Football is a tough sport to play even when you're winning. It's a downright brutal sport when you're getting whacked like a pinata.
Welcome to the first round of Kentucky's high school football playoffs.
My annual rant against letting woefully weak teams into football's post-season seems futile. But I can't give it up. Not in this enlightened age when we're more aware of the effects of football injuries, specifically concussions.
Yes, there will be several competitive games in the opening round of the playoffs. A couple No. 4 seeds might even beat No. 1 seeds. But that won't legitimize the mismatches and blowouts.
To name a few:
Winless Phelps, whose roster has just more than a dozen players, traveled to unbeaten Fairview to get pummeled on Thursday night.
Winless Clinton County visits Louisville Christian on Friday, and will no doubt return home with its 37th consecutive defeat.
Caverna, whose only two victories in the last two years came against above-mentioned Clinton County, faces a 300-mile round trip to powerhouse Mayfield on Friday. Can't imagine that bus ride to be much fun.
■ If the playoffs follow Dave Cantrall's ratings, these would be the semifinals in each class: 6A: Pleasure Ridge Park vs. Henderson County; Scott County vs. Trinity. 5A: Bowling Green vs. John Hardin; Franklin County vs. Harlan County. 4A: Lone Oak vs. Collins; Highlands vs. Lexington Catholic. 3A: Central vs. Fort Campbell; Bourbon County vs. Belfry. 2A: Owensboro Catholic vs. Glasgow; Newport Central Catholic vs. Somerset. A: Mayfield vs. Frankfort; Hazard vs. Raceland.
■ West Jessamine junior tailback Devin Taylor is following in his father's footsteps. Dwan Taylor was a standout running back at Jessamine County who as a senior in 1991 rushed for 224 yards and three TDs in a Recreation Bowl victory over Montgomery County. His son Devin is the state's leading rusher this season. The 5-foot-10, 210-pound workhorse has carried 321 times for 2,230 yards and 22 TDs. He's topped 300 yards three times, and ran 46 times for 274 yards in a loss to unbeaten Franklin County. West Jessamine offensive coordinator Yancey Marcum said Taylor is drawing notice from EKU, WKU and several smaller schools.
■ John Hardin's win over Boone County last week wrapped up the Bulldogs' fifth undefeated regular season in the past six years under Mark Brown. John Hardin has won 64 of its last 65 regular-season games. The loss was to Doss in 2008.
■ James Quick of Trinity has set a state career record for receptions. The speedy senior had eight catches in last week's 45-42 loss to Cincinnati Moeller, pushing his career total to 273, eclipsing the mark of 266 set by Male's Montrell Jones in 2000. If Trinity makes it to the state finals, Quick would have five more games to add to his record, and to move up the state's all-time receiving yards list. His 4,244 yards rank fourth behind Somerset's John Cole (4,981), Lawrence County's Gerad Parker(4,736) and Jones (4,345). Quick has 53 TD catches, trailing only Cole (69) and Jones (59).
■ Trinity dropped from No. 11 to No. 20 in USA Today's national rankings after its 33-game winning streak ended at Moeller last week. It was late October 1991 that the Shamrocks' state-record 50-game winning streak came to a halt with a 15-14 loss to Louisville Holy Cross.
■ Bowling Green has the longest current winning streak in the state with 25 in a row. If the defending 5A champ Purples beat Apollo in the playoffs on Friday, they'll tie the school record for consecutive victories.
■ Harlan County played the first game in its new Coal Miners Memorial Stadium last week and beat Bell County 40-34 in front of more than 5,000 fans in a showdown of Eastern Kentucky powers. It was Bell County's first loss to a mountain opponent in six years. Harlan County's Treyvon Long ran for a score, caught a TD pass and picked off two Bobcats passes.
■ Ashland's iconic Putnam Stadium, built as a WPA project in 1937, will be reconstructed after the Tomcats' final home game, which will likely be against Holmes on Friday. The $5 million project to upgrade Putnam is supposed to be done in time for the 2013 season. Mark Maynard of the Ashland Daily Independent compiled a list of 25 memorable games played in Putnam over the last 75 years. Three Ashland victories over Bryan Station (in 1972, '75, '82) made the list as did the Tomcats' 21-20 win over McKell in Ashland's 1967 state title season. John Radjunas scored a TD in the final minutes for the Tomcats, who overcame three TDs by McKell's Don Gullett.
■ Bellevue senior linebacker Cameron Pangallo had three defensive scores in a rout of Dayton. Pangallo returned interceptions 57 and 36 yards for TDs, and a fumble 25 yards for a TD.
■ Somerset football players Will Hinton and Jacobi Gilmore, who were injured in a car accident after leaving practice on Oct. 5, were captains for the Briar Jumpers' regular-season finale against Perry Central last Friday. Hinton, who suffered a broken pelvis, was in a wheelchair pushed by Gilmore as they made their way to midfield for the coin toss. "This was something I thought to be impossible a few weeks ago," Somerset Coach Robbie Lucas said in an email. "Will and Jacobi are getting healthier with each passing day. It's remarkable, considering how much they've been through in the past month." Lucas said the outpouring of support, from the people of Somerset and across the state has been "unbelievable." The Somerset community is putting on a dinner before Friday's playoff game with Shelby Valley, with the proceeds going to benefit the families of the injured players.
■ Fairview capped its second consecutive unbeaten regular season in memorable fashion. The Eagles' last TD in their 53-12 win came on Joel Wardle's 1-yard run. Wardle, a 4-foot-2 senior, was born with achondroplasia, a bone condition that causes dwarfism. Coach Nathan McPeek said Wardle, a team captain, has worked as hard as anybody in practice and the weight room. "Our kids respect him for that, and he gives respect back for the opportunity. He's just a great kid. It's always been his dream to score a touchdown. He was able to do that, and everyone on the team was so excited about it."
■ Joe Angolia, sports information director at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock the past seven years, is the KHSAA's new communications director. Angolia, who graduated from Boyle County in 1998 and Xavier University in 2002, previously worked in sports information at EKU and WKU.
■ A soft-spoken gentleman with a knuckle-crunching handshake. That's the Billy Wise I'll remember. Mr. Wise died last week at age 80. He was a top-notch college basketball official in his day, but was best known for his 25 years with the KHSAA. As commissioner in the early 1990s, he helped rescue the organization from possible bankruptcy. Mr. Wise's kind manner was like that of his brother Jack, also an accomplished referee, who died five years ago. Tony Wise, Jack's son, said his father and uncle "were simply two of the nicest men I've ever known. It's very humbling and sweet to know they touched so many lives in a positive way."
■ Condolences to Scott County basketball coach Billy Hicks and his wife, Betsy, whose 27-year-old son Tyler died last week from injuries sustained in a car accident. Tyler was a star point guard for his dad at Scott County, where he played with tireless hustle and an obvious love for the game. As a senior he led the Cardinals to the 2004 Sweet Sixteen. Near the end of Scott County's loss to Mason County in the semifinals, Tyler fell to the floor while fouling out. Before getting to his feet, he kissed the Rupp Arena floor. It was a poignant moment then. It's a poignant memory now.
■ Dan Tieman, a star athlete at Covington Catholic in the 1950s and the school's all-time winningest basketball coach (314 victories), died this week. Mr. Tieman served as a teacher, coach and administrator at CovCath for 46 years. As a college basketball player, he helped Villa Madonna (now Thomas More) win an NAIA title. After graduating in 1962, he joined the NBA's Cincinnati Royals. As CovCath coach, he led the Colonels to the 1992 Sweet Sixteen.
■ Terry Quigley marked his 21st season as girls' soccer coach at Lexington Catholic by leading the Knights to the region finals for the 20th year in a row before falling to Tates Creek. Quigley's teams have reached the state final four eight times, been state runner-up five times, and won the 2002 state championship.