It's that time of year when I howl at the moon (nobody else will listen) about how much I dislike the opening round of the football playoffs. We used to have lots of first-round blowouts with four classes. It seems the number of first-round fiascoes has multiplied exponentially since the expansion to six classes.
Just look at the results of last week's matchups between district champs and fourth-place finishers. The No. 1 seed won 43 of 45 games by an average score of 52-10, and that's with most of the victors calling off the dogs when the score got out of hand. There were a dozen shutouts of at least 40-0. Competitive football? Hardly.
The only top seeds to lose were Glasgow (stunned by Fort Knox) and Holmes (surprised by West Jessamine).
Henderson County and Allen County-Scottsville were lucky enough to have byes, and North Oldham won by forfeit. At least the parents of those players didn't have to spend a cold Friday night working concessions.
The playoffs are a week too long. Kentucky's high school finalists play more games than college bowl teams. I'd like to see the football post-season trimmed to include only district winners and district runners-up. But it'll never happen. I might as well howl at the moon.
■ Having to battle type 1 diabetes since the sixth grade didn't keep Wes Hopkins from becoming a football standout at Nicholas County. A two-time defensive player of the year in the Eastern Kentucky Conference, the Bluejackets middle linebacker led his team in tackles three years in a row and finished with more than 300 in his career. "He's the type of kid who never let diabetes hold him back," said his dad, Nicholas County Coach Robert Hopkins. "He's never missed one practice or one game due to it." Wes and his family had a scare last winter when he had a serious episode and seizure, but he recovered, got an insulin pump, then went to work in the weight room. Wes and sophomore running back Caleb Pope, who had 21 TDs and 1,600 yards rushing and receiving, helped the injury-riddled Bluejackets to a 6-4 record. "Those two kids laid it on the line and were the main reasons we had a good year," Robert Hopkins said.
■ Zach Eastham took a roundabout way to becoming a star quarterback at Pulaski County. As a freshman he played QB for the jayvee team, but as a sophomore he played tight end on the varsity, and as a junior moved to running back. But when Pulaski County QB Chris Muse was injured in the second game last season, Eastham stepped in to run the offense. He's been sensational ever since. "We had no idea he'd be this phenomenal," Coach Johnny Hines said. After taking the reins last year, Eastham threw for 2,195 yards and 24 TDs, both school records. He also ran for almost 1,000 yards and 10 TDs. This season he's passed for 2,446 yards and 33 TDs, and run for almost 900 yards and 10 TDs in leading Pulaski County to a 10-1 record and into the second round of the 5A playoffs. "The really amazing thing about Zach is that he's led us to five fourth-quarter comebacks," Hines said. "That's Tom Brady-esque." The 5-11, 200-pound Eastham has a scholarship offer from Campbellsville, and is visiting Georgetown this weekend.
■ A week after helping Henry Clay win the state soccer championship, John Manga will try to help the Blue Devils' football team advance to the third round of the playoffs when it hosts Simon Kenton. Manga has handled most of the kickoff duties for Henry Clay this season, but he wasn't with the football team the last two weeks because of soccer. He rejoined them this week as a newly crowned state soccer champ. "The kids love him to death," Devils football coach Sam Simpson said. "They were hootin' and hollerin' at him when he walked on the practice field (Wednesday)." Manga, whose brother Phillip doubled as a soccer player/football kicker for Henry Clay a couple years ago, said it's "an amazing feeling to be embraced by everybody." Manga said the soccer Devils "proved everybody wrong" by winning the state title. Now he'd like to be part of a state football title. "It'd be amazing to win a state championship ring in two sports," he said.
■ Covington Catholic QB Blake Bir threw for 224 yards and five TDs, four in the first half, as the Colonels beat Ashland Blazer 43-19. Alex Connelly had two TD catches, giving him 10 this season. CovCath visits Johnson Central Friday in a rematch from last year's 5A playoffs. Johnson Central won that game 51-32.
■ Rowan County beat Madison Southern 63-21 for its first playoff win in 26 years. Darrell Cross had 373 yards rushing and receiving for the Vikings.
■ Rex Burkhead, son of former Clark County sports star Rick Burkhead, is having a solid season as a sophomore RB at Nebraska. Burkhead, who played high school ball at Plano, Texas, ran for 129 yards and two TDs in last week's win over Iowa State. For the season, he's rushed for 570 yards and five TDs. Nebraska is 8-1 and is No. 9 in the AP poll.
■ Tates Creek basketball standout Marcellus Barksdale signed with IUPUI (Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis), which means the Jaguars will have four Kentuckians on their roster next season. Donovan Gibbs of Iroquois is a freshman at IUPUI. Barksdale, Jordan Shanklin of Warren Central and Lyonell Gaines of Eastern will head to Indy next year. "There'll be a lot of familiar faces up there," Barksdale said. "It'll be just like home." Barksdale plans to major in communications and hopes to pursue a career in broadcasting. On his first visit to see IUPUI, he was in an Indianapolis restaurant and ran into CBS college basketball analyst Clark Kellogg and got to talk to him. "Pretty cool," Barksdale said.
■ Lawrence County pitcher Chandler Shepherd, who holds the state record for most consecutive shutout innings (46), reportedly will sign Friday to play college baseball at Kentucky. The 6-2, 285-pound right-hander didn't pitch last season while recovering from elbow surgery. He did serve as the Bulldogs' designated hitter, however, and hit .531 with 10 homers and 38 RBI. His career pitching stats: 28 victories, 1.96 ERA, 374 strikeouts, 81 walks; career hitting: .323, 41 doubles, 17 homers, 105 RBI. Shepherd helped Lawrence County to the state tournament as a sophomore. He was also the starting quarterback in football as a sophomore. "He's a tremendous athlete," Bulldogs baseball coach Travis Feltner said. "I've talked to UK about him being a dual guy. He's not only a great pitcher, he's a great outfielder and hitter." Shepherd also had scholarship offers from Louisville, WKU and Coastal Carolina.
■ Lexington Catholic tennis star Samantha Maddox, who won the state singles title last spring after finishing second the previous two years, signed with Coastal Carolina.
■ Brad Martin of Clark County signed to play college golf at Morehead State. He is the son of Clark County Coach Wes Martin.
■ West Jessamine golfer Emily Haas, a three-time region champ and state runner-up in 2009, signed with Louisville.
■ Jon Combs of Hazard and Valerie Whitlock of LaRue County are Kentucky's winners of the Wendy's High School Heisman Award, and are now finalists for national honors. The award recognizes achievements in athletics, academics and community leadership.
■ Congratulations to Lexington Catholic tennis coach Ann Tramontin and her friend Amanda Carlisle Woodall, a former Webster County basketball player, for their showing in the New York City Marathon last week. Ann, who is married to LexCath football assistant Kevin Bruggeman, ran the 26.2 miles in 4 hours, 17 minutes. It was her second marathon. Amanda, who's married to former Tates Creek basketball player Scott Woodall, was competing in her eighth marathon and ran it in 3:45.
■ Henry Clay junior Preston French was the leading golfer in the new Fayette County golf conference for boys. Players accumulated points throughout the season. Trey Cox of Paul Laurence Dunbar was second, followed by Andrew Kirk of Henry Clay, Will Bishop of Dunbar and Matthew O'Brien of Henry Clay. Rounding out the top 10 were Lafayette's Jordan Carey, Tates Creek's Chandler Morgan, Dunbar's Tanner Hall and Tates Creek's Holden Berry and Stirling Duncan.
■ The KHSAA Board of Control has approved the addition of two events in track and field — the 400-meter race and the shot put — for wheelchair student-athletes. The events will be offered next spring with the help of the American Association of Adapted Sports Programs. If there is sufficient interest, more events could be added.