There was singing, laughing and celebrating on the Lawrence County team bus after the football Bulldogs wrapped up an undefeated (10-0) regular season with a victory at Tolsia, W. Va., last Friday night.
Lawrence County Coach Luke Salmons noted the difference from a year ago when his players were coping with the disappointment (and embarrassment) of a winless (0-11) season.
"To see them go from tears to smiles, that's the most rewarding part of it," Salmons said. "We struggled so bad last season. Not to win at all, then having to live with that throughout the year. That's a tough thing for kids to go through.
"But they stayed together, worked hard and it's paid off. They're very happy now, and they really appreciate what they've done because of what they went through last year."
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Lawrence County may be the first team in state history to follow up a winless record with an unbeaten regular season. A quick look at records over the last 20 years shows that the closest any team came to doing it was Henderson County. Tom Duffy's Colonels went 0-10 in 2000 and 9-3 in '01. North Oldham made a nice comeback, going 8-4 in 2006 after failing to win a game the year before.
Lawrence County, led by seniors Shane Pack and Cody Anderson, isn't satisfied with 10-0. It wants to make a run in the playoffs. "The kids are still hungry and healthy, and they still want to get better," Salmons said. "They still feel like a lot of people don't respect them. That's a good thing, because it keeps them working hard."
■ Ninety-seven of the 191 teams in the playoffs don't have winning records. Three are winless -- Madison Central, Todd Central and Webster County. I'm not the only one who thinks expanding to six classes has watered down the post-season competition. Glenn Blackburn e-mailed this suggestion: "If Kentucky took the 220 football-playing schools and divided them into three classes, we would have eight regions in each class with at least eight schools in each region. Then take the top four teams from each region and you would have 32 teams enter the playoffs in each class. That would be much better than this fiasco we currently have."
■ Allen County-Scottsville has a first-round bye in the 4A playoffs. Muhlenberg North was in the opposite district last year, but it consolidated with Muhlenberg South to become Muhlenberg County. The new school moved up to 6A, leaving a three-team 4A district, and giving undefeated Allen County-Scottsville a free pass Friday night.
■ Whether he's catching passes or running the ball, Clay County's Noah Reid is a 1,000-yard man. As a sophomore he caught 52 passes for 1,020 yards and 11 TDs. This year he's rushed for 1,059 yards and 14 TDs.
■ Bellevue's Ricky Buckler carried 49 times for a school record 362 yards in a win over Lloyd. He has topped 300 yards in three games this season. Buckler is the Tigers' all-time leading scorer with 442 points, including 71 TDs.
■ Since 1990, only seven schools haven't had a losing season in football, but two of them are in danger of finishing below .500 this year. Rick Nelson, who does Bell County's games for radio station WRIL in Pineville, came up with that tidbit of information. Bell County is one of the select seven, along with Beechwood, Danville, Male, Mayfield, Rockcastle County and St. Xavier. Danville and Rockcastle County, however, are 4-6 and each will have to win three playoff games to avoid a losing record.
■ Perry Central senior QB Jordan Amis threw for 314 yards and five TDs, and ran for 78 yards and two scores in a romp over Leslie County. For his career, Amis has passed for 5,379 yards and 58 TDs, and run for 2,679 yards and 37 TDs. He's also a standout on defense.
■ Belfry had one open date this season -- Friday, Sept. 25 -- which was appropriate because that was the day Rick Kestner, the best football player in Pirates' history, died at age 64. Kestner gained fame as a star receiver for the University of Kentucky. He and quarterback Rick Norton were the heroes in the Cats' 27-21 upset of No. 1 Ole Miss in 1964. Kestner had nine catches for 185 yards and three TDs. He went on to play in the NFL. But before that, fans in Eastern Kentucky knew Kestner as a high school star at Belfry. "Most people look at him as the greatest football player Belfry ever had," said Bobby Norman, who does Pirates' games for Williamson, W. Va., radio station WXCC. Floyd Hatfield and Kestner were the best pass-catch combination in the state when they led the Pirates to a 9-2 record in 1961. Kestner finished his career as the school's all-time leading scorer with 242 points. David Kestner, Rick's son, played quarterback at Henry Clay in the mid-1980s.
■ Johnson Central beat Belfry for the first time in 26 tries last week as J.J. Jude ran for 224 yards. The Golden Eagles are on a six-game winning streak after opening the season with four consecutive losses.
■ Raleigh Anders is hanging up his whistle after officiating high school football for almost 50 years. The Pineville native's first varsity game was between Corbin and Lynch in 1962. "Ledger Howard coached Corbin, and Ed Miracle coached Lynch," Anders said. His last game matched Bell County and Harlan County last Friday. Anders recalled a game between Tates Creek and Rockcastle High in Mount Vernon years ago. Tates Creek kicked an extra point that cleared the crossbar just inside the upright. Anders' fellow official Gene Lowe ruled it was no good because the goal posts, designed for 8-man football, were too wide. Tates Creek Coach Roy Walton didn't like the call, to say the least. Anders, who refereed varsity basketball for 50 years before giving it up a couple years ago, had knee surgery in 2001. This year arthritis set in, so he decided to give up football. "I'm 72, and I can't keep up with these kids running up and down the field anymore," he said.
■ Bourbon County beat Paris last week to give the Colonels a 5-5 record under first-year coach Johnny Poynter. Bourbon County won a total of five games the previous five years. Taylor Barnes has carried the rushing load this season. Against Paris, the 5-9, 165-pound senior ran for 227 yards and a TD, and passed for 120 yards and a TD. For the season, Barnes has rushed for 2,126 yards and 15 TDs. The Colonels couldn't have a tougher first-round playoff game. They visit unbeaten Boyle County, the No. 1 team in 4A.
■ Rees MacShara ran for 202 yards and three TDs to lead unbeaten Boyle County to a 21-0 win at Christian County. MacShara's season rushing totals are 2,170 yards and 30 touchdowns.
■ Heavy rain didn't dampen two-time defending 2A champ Fort Campbell's effectiveness as it flattened Hopkinsville 44-7. QB Antonio Andrews ran for three TDs and passed for another. It was Shawn Berner's 100th game as Falcons' coach. He has a record of 84-16.
■ Simon Kenton offensive lineman Jordan Hansel has commited to Ball State.
■ Western Hills beat rival Franklin County last week for a school-record seventh win this season. Dylan Curry ran for three TDs and passed for two more.
■ Two-time defending 5A champ Highlands, without injured stars RB Austin Collinsworth and QB Will Bardo, ripped Ryle 31-14. Collinsworth is out with a hand injury and is doubtful for Friday's game against Montgomery County. Bardo is nursing an elbow injury.
■ Bowling Green QB Chandler Sears threw a school record five TD passes in a 49-0 rout of Barren County.
■ After ending a 40-game losing streak two weeks ago, Fort Knox beat Hart County to win back-to-back games for the first time since 2003.
■ Two-time defending 3A champ Central beat Pleasure Ridge Park 18-0 to finish the regular season 5-5. Despite their .500 record, Ty Scroggins' Yellowjackets are one of the favorites to win the state title again. Their five losses came against 6A competition. In 2007, Central took a 5-5 record into the playoffs, and swept to its first state title.
■ Mason County junior QB Neal Pawsat suffered a season-ending knee injury (a torn MCL) against Greenup County last week. Pawsat has passed for more than 3,100 yards over the last two years. Unbeaten Mason County will go with senior Colt Fearis at QB in the playoffs. Pawsat's injury will also impact Mason County's basketball team. He averaged eight points as a starter for the Royals' 10th Region champs last season.
■ Paul Laurence Dunbar grad Tyler Bailey, a starting senior offensive lineman at North Texas, helped the Mean Green beat Western Kentucky for the third year in a row. Bailey told the Denton, Tex., newspaper that it meant a lot to beat the Hilltoppers, who didn't recruit him. "They never gave me a chance. To show them that I can play . . . has been a great feeling." Bailey broke his leg in a game against Middle Tennessee last year, but came back to regain his starting spot this season.
Eleven football teams finished the regular season undefeated:
Class 5A: Highlands, John Hardin.
Class 4A: Allen County-Scottsville; Boyle County, Lawrence County, Lone Oak.
Class 3A: Mason County, Somerset.
Class 2A: Fort Campbell, Murray, Prestonsburg.