If this weekend's state football championship games have a familiar look to them, there's a reason:
Belfry, Bowling Green, Central, Highlands, Mayfield, Newport Central Catholic and Trinity have a combined 103 appearances in the finals and 62 titles since the playoff system began in 1959.
Most of those teams are favored to add to their trophy troves this weekend in Bowling Green. Highlands and Trinity, the elite of the elite, are each looking for their 22nd championship.
When the KHSAA expanded football to six classes in 2007, it wanted to give more schools a shot at a state title (and at the same time quiet the public-private debate).
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More schools have gotten into the title chase. Collins, Cooper, Fairview and Pleasure Ridge Park are first-time finalists this year. Hazard won its first championship last December.
But expansion has also enabled the rich to get richer. The strongest programs are now spread across more classes, giving them clearer paths to championships.
■ "Desperate people take desperate actions." That's how Bowling Green Coach Kevin Wallace explained the trick play that helped the Purples pull out a 14-13 victory over John Hardin in the Class 5A semifinals. Bowling Green trailed 13-6 and faced a fourth-and-9 from its own 26 with less than two minutes left. Wallace called for the hook-and-ladder. Devin Hayes flipped a 5-yard pass to Nacarius Fant. When John Hardin defenders closed in on him, Fant lateraled back to Blake Pillow, who took the ball on the run and raced down the right sideline for the touchdown. Hayes then passed to Fant for the decisive two-point conversion. "I understand we're lucky," Wallace said. "But I credit our players, too. They executed the play perfectly in a presssure situation."
■ Belfry and Central don't want to stop meeting like this: They'll face off in the 3A finals for the third consecutive year, and the fourth time since 2007. "For both teams to make it back for the third year in a row is a great accomplishment. It's special," Belfry Coach Philip Haywood said. Central Coach Ty Scroggins agreed. "It says a whole lot about both programs. They're the No. 1 program in the mountains and we're the No. 1 program down here." It also makes preparation for the championship game less complicated. "We're both running the same offense and defense we did two years ago, so we can pull up film and look at what we did right and what we did wrong the last couple times we played," Scroggins said. Central has beaten Belfry the previous three meetings.
■ Central is trying to win its fifth state title in six years, and Ty Scroggins says this is his best team yet. "In the past we've had Tim Patterson, Ridge Wilson, Mister Cobble, Stephan Robinson and Anthony Wales, all Division I players. This year we don't have any superstars. Just a bunch of guys who play together and believe in our system." Scroggins said a state title is now an annual goal for his Yellowjackets. "On July 15, I tell all the parents to start saving for rings in case we win the championship. If we don't, they have extra Christmas money."
■ Trinity star James Quick, who has a state-record 277 career catches, is Gatorade's Kentucky player of the year. The 6-foot-1 senior has 82 catches for 1,333 yards and 14 TDs this season, but he suffered a fractured rib in the Shamrocks' win over St. Xavier two weeks ago. He missed Trinity's semifinal win over Scott County last week, and isn't expected to play against PRP in Saturday's 6A finals.
■ It's been a fabulous fall for Fairview Coach Nathan McPeek. His unbeaten Eagles are in the Class A finals for the first time and will play Mayfield in Friday's title game in Bowling Green. Fairview has already rushed for a single-season state-record 5,832 yards, with Devon Turner, Chris Brewer and Elijah King gaining more than 1,300 yards apiece. McPeek, a former offensive lineman who started 92 consecutive games at Russell High and Marshall University, takes special pride in Fairview's ground game and his offensive line: Cody Campbell, Cody McPeek (his nephew and son of assistant coach Garry McPeek), Cody Sammons, Tanner Young, Dan Metzler, Anthony Roark and Logan Thovson. If the Eagles' success isn't satisfying enough, the McPeeks are devoted Notre Dame fans and ecstatic that the No. 1 Irish will play for the national title.
■ Can Jake Guhy do what older brother Luke did as Mayfield quarterback? In 2010, Luke led the Cardinals to a state championship victory over Hazard after they finished runner-up to Lexington Christian the year before. Jake was Mayfield's triggerman last year when the Cards were runners-up to Hazard. He gets a second chance at a title against Fairview on Friday. Joe Morris, meanwhile, is trying to earn his third championship as Mayfield coach. Jack Morris, his dad, guided the Cards to four state titles before retiring in 1992.
■ Collins Coach Jerry Lucas is from a football family. His father, Roy, was a high school coach for four decades in Kentucky, West Virginia and Ohio. (Roy's brother Jerry was an All-America basketball player at Ohio State and all-NBA player with the Cincinnati Royals). Roy Lucas Jr., a former head coach at Newport and Lloyd, is now an assistant at Simon Kenton.
■ Caldwell County Coach David Barnes and NewCath Coach Eddie Eviston, who will match strategies in the 2A finals, were star players for their schools. Barnes set a Caldwell County rushing record in the mid-1970s. Eviston set NewCath records for passing yards and TD passes in the late 1990s.
■ NewCath has an experienced running backs coach in Bob Schneider. Yes. The same Bob Schneider who was NewCath's head coach for 44 years. He retired after the 2009 season with a then-state record 345 wins, including three state titles.
■ Caldwell County sophomore Elijah Sindelar is a QB to keep an eye on. He's thrown for 5,396 yards and 49 TDs in his first two years. David Barnes said the 6-5, 195-pound Sindelar is "more of a passing-type quarterback," but he can run, too. He's rushed for 393 yards and seven TDs this season.
■ Last year, Bowling Green never left its hometown in its post-season run to the state title. The Purples played four playoff games on their home field, and the 5A finals at WKU's Houchens Industries L.T. Smith Stadium. This year, Cooper is trying to win the 5A title without playing at home in the post-season. Randy Borchers' Jaguars had to go on the road to beat Anderson County, South Oldham, Franklin County and Harlan County. Now they travel to Bowling Green to face the Purples in Saturday's finals at WKU.
■ Highlands and Trinity have 21 state championships each, but Highlands Coach Dale Mueller is one up on Trinity Coach Bob Beatty. Mueller has a state-record 10 titles to Beatty's nine. Both have two runner-up finishes.
■ Going into last week's 4A semifinals, Warren East was undefeated and had given up 56 points in its previous eight games, and 97 all season. But Collins shredded the Raiders' defense for 463 yards and 58 points.
■ Tates Creek football star Dennis Oxendine has committed to Illinois State, which is in the NCAA's 16-team Division I FCS playoffs. Oxendine chose the Redbirds over Arkansas State. Oxendine, a running back, safety and kick returner for the Commodores, had 3,626 all-purpose yards and 29 TDs, and 13 interceptions in his career. Illinois State recruited him as a safety.
■ No. 8 Lexington Catholic travels to Clermont, Fla., for a Friday night game at Montverde Academy, No. 6 in USA Today's ratings. Montverde's lineup includes former Sayre player Dakari Johnson, former Louisville Central player D'Angelo Russell and Florida signee Kasey Hill, one of the top point guards in the nation.
■ Jackson County will show off its new 2,200-seat gym (replacing its 45-year-old basketball facility) when it hosts the Peoples Rural Telephone Cooperative Classic this weekend. On Friday: Jackson County vs. Owsley County (girls), 4:30; Jackson County vs. Riverside Christian, 6; Southwestern vs. Paul Laurence Dunbar, 7:30; Scott County vs. Perry Central, 9. On Saturday: Madison Southern vs. Leslie County, 3; Knox Central vs. Wolfe County, 4:30; Jackson County vs. Owsley County, 6.
■ Dunbar's boys play Cincinnati Taft in the 11th annual Bluegrass-Buckeye Charity Classic at Thomas More College on Sunday at 5 p.m. The schedule also has Holmes vs. Oak Hills at 1, and South Laurel vs. Purcell-Marian at 3.
■ Travis Rose, who helped West Jessamine to the state golf title this fall, has signed with Eastern Kentucky University. Rose tied for 12th in the state tournament.
■ The history of high school basketball in Mason County is the subject of a new book written by Danny Weddle, sports director of Maysville radio station WFTM. Weddle has been calling games in the county since 1979. His book — How We Play the Game: A History of High School Hoops in Mason County — can be purchased on the radio station's website: www.soft96.com.