howard is the only returning player who has caught a pass, with three receptions for 48 yards. Less than 70 yards of production returns from a team that put up 5,049 yards a year ago. LG Chris Pryor and C Daniel Horton return on the offensive line, along with Terrance Crawford at fullback. Still, turnover is nothing new for the program. This will be the fourth straight season that a new player assumes the primary signal caller role. The Dark Side Defense lost most of its personnel as well, but will be anchored by DE Aiden Moore and ILB Ben Bush, both starters a season ago. Moore was second on the team in 2018 with 53 tackles, adding three sacks, two fumble recoveries, and an interception that he took in for a score. Bush posted 50 tackles and forced four fumbles to lead the defense, adding a sack. The defense may be more likely to resemble the 2016 edition that held five opponents to single digits but gave up some big games to inflate the average, but should still be quite a force. The Yellow Jackets move into a district with stalwarts Franklin County and Shelby County, with Franklin County in particular serving as a threat to Central in the first two rounds. For the region final round, Central would be facing the prospect of teams like Franklin-Simpson or Madisonville-North Hopkins. The non-district schedule is the typically difficult fare for a team that is always forged in the fire. St. X, South Warren, and Manual are of particular note. Early returns are promising as they won a scrimmage with 5A power Scott County by a 15-7 score. 8. Franklin County (2018: 10-3; 4A Region Runners-Up) Head Coach: Eddie James By a lot of metrics, 2018 was highly successful for the Flyers. They advanced past the first round for the first time since 2014, and made the region finals for the first time since 2013, posting double digit wins for the first time since that same year. Their eight game win streak included a home win over Knox Central, but the script was flipped on them in a 13-7 overtime loss on the road at Knox Central to end their season a week earlier than expected. It is tough to exit the playoffs against a team you beat by 22 points just over a month earlier, but fortunately, Franklin County has a lot coming back to get over it. 14 seniors graduated from the 2018 Flyers. QB Nick Broyles, junior to be, was not among them. Broyles had a fantastic year, completing 62% of his passes for 2,796 yards, 25 TDs, and just eight interceptions. He was also a rare 2,000+ passer combined with 1,000+ rusher, toting the ball 167 times for 1,113 yards and 13 touchdowns. It would not be an understatement to call him the most important cog in the offense a year ago, and that will certainly continue this season. Junior WR Fred Farrier returns to lead the WR corps. Farrier led the team with 868 yards and 11 TDs on 58 receptions last season, and also was the third leading rusher with 225 yards on 26 carries. Three of the top five receivers are back from last season, and three starting offensive linemen return. That’s a lot coming back from a team that averaged 30.3 PPG – they should be very sound. Defensively, Brady Holleran is the first name to know. He accounted for 13.5 sacks a season ago, notched 121 solo tackles and 48.5 tackles for loss. Just a beast to build around on the line. Andrew Maupin is a strong contributor as well, with 5.5 sacks and 47 solo tackles in 2018. The Flyers allowed over 20 PPG a season ago, holding only one opponent below 10 points. Expect that to continue to be a struggle that may limit the upside of the team, but the offense should be able to score with anyone. Central figures to be the team most likely to fight Franklin County for district supremacy, though Shelby County remains to challenge and Waggener serves as a year to year dark horse. Scheduling was unfortunate this season for the Flyers, as they have to travel to both Shelby County and Central. Collins and Anderson County are the most notable non-district contests, and like Central, Franklin-Simpson and Madisonville-North Hopkins would be most likely teams to contend with in a potential regional final. 9. Knox Central (2018: 10-4; 4A State Semifinalists) Head Coach: Fred Hoskins At long last, it was Knox Central’s time in 2018. For the first time ever, they brought home a region title. In so doing, they avenged a 42-20 loss just five weeks prior, knocking off Franklin County 13-7 in overtime. Nick Martin had three interceptions in the game, including on Franklin County’s final two possessions, and Dane Imel scored the game winning touchdown on Knox’s possession in overtime. Knox fell to Johnson Central big the following week, but a legacy was already cemented. So now it’s encore time. QB Brady Worley is back for his junior year. His sophomore campaign was a great success, completing 181 of 300 attempts for 2,921 yards and 29 touchdowns. That puts him at just over 4,600 yards for his career, and represented a big leap forward from his freshman year. He’ll be joined in the backfield by returning bell cow Ethan Mills. The junior running back had 1,448 yards on 244 attempts with 16 touchdowns a season ago, pushing him over 2,000 yards for his career. Not only are they set at those spots this year, but they’ll be looking good for that in 2020 as well. Four of five linemen return with only center Lucas Lambo departing, and three of those four are juniors, meaning even more consistency for 2020. The only offensive negative entering 2019 is the departure of the team’s top three WRs, with Kevionte Turner’s 24 receptions for 299 yards leading the returnees. Defensively, the four of the top five in tackles return, led by LB Trace Floy. Floyd record 95 solo tackles a season ago. Michael Bays had seven sacks as well from the linebacker corps. Dylan Hoskins is the lone returning player on the line, but there is a strong defensive foundation coming back for a team that had six games where opponents were held to single digits. If not for Corbin moving into the district, Knox would probably open up as district favorites. As it stands, they are part of what is arguably the deepest district in the class, as those two are joined by Wayne County and even newcomer Lincoln County showed strength in 5A last season. Winning the district will be critical to gain home field when those teams beat up on each other in the first two rounds of the playoffs. 10. Wayne County (2018: 8-4; 4A Second Round) Head Coach: Shawn Thompson Wayne County experienced a bit of hard luck last season to have been as good as they were and out after two rounds. Their four losses on the year came to Frederick Douglass, Boyle County, Knox Central, and in the playoffs to Franklin County. Those teams made at least the region finals and/or were considered among the best teams in the state regardless of class. The Cardinals averaged 38 PPG, but could only manage 21 points in poor field conditions in their loss to Franklin County, failing to hold a 21-14 lead entering the fourth quarter. Like district foe Knox Central, the major offensive components return for Wayne. QB Brody Weaver threw for 2,070 yards and completed 29 touchdowns in his sophomore season, ably taking over from the superb Lorenzo Linsey who had graduated after the 2017 season. He’ll be joined by feature back Braedon Sloan. The junior tailback averaged 9.33 YPC last season in posting 1,120 yards and 15 scores. Carson Simpson returns to the backfield as well, contributing 487 yards last season on 102 carries. Tito Ruiz is the leading returning receiver, and will be expected to step up after the departure of 1,000 yard receiver Aubrey Weaver. Two starting offensive linemen return, with junior center William King of particular note with good size at a critical position for the shotgun attack. DT Cody Roysdon anchors the defensive line, with a 2018 stat line including 32 solo tackles and a team-leading 4.5 sacks. Lee Shelton was third on the team with 46 total tackles in his freshman season, and led the team with 4 interceptions, including taking two to the house. He will provide a strong piece to build around in the linebacker corps. Still, with more than half the defense out from a 2018 edition that allowed almost 25 PPG, the pressure may be on the veteran offense to win some games on their own while they settle in. Wayne County should be able to show right away what they’re made of, opening with always tough Shelby County before matching up against a Pulaski County team that always features a potent offense. They will host Knox Central in a crucial district game on October 18th, but will have to hit the road the following week against Corbin. It bears repeating as with those two team’s notes above – winning first and home field in this district may well be the thing that gets you past the second round. Just Outside 11. Anderson County (2018: 10-1; 5A Second Round) Head Coach: Mark Peach The Bearcats had a disappointing end to an unbeaten 2018 campaign in a 14-10 loss to Highlands in the playoffs, but initially were going to return enough that they would have placed several spots higher on this list. That was before nearly 1,500 yard back C.A. Collins transferred to Breathitt County for his senior season, his third team in as many years. Transfer giveth – transfer taketh away. Zach Labhart should return to the lead back role that he vacated after an injury last season – he took three of his 10 rushes in for scores in two games last season. Returning QB Jagger Gillis threw for 1,015 yards in 2018 and had a 15:1 TD:INT ratio. Darian Dearinger is the name to know on the defensive side of the ball. The 6’3” junior defensive end holds offers from Marshall, Bowling Green, and Eastern Kentucky, and posted four sacks on 35 solo tackles last season. They’ll be looking to play spoiler in the Boyle County/Lexington Catholic district. 12. Harlan County (2018: 4-7; 5A Second Round) Head Coach: Warren Creech 2018 was a reset type of season for the Black Bears, a season after they made a run to the 5A state semifinals with three straight road wins. In 2018 they only managed back to back wins once and started 0-4. But almost every starter returns for the squad, including four players who rushed for more than 100 yards on the season with the balanced rushing attack. That crop is led by Ben Landis (118 rushes, 642 yards, 5 TDs) and Tyler Casolari (121 rushes, 562 yards, 5 TDs). Jordan Steele is back on the defensive line after notching five sacks last season, with LB Josh Turner’s 81 tackles good enough for second on the team last season. Their potential to make noise in the playoffs would likely be seen as more promising if not for the presence of Johnson Central in their new district, likely eliminating their chances of advancing past the second round. 13. Hopkinsville (2018: 5-7; 4A Second Round) Head Coach: Craig Clayton The seemingly-perpetual sleeping giant of 4A, the Tigers slumbered once again in 2018, getting hammered on the way to a 1-6 start before rebounding for a second straight year for some late wins to make a second round exit against Madisonville. Health was once again a major factor for the Tigers as they lost QB Javier Bland just five games into the season. He had a tough run against their brutal schedule with just 528 yards on 31 completions, but there is no doubt that he gives the Tigers a much higher ceiling. He’s back to lead the offense while fill-in Ellis Dunn shifts back to wide receiver. Dunn had 239 yards on 12 receptions, and still finished as the team’s second leading receiver despite playing quarterback for more than half their games. Only ten seniors were lost from 2018, and if they can finally stay healthy, they will be a huge threat to Madisonville in the district. At the very least, they could push Logan County back to third in the district. 14. Moore (2018: 11-2; 4A Region Runners-Up) Head Coach: Tombe Thomas Thomas takes over a Moore team that was one of the great 4A success stories a season ago. The Mustangs grabbed a district title, winning every district game by 27 points or more, and made a run to the region finals. That gave them their first playoff victory in eight seasons. They experienced the heartbreak of a go-ahead touchdown scored against them with 23 seconds remaining to stop them from grabbing the region title. Twenty seniors depart from last year’s team, but QB Rae Von Vaden returns. The junior threw for 1,291 yards on 70 completions a season ago, with 21 touchdowns against just 5 interceptions. Horatio Willis (22 rushes, 320 yards, 4 touchdowns) and Kriston McMurray (16 rushes, 100 yards, 1 touchdown) return to compliment him in the backfield. Willis also is the leading returnee on the defensive side of the ball, with 62 tackles a season ago. Spencer County slides over from their former spot in district 4, but they otherwise face the same foes that they rolled up in 2018. John Hardin figures to be their primary challenger. 15. Logan County (2018: 10-2; 4A Second Round) Head Coach: Todd Adler The Cougars remain a great story, with the last two years yielding their all-time leading rusher in Gary Hardy before he even plays his senior year, and a sparkling 21-3 record. But they have not managed to get past the second round in their difficult region, and with the loss of 22 seniors, they face a significant challenge to break through that ceiling this season. QB Tyler Ezell is back again, with a 107/186 for 1,669 yards and 12 touchdown performance last season. Gary Hardy rushed for nearly 1,500 yards, scoring a touchdown on 1 out of every 10 attempts. Leading receiver Maurice Gordon (36/495/4) returns, as does two-sport stud Anthony Woodard. RG Logan Gibson is the only returning offensive lineman, and that will be the biggest question mark for the team entering the year. Zach Yates returns at linebacker after grabbing the second most tackles for the team last season. The Cougars added Warren East and Greenwood to slightly increase schedule difficulty, but it’s their road trip to 5A power South Warren in the last week before the playoffs that they are hoping will prepare them for the postseason the most.
  3. Knox Central looks to start another strong run after going 10-4 last season en route to a state semifinal finish, falling to Johnson Central 59-20. That was one week after Ashland fell to the same Johnson Central team by a 50-14 score, ending a 11-2 campaign where they lost both times to Johnson Central. They've escaped their tormentors with the drop to 3A. This is one of the marquee matchups in the state - who wins?
  4. One of the rare all-4A openers matches Wayne County from the east and Shelby County from the west in the PBK Death Valley Bowl at Lincoln County. Wayne County finished 8-4 a season ago, a rare season of late without competing for a region title. Shelby County struggled with consistency, or at least the consistency they'd want. Their 6-6 campain started with two wins, then two losses, and alternated wins and losses the rest of the way. They too bowed out in the second round in a narrow 20-14 loss to Knox Central. Shelby County is seen as a fringe competitor for the top ten, and may be looking to take Wayne's spot directly. Who gets this one?
  5. The Flyers fell short of the state semifinals a season ago, exiting with a 10-3 record via a 13-7 loss in overtime against Knox Central. They'll open 2019 at an East Jessamine squad that moves up in class to 5A this year, going 4-7 in 4A last season, and falling to John Hardin in the first round of the playoffs. Will East Jessamine be able to defend their homefield or will the Flyers.... uh, fly?
  6. The Maroons have most of the gang back for another season, looking to improve on last season's 10-3 region runner-up finish that saw them just barely fall short against eventual state champion Franklin-Simpson. They'll meet a Union County team that went 7-4, but one of those seven wins was a stunner on the road against that same Madisonville team, winning 14-13. Can the Braves turn everyone's heads again?
  7. The back to back defending state champions of 4A open up their latest title defense with neighboring Greenwood. Franklin has faced off with the Gators for the last ten seasons, and have won three straight and five of six from Greenwood. The last two were particularly lopsided affairs, with the Wildcats winning by a combined 113-13 score. Greenwood is looking to rebound from a 2-9 campaign a season ago. Can Greenwood get back in the game or will Franklin-Simpson run away with this again?
  8. The Redhounds open the 2019 campaign with the first of three straight home games, looking to impress immediately in their new class. The 2018 3A state runners-up match up with 5A Whitley County. The Colonels went 3-8 a season ago, which included a 36-7 loss in their season opener against the same Corbin team. Will the result be different this time?
  9. Johnson Central makes a rare opening week appearance, eschewing their usual by week out of the gate. The back to back 4A runners-up dropped their season opener a season ago, but didn't lose again until the state finals. They'll meet a Lafayette team that almost completely reversed that script - winning their season opener but then losing the next ten contests. Is this as mismatched as that sounds?
  10. The Rebels open up their 2019 campaign in the Little Caesars Ft. Harrod Bowl taking place at Mercer County. The 4A favorites haven't lost in their last 17 regular season contests, dating to a 10-7 loss to Danville in 2017. They'll meet an Iroquois team that went 2-8 a season ago and failed to reach the playoffs. The result seems to be in little doubt, making the question, how lopsided does this get?
  11. 4A was quite possibly the most difficult class to get a handle on a season ago. 18 teams appeared in the top 10. Teams like Knox Central and Logan County weren’t exactly on the radar to begin with, but made incredibly strong runs as the season wore on to make believers of us all. Logan County in particular was a great story. It seemed that just about every time we thought we knew what was going to happen, some curveball was introduced. Late in the season, that curveball was an unexpected Johnson Central loss to Ashland, dethroning the team that had been #1 all year long. One Johnson Central got past Ashland in the rematch as well as their successor at #1 in Wayne County, we thought we knew that the back to back state title was in the bag against a Franklin-Simpson team they’d beaten senseless the season before. But Franklin-Simpson had other ideas. The Wildcats, a team that started 2-3, capped a ten game winning streak with a 35-21 win over the Golden Eagles, giving the new look 4A their fifth different champion in the last five seasons. There isn’t a single team in 4A that has won more than one title in the class since the move to six classes in 2006. But chances are, that is going to change after this year. 1. Johnson Central (2017: 12-3; State Runners-Up) Head Coach: Jim Matney 4A has been very, very good to the Golden Eagles since the departure of Highlands and Covington Catholic after the 2014 season. After so many years of not getting past the second round because of the monsters in their way, they have now been to three straight state title games. It’s a testament to just how good they’ve been that while they are certainly not going to turn their nose up at a title and two runner-up finishes, they likely feel that they have left a title out on the field. Their 12-3 record last year was their worst record since 2012 when they were 9-3. 12-3, their worst record during that time. The Golden Eagles were prolific offensively a year ago, posting 43 PPG. They topped that mark in every one of their last 8 wins, but failed to score more than 21 in any of their three losses. The defense uncharacteristically allowed 17.5 PPG. But enough about what was. The first thing to know is that RB Joe Jackson is back for his senior year. After suffering an injury in the first game of the year last season, it was thought he might return later on, but that never happened. That leaves him with a hunger to get back at it, and he will be a shot of adrenaline. It’s not often you get to re-add the experience of a player whose last full campaign went for over 2,000 yards rushing and 31 touchdowns. They do lose Blake Gamble, who was very good in his own right (1,907 yards and 25 TDs), but so long as he is healthy, Jackson is expected to go right back to being the workhorse. Gamble is the only offensive weapon who doesn’t return. JR QB Riley Preece will return to look to improve on a solid 1,284 yard campaign where he threw for 16 TDs and just 5 INTs. The #2- #4 rushers from last year return. The entire pass catching corps are back, including Seth Dalton, who led the team in receiving yards with 815 yards on 21 catches, 10 of them for TDs. They lose their tackles but return the entire interior of the offensive line. Guards Eddie Patrick, Noah Blankenship, and center Byron Pierce average around 6’3”, 280 lbs. BEEFY. In all, seven starters return on the offensive side of the ball, and they also lost only one backup from the two-deep chart from the state title game. I did mention that this was a team that scored 43 PPG last season – they are going to crush it offensively! Defensively the team took a step back last season, but should return to form this time around. They return 7 starters on that side of the ball as well, and every single backup from the two-deep. They do lose both Marcus Wells and Dawson Stalker off the defensive line, as well as the team’s leading tackler Tyler Tackett, but expect great things out of the linebacking corps which features Devin Johnson (90 tackles) and Matt Horn (Second team all-state, 89 tackles). With so much production coming back on both sides, it is fair to expect the Golden Eagles to absolutely bludgeon the opposition in most games. Johnson Central opens with Capital (WV) as usual, who usually provide a tough test. That’s likely it in the challenging department until they close with Ashland and Belfry – both losses a year ago, but both at home. Home is where Johnson Central will be a lot this season. They feature seven games in front of their partisan crowd, and should they win district, they could conceivably play at home ELEVEN times prior to the state finals. 2. Franklin-Simpson (2017: 12-3; State Champions) Head Coach: Doug Preston The record may not have been quite as pretty as the 14-1 result the previous year, but the end result sure was sweeter for the Wildcats. Counting the loss in the 2016 state title game, Franklin lost four out of six games heading into week six a year ago. That included a frankly stunning three running clocks in those games. They didn’t look like a title contender at that point, but they would not lose again. Franklin reeled off ten wins in a row, averaging 43.2 PPG in those contests while allowing just 11.8 PPG, and were clutch when it was most needed. After falling behind 20-0 after one quarter to Hopkinsville, Franklin scored 35 in a row. After trailing entering the fourth quarter and again with just 2:41 to go, the Wildcats got a kickoff return to the six yard line and punched in the go ahead score against Collins en route to a 42-38 victory in the semifinals. And then in the finals, Franklin made sure you’d forget all about their drubbing in the previous year’s finals, never trailing on their way to leads of 21-0, 28-7, and 35-14 before settling in for a 35-21 win over Johnson Central, and their first state title since 1980. Franklin will have to replace thirteen seniors off of that squad, including QB Rylan Thomas and one of their most versatile players in Saul Brady (1,126 yards rushing, 11 TDs, 3 INTs). Offensively, that’s most of what they lost. They return four offensive linemen, including Louisville commit Jack Randolph. Seven starters return, but the player that you should be most excited about is Tre Bass. Bass enters his senior year as one of the wings in Franklin’s Wing-T attack, after posting 1,457 yards on 104 rushes and 14 TDs last year. Do some quick math and you’ll see Bass averaged 14 yards per carry last year. Fourteen. Counting his receptions, he averaged a touchdown every 6.4 touches. He is absolute lightning on the field, a big play threat literally every time the ball is in his hands. He housed two INTs as well. Joining him in the backfield will be FB Carlos McKinney, who was more of a bruiser to the tune of 1,153 yards and 15 TDs on 181 carries. Experienced line, experienced runners are the best friend of a new QB. The news isn’t quite as friendly on the defensive side as only four starters return to a squad that allowed 17.2 PPG last year. Their top three in tackles from 2017 depart, and senior DE Collin Preston (99 tackles, 61 solo) will be expected to lead the line this time around. A lot of the backups on last year’s team do return, but many of them were already on the offensive side of the ball. Inexperience and depth will be challenging for the defense. They’ll likely take a few hits early on during the toughest part of their schedule, with road trips to Elizabethtown and Meade County (both losses a season ago), with a home game against bitter rival South Warren looming at the end of August. After that the sailing should get considerably smoother, as none of their final five opponents have managed a win over the Wildcats in their last three meetings. 7-3 is probably the floor for Franklin going into the playoffs, 9-1 the ceiling, and as it stands today, they are the favorite to return to a third straight title game. 3. Ashland (2017: 10-3; Region Runner-Up) Head Coach: Tony Love There was a lot to love last season from the Tomcats. They reached a second straight region final after they had previously failed to ever advance to that round in the six class system. They won their first district title since 2011, and grabbed their first win over Johnson Central since that same year, exorcising some demons of some close failures. Like 2016, you would not necessarily have thought after the first few games that the Tomcats were going to experience that success. A 1-2 start saw Ashland drop as low as 8th in the rankings, but it was a precursor to a nine-game winning streak which included the aforementioned win over Johnson Central as well as some crushing blowouts like a 67-0 win over Boyd County and 71-0 over East Carter (in back to back weeks). Ashland trailed just 35-27 to Johnson Central during the fourth quarter in their rematch before faltering late on their way to a 54-27 result. Still, all things considered, it was a solid year, leading into another expected solid year. Fifteen seniors are gone from last season, none more damaging than Aroq Colburn. He led the team in rushing, receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns. He accounted for over 1/3 of all receiving yards and touchdowns. That’s a big negative for the passing game, but the big positive is QB Braxton Ratliff returns for his third season as a starter. While the team tipped more back to a ground attack last year - as they were before he took the reins as a sophomore – he still posted a solid 1,745 yards through the air, posting a 58% completion percentage with 22 touchdowns and just 6 INTs. He was third on the team in rushing as well, just 11 yards behind Blake Hester, who returns at RB for his junior campaign. TE Russell Rogers (244 yards, 3 TDs) will look to pick up the slack for receiving in Colburn’s absence, as well as that of Isaac Caines (473 yards, 6 TDs), who will be out several weeks with a broken hand. Still, it seems likely this will continue to be the more classic 70/30 rushing split for the Tomcat offense. Defensively, standouts should be Hester in the secondary, defensive ends Caleb Skaggs and Ryan Bryant anchoring the ends of the line for their senior season, and LB Drew Fannin, the lone returner in the linebacking corps. Ashland will look to get off to a better start this year than the past couple, taking their shots again at Harlan County, Raceland, and George Washington. Each has beaten them at least once in the last two seasons. Like most years, they are then expected to run the table until their machup against Johnson Central, though Greenup County gave them a game effort last season. 4. Knox Central (2017: 8-4; Second Round) Head Coach: Fred Hoskins Knox’s second year under Coach Hoskins was a return to form for the Panthers. After a disappointing 4-6-1 campaign in 2016 saw them exit in the first round, Knox rebounded with an 8-4 campaign. That included a regular season where their only losses came to Danville (undefeated 2A champions), Wayne County (12-2 4A state semifinalists), and Corbin (13-2 3A state runners-up). They averaged a strong 33 PPG prior to their last game of the postseason, and had big wins over district rival Rockcastle County and typically strong Franklin County. Knox was knocked from the playoffs in a 12-3 loss to Western that featured their lowest scoring and yardage of the year, but it’s fair to say that there was a good foundation laid. One of the key components of that foundation was Brady Worley. His freshman campaign was a great success, posting 1,706 yards on 105/180 passing with 10 touchdowns. The multisport athlete helped bring almost perfect balance to the Panthers’ attack, with almost the exact same rushing and passing yardage gained (2,272 to 2,281). That contrasts to a 70/30 rushing lean in 2016. Despite splitting time at the position during portions of the season, he still finished 10th in 4A in per game passing. Worley is a cornerstone for the future of the Knox Central offense, and he has plenty around him. Three of the five starting offensive linemen return, and right tackle Brayden Roark is the oldest of that group, meaning the line will likely be intact for two more seasons. Ethan Mills will step up after the loss of Jermel Carton to graduation. Mills put up 644 yards on 91 rushes last season for an average of just over 7 yards per carry. Almost every member of the WR corps returns, headlined by Nick Martin (52 catches, 792 yards). Martin was 11th in 4A for receiving yardage per game in 2017. The corps is deep and experienced, which can be said of much of the team given that they graduated only six seniors. They did take a slight hit on the defensive side, losing three out of their front four on the line. However, they do return six starters to a team that led 4A in defensive yardage allowed. Tucker Holland is chief among those returning, leading the Panthers a year ago with 143 tackles – 110 credited as solo. He had six fumble recoveries on top of that. Dane Imel (7 INTs) and Blevin Campbell (5 INTs) headline a ballhawking secondary. This could be a historic year for Knox Central. They will enter the season as slight favorite to win 4A Region 3, which matches District 4 and District 6 this year. If they were to win that region, it would be their first region title in the history of the school. A trio of games in October should tell a lot of the story as to how likely that is. They’ll host Wayne County on October 5th, in a game that may decide the district’s winner. On October 12th they’ll visit Franklin County, the slight favorite to win District 4. And then they’ll wrap up with a road trip to Rockcastle County in their district closer. Win all three, and they most definitely will enter the playoffs as favorites for a historic title. 5. Hopkinsville (2017: 6-7; Region Runner-Up) Head Coach: Craig Clayton There’s almost certainly no team in the state that has had the adversity that the Tigers have dealt with in the past few years. After tragically having a player die in practice in 2015, promising freshman Elijah Austin died of an accidental self-inflicted gunshot at the midpoint of the year. The team at the time was just 1-6, suffering through a difficult schedule and a rocky offseason that saw the transfer of QB Jalen Johnson – the program’s all-time leading passer – and the decision not to play by Shorty Cager, their most dynamic athlete and leading returning receiver. Their loss on the field to Logan County just before Austin’s death condemned them to no better than third in the district, and it is easy to see where they could have simply called it a year. But the Tigers rallied for five straight wins, avenging their loss to Logan County in dominating 43-8 fashion, and led the eventual state champion Franklin-Simpson 20-0 in the second quarter before succumbing to the Wildcat onslaught. They may have had the most successful 6-7 ever with all they endured. When simply considering who returned from last year, this rank may seem a bit premature. 16 seniors are gone from the 2017 campaign, representing 13 starting positions, including three two-way players. It does not seem to be a recipe for a top five ranking, and frankly, their record early on against the same tough schedule as last year may give pause to some. But the Tigers have shown to be closers in the past few years, and only Franklin-Simpson and South Warren have knocked them out of the playoffs during that time. That’s a pretty good pedigree. QB Javier Bland has a pretty good pedigree too, debuting with 2,148 yards passing and 22 touchdowns last year. It would be bold to say that the rising junior made everyone forget about Jalen Johnson, but he certainly eased the pain. The Tigers do lose their top three receivers from last season, but received a big boost in the transfer of Ellis Dunn, who had 42 receptions for 622 yards and 3 touchdowns a season ago at Christian County. Tashaun Barker (13 receptions 122 yards, 1 TD) also moved over from Trigg County. That’s a big boost for the offense which will operate behind an experienced line that replaces only center Wil Hawkins. A big point of focus this season should be to get the running game more established. It was missing in action in 2017, as Degenhardt led the team with just 390 yards. Jordan Hopson is the leading returning rusher with 73 rushes for 286 yards. The defense does not have as much to shout about, gutted to the tune of losing three of their front four, two linebackers (including team leader in tackles JaKevis Bryant), and a few in the secondary. LB Conner Lackey (49 tackles) and DE Denarius Barns are notable returning players. The Tigers are going to have to win some shootouts. The schedule is the exact same as the one that Hopkinsville started 0-4 against last year. They open with South Warren, one of the 5A favorites, move right into Mayfield, the 2A favorites, before matching up with Caldwell County and Christian County, two teams that are expected to be in the top ten of their classes. It’s not an easy road. Following their bye week they’ll travel to Madisonville-North Hopkins, who dealt them a devastating 35-20 loss last season before a circled home game with Logan County that could decide the district. 6. Wayne County (2017: 12-2; State Semifinalist) Head Coach: Shawn Thompson Wayne County remained one of the most consistent programs in 4A in the 2017 season. They have posted double digit victories in five of their last six seasons, and have won their region in four of those six years. Last season’s two losses came to 3A champion Boyle County and 4A runner-up Johnson Central. But it’s that Johnson Central stonewall in the state semifinals that has ailed them the last three seasons. And with the loss of 15 seniors, they may find it difficult to overcome that obstacle, or bring home a fourth straight region title. Offensively, the Cardinals will undergo an identity change. 4A player of the year Lorenzo Linsey is gone, as are their top three rushers. Braedon Sloan returns as leading rusher with 237 yards on 20 carries. Aubrey Weaver would be the team’s leading receiver returning, after posting 64 catches for 1,016 yards with 12 TDs a season ago, but may move over to QB in Linsey’s absence. That would leave the Cardinals replacing their top six receivers from 2017. The Cardinals will be boosted by three of five starters returning on the offensive line as they figure out their attack, but may return to a bit more of a running focus as they were before Linsey. Defensively, the secondary will be a strength. Weaver had three picks a season ago while playing on both sides of the ball, and DB Bryce Howard led the team with six INTs. Howard was also one of two of the team’s top seven tacklers from a year ago to return. The other is senior LB Chris Dunagan, who will be expected to carry even more after a campaign with 72 solo tackles. It’s a year of change for Wayne County, but Thompson has built a winning tradition, and they have an advantage that most teams in their region don’t – they know how to win in the playoffs. They’ll tackle an extremely tough early schedule, matching up against Freerick Douglas, Pulaski County, and Boyle County in three of their first four contests. 7. Logan County (2017: 11-1; Second Round) Head Coach: Todd Adler The greatest season in program history was the greatest story in the entire state last season, and earned Coach Adler coach of the year honors for the state. Logan County had lost 42 games in a row from 2012 through 2016, but after winning their last game of 2016, reeled off 11 in a row before falling to Hopkinsville in the playoffs. It’s frankly one of the most stunning turnarounds this state has ever witnessed, and included heartstopping wins over district rivals Hopkinsville (13-12) and Madisonville-North Hopkins (23-21). And they have the personnel for an encore. A mere nine seniors depart off that transcendent team. The Cougars return every single skill player on offense, with nine starters coming back for a Logan County team that averaged almost 33 PPG. They do lose both their starting guards on the line, but return their anchor Caden McKinnis at the center position. McKinnis is a two-way player that is the returning district player of the year. Tyler Ezell completed 56.5% of his passes last season, posting 1,611 yards, 19 TDs against 11 INTs, and ran for 606 yards with ten scores. He is just a junior, as is his workhorse running mate in the backfield Gary Hardy. Hardy averaged 6 YPC while running for 1,261 yards and 9 TDs. Certainly Logan County can’t make the leap they made from 2016 to 2017, but the improvement this year should continue to be evident. Defensively the news is still good, though not quite as good. They lose a pair in the linebacking corps that were #2 and #4 on the team in tackles, as well as two off the defensive line. McKinnis was the team leader in tackles, and the entire secondary returns, though they were rarely tested. They allowed 17% of their season’s total passing yardage in their loss to Hopkinsville. The schedule remains Charmin-soft, so it is expected that they will have no less than 7 wins. Their games to circle are a home game on September 7th against rival Russellville, and then the critical back to back games in October at Hopkinsville (10/5) and home against Madisonville (10/12). They won’t sneak up on anyone this year, but they may not have to worry about that. 8. Madisonville-North Hopkins (2017: 7-5; Second Round) Head Coach: Jay Burgett In most ways, 2017 was a step in the right direction for Madisonville. They improved by three wins, advanced a round further than 2016, and earned a home game. But there is no doubt they will look back at their loss to Logan County as a missed opportunity for more. A win in that game would have given them a district title and homefield advantage for the entire playoffs. They led 21-14 at home with 5:15 left in the game, and still 21-20 with 3:40 to go. But they allowed an onside kick recovery and a fourth down conversion on the decisive drive in a 23-21 loss, dooming them to run into Franklin-Simpson in the second round. They watched #3 seed Hoptown go to the region title game instead. And they’ll have a battle to get back to the same position this year with both the Tigers and Cougars rated ahead of them. The great news is that Madisonville’s offense remains more or less intact. They were a rushing powerhouse a year ago, averaging 284.75 yards per game on the ground. They should not step back from that at all, returning the duo of Jariah Hightower (1,528 yards, 15 TDs) and Aaron Miller (958 yards, 12 TDs). In all, the top five rushers from a season ago return from a team that dropped only 11 seniors. QB Hayden Reynolds wasn’t asked to throw much, attempting only 104 passes while completing 45 for 648 yards and 9 scores, but it never hurts to have the guy under center back for another campaign. Four starting offensive linemen return, with monster 6’6”, 300 lbs guard Roberto Cruz a standout. This team will make no bones about how they intend to beat you – running straight at you. Defensively, the team needs to improve, having allowed over 22 PPG last season. They’ll have to replace Hernandez and Reed off their defensive line, but return their linebacking corps as well as standout James Gilbert in the secondary. LB Krey Cunningham led the team in tackles last season with 78, and the lone returnee on the D-Line Blacke Moody was second with 67. In all, a majority returns defensively, and their improvement will be the key to how far the Maroons can go. Their schedule sets up slightly more favorably than their district rivals, with Hopkinsville visiting Madisonville after their brutal opening slate, and then a bye week preceding their other crucial district contest against Logan County on October 12th. It is likely that they’d be favored against any District 2 team in the playoffs other than Franklin-Simpson, but a top seed would go a long way towards real success in the postseason. 9. Greenup County (2017: 6-5; First Round) Head Coach: Scott Grizzle Greenup County failed to win a playoff game for the first time since 2014 a season ago, but the program has still continued to trend in the right direction. The Musketeers have had 6 wins or more in each of the last three seasons, after failing to reach that win total every season from 2003-2014. They’re not far removed from a winless season in 2011 and only avoided the same feat in 2012 thanks to a forfeit of what had been a 72-0 loss. And while they’ve struggled to hang with Johnson Central, they have shown great promise in their games against Ashland, giving hope that if things can just bounce their way, they might play up to a 2 seed. There’s a whole lot to like from this Greenup team to continue their progression. Chief among them is Eli Sammons, one of the state’s best quarterbacks, fresh off a 2,432 yard campaign with 27 touchdowns. He’s just a junior entering his third year starting, meaning they’ll have the benefit of him in 2019 as well. He spread the ball out quite a bit a year ago, with five receivers logging 21 or more receptions. Of those, only Isaiah Greene graduated. Patrick Kelly led the team with 55 receptions for 726 yards and 7 TDs, and figures to lead the team again in his senior year. Dalton Halstead also returns at RB, posting 1,189 yards for 13 TDs a season ago. Workhorse running back, mostly intact WR corps, experience at QB – all checks. Offensively Greenup looks set. Defensively there are some holes on the line and in the secondary, but the linebacking corps should be a strength, led by Brecken Thomas. The Musketeers allowed over 22 PPG last season, something they’ll have to tighten up to contend. 10. Scott (2017: 8-4; Second Round) Head Coach: Dan Woolley Since they dropped to 4A for the 2015 season, their playoff runs have had one thing in common – they end whenever they run into Johnson Central. The Eagles suffered a blowout 64-16 loss to end the year at home against Johnson Central, but otherwise much more resembled their 2015 team than the two-win 2016 edition. A perfect 4-0 district record earned them two home games in the playoffs, and after a 2-2 start they won six of their next seven games, laying the foundation for 2018. Scott graduated a relatively modest class of 10 from last season. The linemen on both sides were hardest hit, especially on the offensive line where they lost four of their front six. Defensively the line employed a bit more of a rotation, which should ease the pain of experience lost. Skill-wise they do lose Nelson Perrin, but Quincy Perrin returns at wingback. Likely the best player in the district, he rushed for 1,441 yards and 16 TDs last season, and he will be complimented by the return of David Patrick (67/414/9) at the other wing. Chad Ohmer keeps the backfield steady, passing enough to keep the opposition honest with just over 1,000 yards last season. Jared Kelsay is a standout defensively, with 80 solo tackles in 2017. Roughly half the starters return for Scott on each side of the ball. If the trenches come together, they should be favored to win the district and perhaps put together a region final run if the cards fall right. Just Outside 11. Bourbon County (2017: 7-5; Second Round) Head Coach: John Hodge The Colonels could never manage to string together more than two wins in a row last season, but fell just 29-20 to eventual district champion Scott on the road. They’ll have that crucial game at home this year, which they might parlay into a title. Dalen Landrum returns at QB after posting 2,107 yards and 20 TDs last season, though his best WRs are lost to graduation. Thankfully, he’ll work behind a sizable offensive line to compensate, and he’ll have the services of Camarr Myers, who rushed for nearly 1,000 yards in 2017. Defensively they must make up for the loss of their top three tacklers, including Dalton Williams. 12. Franklin County (2017: 5-6; First Round) Head Coach: Eddie James Just nine seniors graduate from last season, but quarterback Jesse Thurman will look to have his team in contention for the district title. He threw for 1,419 yards and 13 TDs last season, and led the team in rushing as well with 586 yards and 6 scores. Tre Simmons is a player that the Flyers like to move around, and he combined for 1,263 yards on the ground and receiving. Franklin County will have a tall task in replacing Chad Holleran (147.5 tackles), but six of their top ten tacklers return, including promising sophomore Frank Turner. The linebacker was second on the team to Hollerand with 93 tackles, 58 of them solo. The Flyers were second in the district by a substantial margin last season (both above and below them), but with that experience coming back, it much more likely that they will run down Collins than that another team will catch up behind them. 13. Rockcastle County (2017: 8-4; Second Round) Head Coach: Scott Parkey The Rockets were hit hard by graduation, with 14 seniors departing from a roster that listed only 35 in the sophomore through senior classes. Critically, they return Jaden Payne, their best player on both sides of the ball. Payne posted 1,425 yards and 17 TDs on 198 rushes a season ago, and led the team in tackles with 45 solos. Rockcastle will have to figure out how to deal with the loss of seven starters on the defensive side and roughly half of what was essentially a seven man offensive line. That’s in addition to QB Brent Lovell and Holdan Barnett, the second leading rusher. There are definitely some question marks, but the Rockets have proven able to remain consistent thanks to a steady diet of running power, and they figure to do so again by leaning on Payne. It will be tough for them to catch up to Knox Central or Wayne County. 14. Taylor County (2017: 7-4; First Round) Head Coach: Jason Foley District 5 has somewhat been the red-headed stepchild of 4A, but with their cross bracket matchup with District 3 this season, the opportunity is there for Taylor County to make a run at a region crown. Like Rockcastle County, they graduated a sizable senior class relative to the size of their sophomore and junior classes (14 seniors, 22 combined in sophomore and junior crops). Unlike Rockcastle, they return a lot more at the skill positions on offense. Leading rushers Wes Oliver (1,004 yards, 18 TDs) and Tre Goodin (467 yards, 4 TDs) return, as does Grant McQueary (33/63, 451 yards, 5 TDs), who had the most attempts through the air from a team that had three players attempt more than 23 passes. Cameron Kosid (16 receptions, 282 yards, 2 TDs) and DeJhon Irvin (14 receptions, 224 yards, 2 TDs) are also back in the receiving corps. Logan Parker will anchor the defensive line, where he logged 80 tackles a season ago. The Cardinals have not won a playoff game since 2008 – a decade seems long enough. 15. Shelby County (2017: 7-5; Second Round) Head Coach: Todd Shipley The Rockets never make any secret of their offensive identity – they run the ball. A LOT. Last year they ran for nearly 2,600 yards while throwing for just 689. So it’s a bit of faith in their ability to replace players that the loss of Caleb Morehead’s 1,239 yards doesn’t send Shelby County out of the rankings. William Davis seems the most likely to step up for a Shelby County team that lost their top three rushers. Davis had 315 yards on just 45 rushes last season, posting a strong 7 yards per carry. He was the team’s leading pass catcher as well, with 172 yards and two scores on 15 receptions. With just two departures off the offensive line, the Rockets should remain offensively potent. The early season schedule is favorable to work out youth and inexperience, but Shelby County needs to be ready by September 21st, when they host Franklin County in a crucial district game.
  12. Franklin-Simpson saw an end to their 12 game winning streak and a seven game home streak in a running clock 36-14 loss to 5A powerhouse South Warren. Greenwood is entering on a two game losing streak, with their season so far tracking just like last season. Franklin has won two in a row against Greenwood, but failed to pick up the third in a row the last time they had such a win streak (in 2015). Can the Gators pull an incredible upset or do the Wildcats right the ship immediately?
  13. Knox Central enters at 1-1, and took the off week to clear their head from a blowout loss against Tennessee power Alcoa. The Panthers haven't fallen to Harlan County since 2013, and enjoyed a 43-23 blowout a year ago. Harlan County is 0-2 - will Knox send them to 0-3?
  14. The Golden Eagles bounced back from their loss to Capital, notching a somewhat closer than expected 33-21 victory over Henry Clay. They entertain another West Virginia team in South Charleston. South Charleston is not as highly regarded as the Capital team that beat Johnson Central, but is still rated by the computers as among the top 25 in the state. Johnson Central has beaten them the past two years, will they add a third?
  15. The Tigers started 0-2 just like 2017, but took the first step in showing that 2018 is a different year in knocking off Caldwell County 35-20 in the battle of the Tigers. That brings them to their rivalry game with Christian County, who also enter at 1-2. Christian County is coming off a surprising loss to Henderson County (28-7), and their lone win was in a dogfight against the very same Caldwell County team Hopkinsville just beat. Hopkinsville hasn't beaten Christian County since 2014, but is this the year?
  16. It's the Clash of the Cats! Logan County and Russellville is always a great rivalry game, though this year's edition appears to be a mismatch on paper. Last season this was the game that let people know that what they were seeing in Logan County was real, as the Cougars got the W 28-21. They enter this game at 3-0, just like a season ago. They're averaging 53 PPG and have already posted two shutouts. Russellville is 2-1, but their last game was a 17-13 decision against a Butler County team that Logan County walloped 57-0 in Week 1. Do the Panthers have any shot against Logan County?
  17. The Maroons have stayed on track since a surprising margin in their opening loss to Owensboro. They enter at 2-1, knocking off Murray 29-15 a week ago. They meet 2-0 Union County, who knocked off Madisonville 28-14 last season en route to a 5-0 start. This is the last warmup before district play for Madisonville - will they go in on the right foot?
  18. Knox Central got the season started right with a 49-22 win over Letcher County Central. It's a second straight year starting off in the victory column for a veteran Knox team. They will take on Alcoa in the Cumberland Falls Pigskin Classic at Corbin on August 25th. Alcoa is a monster of a matchup. Annually one of the best teams in Tennessee, Alcoa has won their class the last five seasons. Can Knox Central come out with the win?
  19. Franklin-Simpson opened their 4A title defense with a revenge win over Elizabethtown, 44-20. It was a turnaround from a 55-23 decision a year ago that saw the Wildcats embarrassed by a running clock. Meanwhile, Monroe County fell 34-20 to a Trigg County team they'd beaten by 18 a season ago. This appears to be a matchup between two teams moving in opposite directions from a game that Franklin already won 48-0 last season. Can we expect more of the same?
  20. This week the Golden Eagles begin their pursuit of a fourth straight title game appearance and second state championship after playing a scrimmage against Beechwood last week. Johnson Central was pushed in a 31-20 decision a year ago against Capital, but took their second straight season opener against Capital. In fact, Johnson Central hasn't lost a season opener since falling to Boyle County in 2010. Does the streak continue?
  21. Another year, another crushing blowout in Week 1 for the Maroons. You have to go back to 2014 to find the last time Madisonville won their season opener, and they've lost the last four by an average of 30.5 PPG. The latest was a 41-13 drubbing by a resurgent Owensboro squad. Jeriah Hightower was a bright spot, rushing for 131 yards on 19 attempts. Marshall County presents a get-right game, despite the Marshals' 34-12 win over Fort Campbell. Madisonville won their matchup 42-29 a season ago, kicking off a span that saw them win five of six games. Will we see a similar result this year?
  22. The Cardinals did not get off to a good start to the post-Lorenzo Linsey era, beaten badly by 6A Frederick Douglass 48-10. The Broncos are a top notch program so the result was not surprising, but it's quite the comedown for a Wayne County team that went 12-2 a season ago. Brody Weaver completed almost as many passes to the Broncos (three) as to his own team (four). They'll visit a Pulaski County team that came to Monticello a season ago and barely fell in a tight 29-27 decision to Wayne. They are coming in off a 48-39 win over Clarksville Northwest. Wiley Cain was prolific in the win, going 27/39 for 305 yards and five touchdowns. Can Wayne County avoid their first 0-2 start since 2010?
  23. The Cougars keep rolling along, bludgeoning Butler County 57-0 to open the 2018 season. Tyler Ezell only needed 6 completed passes to net 203 yards through the air, while Gary Hardy converted two of his 8 rushes into scores. Meanwhile, Muhlenberg County remained stuck in neutral as Apollo walloped them 47-12. A season ago Logan County won 36-18. Can we expect a bigger margin this time?
  24. Class 4A Region 1 Franklin-Simpson has been everything you’d hope for in a defending champion. The Wildcats are 9-1 and their only loss came at the hands of South Warren, one of the top teams in the state regardless of class. Franklin has won seven games in a row, and the last four have come via running clock. They’ve scored 44 points or more in eight games on the way to a 44.6 PPG average and haven’t been held below 47 points since September 14th. Both Tre Bass and Carlos McKinney have rushed for over 1,000 yards on the year. Tre Bass has scored roughly every five times he has ran it, notching 21 touchdowns on 96 attempts while racking up 1,315 yards. That’s nearly 14 yards per carry, which is insanely good. McKinney has 1,150 yards on 130 rushes to key a Wildcat ground attack that is posting over 360 yards per game. All of those stats are prior to a 53-6 win over Russellville where I can guarantee they padded them more. If there is a weakness on the offense, it is the passing attack. A point of emphasis in almost every garbage time snap, the passing game has netted only 534 yards for the team. Luke Richardson is a solid 27/49, but with 4 INTs against his 5 TD throws. The rushing attack is so good that it scarcely matters, but it is something to note that if a team can manage to slow or stop the ground game in the playoffs, Franklin can be had. LB Michael Punzalan leads the defense with 45 solo tackles and 90 total, and they have allowed 14.5 PPG. The lion’s share of that came in the loss to South Warren and garbage time. With respect to the rest of region 1, there isn’t really anyone that is considered a true threat. We have seen what the rest of District 2 has done against Franklin, which leaves Madisonville-North Hopkins and Logan County as the only real possibilities to slow them. Madisonville has bounced back from a 2-2 start to reel off six straight victories, including the last four by 14 points or less. As usual, Madisonville is heavily invested in the run game as well. Bellcow RB Jeriah Hightower has 1,437 yards on 197 rushes – almost more attempts than the rest of the team combined (which also counts sacks, so probably more actual attempts than the team). It’s the second straight year over 1,400 yards for the junior, who is closing in on 3,000 career rushing yards. Aaron Miller has also chipped in 563 yards on 97 attempts, but his pace is well off of last year’s effort where he had nearly 1,000 yards. The Maroons have not seen a ground game like Franklin’s, but are only allowing 79.3 rushing yards per game from their opponents. They would not run into Franklin until the region finals, which would be in Franklin. Meanwhile, Logan County fell just shy of matching last season’s undefeated effort, falling only to Madisonville en route to a 9-1 record. All the big names are making plays again. QB Tyler Ezell is connecting on nearly 62% of his passes with 11 TDs and 1,387 yards, though he has been banged up late this season. RB Gary Hardy has surpassed his rushing total from last year with 1,334 yards, 16 TDs on 153 attempts. The Cougar receiving corps is deep and spreads the ball around. Six different players have 200 yards or more, but none more than 455 yards. Maurice Gordon leads the pack with 31 receptions for 455 yards. The Cougar defense has forced 27 turnovers while allowing just 136 yards of offense per game. They have a tough opening matchup with Allen County-Scottsville, and if they win that, they visit Franklin. Projected Regional Final: Franklin-Simpson 42 Madisonville-North Hopkins 14 Region 2 Region 2 is District 3 & 5 this year, and will feature co-favorites Moore and Taylor County, both in the top ten of the BluegrassPreps.com rankings. Moore is enjoying one of its best season’s ever, racking up nine wins which is good enough for their best regular season since 1980. Their lone loss was to top-ranked Johnson Central on the road, a game where they allowed 49 points which was fully 1/3 of the total their defense has allowed this season. Justin Weaver leads a stout defense that has allowed 14 points or less in eight games. He has 54 solo tackles and 10 sacks. The secondary has 19 interceptions, led by five from Josiah Taylor. The Mustangs are not as prolific offensively with a roughly 67/33 split between rushing and passing. Rae Von Vaden is 52/98 for 16 touchdowns and 884 yards through the air. Larry Johnson (strong RB name) leads the rushing corps with 611 yards on 68 carries. On the other side of the bracket is Taylor County. The Cardinals are also 9-1, and have won seven in a row. Like the Mustangs, they are getting the job done on defense. They have four shutouts this year, and have allowed more than 10 points only three times. Sophomore LB Conner Roney has five sacks and leads the team with 78 tackles. They do give up a lot of yardage (almost 200 yards per game), but they also have scored at a higher clip than Moore. Taylor County is #3 in 4A in points per game with 43, and their average scoring margin of 33.4 PPG is #1 in 4A. Grant McQueary ranks in the top ten for passing yards per game in 4A, with 1,347 yards on 67/106 passing. He carries a 12:3 TD:INT ratio. We Oliver should go over 1,000 yards in their first playoff game. Mercer County seems like the most likely dark horse candidate. The Titans are just 4-6, but rallied once district play began, going 3-2 down the stretch. That included a very narrow 26-21 road loss at Taylor County. The Titans had a better record a year ago (5-5 entering the postseason), but managed to climb to the region finals where they nearly upset Collins. Malachi Yulee took over the lead back role this year, and has run to 914 yards on 101 carries with 12 TDs. With Mercer, you can pretty much know the result if they get over 21 points. All of their wins they have topped that amount, and all their losses they’ve scored less than that. John Hardin is the other possible name. They opened the year with a 20-19 win over that same Mercer County team, and had six straight wins midseason before falling to Moore in the district title game, settling for a 7-3 record. The Bulldogs have held five opponents to less than ten points, but they average a margin of victory of less than 7 PPG – they’re used to close games. Justin Russell is completing 50% of his passes and his TDs and INTs are almost 50% as well – 15:14. The Bulldogs also have the toughest opening game of the home teams, starting with always dangerous East Jessamine. A win there would earn them a trip to Taylor County. But it feels likely that this region comes down to Moore and Taylor County. Projected Regional Final: Moore 27 Taylor County 21 Region 3 Coming into the year Knox Central was tabbed as the favorite for this region, which matches Districts 4 & 6 this year. While Knox is still very much in the mix, it is Franklin County that has emerged as the favorite, thanks to an October 12th 42-20 home win over Knox Central, which propelled them to the #4 ranking. That win was part of a six-game winning streak for the Flyers, and they’ve scored 35 points or more in all six of those games. Their 8-2 record represents their most wins since 2014. Franklin County has one of the top passing attacks in 4A. Nick Broyles is #2 in 4A with 215 yards per game, with 1,936 yards, 19 TDs, and 4 INTs through 9 games. His 64.1% completion percentage is #2 among all eligible quarterbacks as well. He also leads the team in rushing with 728 yards on 107 attempts. He accounted for over 400 yards of offense in the win over Knox Central. The defense can be a little vulnerable, with no shutouts and only one team held to single digits, but have played in a surprisingly low number of games decided by single digits (two). Brady Holleran leads the unit with 87 solo tackles, 37.5 TFL, and 12 sacks. Knox Central is just a step behind them, and enjoyed a 7-3 record, just like 2017. They played a brutal schedule down the stretch, falling to Franklin County and Corbin (28-14) with wins over Wayne County and Rockcastle County. Broyles was #2 in 4A for passing – Knox Central’s Brady Worley is #1. In a class that almost exclusively runs the ball, Worley has gone 131/220 for 2,184 yards while tossing 23 touchdowns, which also leads the class. He also has the benefit of a 1,000 yard back to share the backfield in Ethan Mills. Mills has rushed 157 times for 1,051 yards and 12 scores. While they pass about 60% of the time, the duo provide a nice balance to an offense that averaged 33.1 PPG. Tucker Holland is a name to watch on defense. He had a monster year with 78 solo tackles and 7 sacks. Blevin Campbell leads the secondary with 6 INTs, two of them taken to the house for scores. One reason to place them just a step below Franklin County in addition to the head to head result is their opening round matchup with Collins. Collins is just 1-9 so it looks like a real mismatch on paper, but that’s a team that has played a brutal schedule and has had close results against the likes of Moore and Pulaski County. They were region champions last year, and stranger things have happened…. Wayne County is the likely other possibility from the region. Region champions in 2017, they finished a respectable 7-3 with losses to Frederick Douglass, Boyle County, and Knox Central. They averaged 38.2 PPG and have scored over 50 points four times this season. Brody Weaver has acquitted himself well, throwing 23 touchdowns and 1,668 yards. Braedon Sloan has averaged almost 9 yards per carry in racking up 824 yards rushing. Like Franklin County, they have held teams to single digits only one time and have no shutouts on the season. Their probable second round matchup with Franklin County is likely to be one with the scoreboard getting a workout. Projected Regional Final: Knox Central 35 Franklin County 28 Region 4 It feels highly likely that Johnson Central is on their way to a fourth straight state title game and a third straight against Franklin-Simpson. That was the prediction coming into the year, and began to feel even more likely when they blew the doors off previously undefeated Ashland 47-24 on October 19th. Johnson Central has homefield advantage through the playoffs, and they have not lost to a team there since 2016. They haven’t lost at home to a team from their class since 2014. That all feels problematic for opponents hoping to knock off the Golden Eagles. Johnson Central capped a 9-1 year with a 34-21 win over Belfry, one of 3As top teams. Their low point total for the season was 21 in their opening loss to Capital (WV), and the Belfry win was the only time they’ve been held below 43 points since August. Joe Jackson is back, and averaging 9.3 YPC on his way to 1,388 yards rushing, good enough for #5 in 4A. Jackson is the top guy in the rush first, rush later, then rush more offense. Johnson Central is averaging 338.5 yards per game on the ground, which is second only to Franklin-Simpson in 4A. Alex and Matt Horn anchor the defense from the linebacker position, combining for 15.5 sacks and 154 tackles. Ashland figures to be the only team with a serious hope in the region. Ashland’s loss at Johnson Central ended their run for their first perfect regular season since 1975, but they still had a 9-1 year. The Tomcats averaged 37.6 PPG thanks in large part to the play of Braxton Ratliff, who threw for 1,612 yards while running for 620. His 62.9% completion percentage is fourth in 4A and he’s just outside the top 30 for rushing yards. Keontae Pittman (72 rushes, 694 yards, 9 TDs) and Blake Hester (64 rushes, 475 yards, 15 TDs) also help fuel the rushing attack. Ashland has a very balanced offensive attack, and a defense that has notched three shutouts and three other games holding opponents to single digits. Notable on defense is Caleb Tackett is #4 in 4A with 12 tackles per game, 78 of his 120 tackles solo. Still, they will have to find a way to fix the leak they sprung against Johnson Central, who rushed for fully 1/3 of the total rushing yards Ashland has allowed on the season. Scott and Harrison County are the two teams that would be the likely second round matchups for Johnson Central and Ashland respectively. Harrison County earned the right to likely host Ashland in the second round by pulling an upset on Scott on September 28th, winning 19-18. Devin Lewis has 923 yards rushing and Chase Blanton has 781 for a Thorobred team that has attempted only 35 passes all season. Scott has a feature back in Quincy Perrin who has rushed for 1,015 yards. But frankly, Ashland and Johnson Central are the wrong teams to run up against with predominantly rushing games. Projected Regional Final: Johnson Central 35 Ashland 20 Projected Semi-Final: Franklin-Simpson 49 Moore 14 Projected Semi-Final: Johnson Central 42 Knox Central 21 Projected Class 4A State Championship: Johnson Central 28 Franklin-Simpson 21
  25. The Cardinals blasted Marion County 62-6, setting a season high for points scored in moving their record to 8-1. They host 2-7 Green County, a team whose most notable accomplishment this year seems destined to be using an ineligible player against Caverna, allowing Caverna to snap a long losing streak by administrative forfeit. Nevertheless, last season a 7-2 Taylor County team fell 30-28 to Green County in a stunner. Can Green County pull an encore?
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