Nobody has had a better view of Breathitt County's rise as a football power over the last 35 years than Daniel Haddix. He played on the first Bobcats' teams of the early 1970s, he watched the program grow under the coaching of Dudley Hilton, and he's seen it blossom under the tutelage of Mike Holcomb, who has led Breathitt County to three state titles and has it back in the finals this weekend.
Haddix's oldest son Jesse Kyle Haddix was a receiver on the first of the Bobcats' back-to-back undefeated state champs in 1995. His middle son Justin Cole Haddix quarterbacked Breathitt County to an unbeaten state title in 2002. Now his youngest son, junior quarterback Jade Daniel Haddix, has helped the Bobcats to the finals again. "Sometimes I want to cry when I realize how far Breathitt County football has come, and how blessed I've been with my sons," Haddix said.
■ Hazard's Tyler Olinger, Fort Campbell's Antonio Andrews, Central's Chris King and Newport Central Catholic's Rob Kues are among the quarterbacks in this year's finals who are as dangerous running the ball as they are throwing it. NewCath Coach Bob Schneider said it's a trend that fits the popular spread offenses. "Coaches are looking for their best athletes to play quarterback, not necessarily the best throwers. When a defense has to spread out to cover three or four receivers, there are places for a quarterback to run."
Hazard Coach Mark Dixon agreed. "That's a style a lot of people are going to. There are still smash-mouth type teams out there, and they're good at it. But more teams seem to be looking for a quarterback who can run, too."
Beechwood Coach Noel Rash had a dissenting opinion. "I think you have to be leery of running your quarterback a lot," he said. "I don't know if that's a great formula through 15 games. It's tough for a quarterback to keep his shoulders and arm healthy to be a dual threat."
■ Getting a team to the state finals is nothing new for Highlands Coach Dale Mueller, NewCath's Bob Schneider or Trinity's Bob Beatty. This is the ninth championship appearance for Mueller and Schneider, and the eighth for Beatty. Mueller and Beatty have six titles apiece; Schneider has three.
■ The 3A finals between Bell County and Bullitt East matches coaches who were once crosstown rivals. In between stints at Bell County, Dudley Hilton coached at Bourbon County and led the Colonels to the 1997 state title. Bullitt East Coach Doug Preston's first head coaching job was at Paris. He was there for one season — 1997. Bourbon County beat the Greyhounds that year. Preston, who graduated from Bourbon County in 1987, was happy to see Hilton take the Colonels to the title. "It's always fun to see your home school do well," he said. In his first year at Bullitt East, Preston has the Chargers in the finals. This won't be his first championship-game experience. He was an assistant at Danville when it won state titles in 2000 and '01.
■ Kentucky's all-time winningest active coaches going into the state finals: Bob Schneider (NewCath) 338 victories; Dudley Hilton (Bell County) and Philip Haywood (Belfry) 319 apiece; Bob Redman (Male) 307; Mike Glaser (St. Xavier) 296; Sam Harp (Danville) 294.
■ Nobody finished the regular season with two tougher games than Central, which lost to St. X 36-13 and Highlands 28-0. "That was a pretty good task," Central Coach Ty Scroggins said. "But we knew it'd get us ready for the playoffs." Even though the Yellowjackets won the state title last year, Scroggins is selling his team as underdogs. "A lot of people think last year was a fluke," he said. "We want to prove we can do it again."
■ Simon Kenton is the first team in 13 years to finish fourth in its district and reach the state finals. Henry Clay did it in 1995 before losing to St. X 26-0 in the 4A championship game.
■ Trinity sports publicist Robert "Stats" Sampson produced 162 pages of pre-game notes and numbers on the Shamrocks' showdown with Simon Kenton in the 6A finals. That's 50 pages more than in the KHSAA's state championships program.
■ Trinity is No. 13 in USA Today's national ratings.
■ It was no surprise when Trinity beat St. X in the semifinals to avenge a regular-season loss to its archrival. Rocks Coach Bob Beatty is 14-0 in rematch games in the same season, including a 4-0 record against St. X in the playoffs.
■ Lafayette had the dubious honor of playing the 6A finalists in its last two games. Trinity beat the Generals 56-0 in the regular-season finale, and Simon Kenton beat them 33-6 in the first round of the playoffs. Lafayette Coach Robbie Sayre's scouting report on Saturday's title game: "Trinity is a well-oiled machine. Simon Kenton is big, strong and physical, and should be able to do some things. But I think Trinity's linebackers will be able to tackle (Simon Kenton star running back) Miles Simpson. If they can't run the ball, it's going to be tough. I think they'll have a hard time covering Trinity's passing game. I'd like to see Simon Kenton do well, but Trinity is just so good."
■ The Apple Bowl — the 34-year-old football rivalry between crosstown rivals Paintsville and Johnson Central — is kaput. Paintsville Coach Jason Kinner said the Tigers decided not to renew the contract. Class 5A Johnson Central has beaten Class A Paintsville five years in a row by an average score of 51-8. "The game has gotten to the point that neither team is benefiting," he said. "We're trying to do what's best for our kids. Having played in the game myself, I hate to see it go, but I truly believe this is the right decision." Kinner hopes to "rekindle" rivalries with schools such as Pineville, Prestonsburg, Lawrence County, Fairview and Magoffin County.
■ Bryan Station's Lady Defenders Classic is the oldest one-day girls' basketball event in the state. Steve Ward started it in 1987 when he was Bryan Station's coach. This year's classic is Saturday: Henry Clay vs. Rockcastle County, 1 p.m.; Lafayette vs. East Jessamine, 2:45; Paul Dunbar vs. Faridale, 4:30, and Bryan Station vs. Middlesboro, 6:15.
■ Male senior O.J. Bell made a quick transition from football to basketball. Last Friday Bell caught a TD pass in Male's loss to Simon Kenton in the 6A playoffs. Less than 24 hours later he scored eight points in Male's basketball victory over host Tates Creek. Male hoops coach Tom Crews wasn't surprised the 6-6 senior didn't take any time off between sports. "I knew he was excited about playing basketball," Crews said. Last year the Bulldogs had a basketball scrimmage the day after the football team was eliminated from the playoffs, and football star Dexter Heyman took part in the scrimmage. "O.J. went to the UK football game instead because he assumed he couldn't play basketball so quick. He was mad when he found out he could have. So I figured he'd be here this year." Bell realized quickly that there's a difference in being in shape for football and for basketball. "I was tired after two times down the court," he said with a laugh.
■ It didn't take Jay Bordas long to feel the highs and lows of being a head coach. He made his debut as Bourbon County's boss last week and his Colonels won their opener against Bracken County. But a few nights later, Deming's Kyle King hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to beat Bourbon County 67-65. "Last week my emotions were like the stock market," Bordas said. He recalled that former Henry Clay Coach Kirk Chiles told him he'd always remember his first win. "But I'll also always remember my first loss." It's going to be a busy December for Bordas, and not just because of basketball. His wife Meredith is expecting a baby girl on Christmas Day.
■ Harlan's Jecorey Fields, a 6-5 junior, had a triple-double — 18 points, 13 rebounds, 12 assists — in a win over Jackson County in the E.R. "Doc" Gray Classic.
■ In a battle between top 10 girls' teams and 5th Region rivals, No. 3 Elizabethtown beat No. 9 North Hardin 56-43. The winners were led by EKU signee Alex Jones' 16 points and 14 rebounds.
■ Not all discussions between basketball coaches and referees are contentious. During Ballard's loss to Scott County, Bruins Coach Chris Renner disagreed with a call made by referee Don Werner. "If your boss tells you that's the right call, I'll buy you a steak dinner," Renner told the ref. Werner approached the Ballard bench and said with a smile, "I like filet."
■ The school year isn't half over, but the 25-team Northern Kentucky Athletic Conference has already enjoyed lots of success. St. Henry's boys and girls won Class A cross country titles, and Lloyd's girls were 2A runners-up. Highlands' boys and girls were state runners-up in soccer. Ryle's girls and Covington Catholic's boys finished in the top 10 in the state golf tournaments. Notre Dame was runner-up in volleyball. The NKAC has four teams in the state football finals — Beechwood, Highlands, NewCath and Simon Kenton. "We've had a pretty good year so far," said Stan Steidel, the conference's executive director.