The annual St. Xavier-Trinity football battle in Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on Friday night kicks off four weeks of competition in the toughest district in the state.
The Associated Press's Class 6A poll is top-heavy with the district's teams: Male is No. 1, Trinity is No. 3, Manual is No. 4 and St. X is No. 6. "I consider our district the Southeastern Conference of high schools," Manual Coach Oliver Lucas said.
Before Scott County won the 6A title last year, Trinity, St. X and Male had combined to win 20 of the previous 21 big-school championships.
"It's just a brutal row here week in, week out," Lucas said of the October schedule.
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Trinity has been the most dominant power in recent years, having won 10 of 13 big-school titles since 2001.
Male asserted itself last year, sweeping St. X and Trinity back-to-back in the regular season and again in the playoffs. Manual knocked off Male in the regular season, but lost to Trinity in the postseason.
Male Coach Chris Wolfe thinks the district is even stronger this year because of the returning talent among his Bulldogs, Manual and Trinity. "And St. X is St. X," he said.
Male, which lost to Scott County in the semifinals last year, is loaded on offense. Davis Mattingly is one of the top quarterbacks in the state, Ellis Cain is one of the top running backs, and Keion Wakefield is one of the top receivers. "This time last year, if I look back at what we were running, it was so simplistic," Wolfe said of Male's spread offense. "We're so much further along this year. We're at a different level and can go so much deeper into our playbook."
After playing state runner-up Meade County on Friday night, Male takes on St. X, Trinity and Manual in succession. It's a gantlet Wolfe said causes a lot of stress. "The level of anxiety is off the charts," he said. "Your stomach is in knots. Even though we got (St. X and Trinity) last year, it's another barrier to beat them two years in a row."
■ South Laurel first-year coach Hunter Jackson wasn't optimistic about his team's chances before it played undefeated Madison Southern and star running back Damien Harris last week. "To be honest, like most everybody else we expected it to be one-sided," Jackson said, noting his Cardinals were coming off a 63-0 loss to Corbin. But South Laurel, led by senior quarterback John Jenkins, led the Eagles until the last second before losing 54-51. Jenkins, who threw for 347 yards and four TDs in South Laurel's first four games, threw for 403 yards and five TDs against Madison Southern. "John obviously had a great game," Jackson said. "The offensive line protected him and the receivers ran great routes." Jackson said Jenkins has all the tools to be a top-notch QB. "He has the arm strength, the accuracy, the decision-making and the athleticism. It's just a matter of confidence." Jenkins is under the tutelage of offensive coordinator Ricky Bowling, a former South Laurel star who shares the state record for career TD passes (133) with Tim Couch. As well as the Cards played offensively against Madison Southern, they couldn't stop Harris. He rushed for 353 yards and seven TDs, including the game winner as time expired. "He deserves all the praise he gets," Jackson said of Harris. Coming so close to a big upset was a boost to South Laurel's confidence. Jackson hopes they can build on it. "We don't want the highlight of our season to be almost beating Madison Southern and Damien Harris," he said.
Harris has 117 career TDs, second-most in state history. Domonique Hayden of Lexington Christian Academy holds the record with 138. Harris has 109 rushing TDs. The record, held by Hayden, is 120. Harris pushed his career rushing yards to 6,552, 16th on the state record list.
■ McCracken County Coach Jack Haskins collapsed on the sideline during the Mustangs' 72-27 rout of Fort Campbell on Friday night. Haskins was taken to a hospital, underwent tests and was released Sunday. High blood pressure was reportedly the cause. Haskins was at practice on Monday. Sophomore Cash Jones, who has taken the quarterback reins for McCracken County, threw six TD passes against Fort Campbell. Junior star Zy'Aire Hughes, who has committed to UK, has played multiple positions for the Mustangs. He's thrown for 761 yards and six TDs, run for 324 yards and six TDs, and has 24 receptions for 368 yards and four TDs.
■ Raceland raised a few eyebrows with its 47-14 win over previously unbeaten Lawrence County. The Rams forced seven turnovers. Josh Young had two interceptions, and Kyle Jamison two fumble recoveries.
■ Knox Central had three 100-yard rushers — Andrew Johnson (118), Donovan Arthur (105) and Jacob Mills (101) — in a 33-28 win over Whitley County.
■ Ashland Blazer also had three 100-yard rushers — Quinton Baker (173), Hunter Prince (115) and Jake Long (125) — in a 42-22 victory over Rowan County.
■ Caldwell County's Elijah Sindelar completed 20 of 24 passes for 347 yards and five TDs in a 55-18 win over Ballard Memorial. Sindelar's 124 career TD passes are fourth-most in state history. His 10,953 passing yards also rank fourth all-time.
■ This week in high school football in 2004: Pendleton County forced 11 turnovers (eight interceptions, three fumbles) in a 97-0 leveling of Letcher. ... Lexington Christian beat Berea 71-6 as Garrie Krueger passed for 186 yards and three TDs, and ran for 143 yards and two TDs. ... Boyle County's Brandon Smith threw for 269 yards and three TDs and rushed for 68 yards in a 45-13 win over Southwestern.
■ Jack Hicks was a baseball guy through and through, and his coaching success proved it. Mr. Hicks, who died this week at age 88, guided Owensboro to four state titles and four runner-up finishes in 22 years. He had an overall record of 606-196. He also coached Owensboro's American Legion team to 10 state titles. A little-known fact: Jack Hicks was Wendell Ford's first campaign manager. In the early 1950s, Ford sponsored Hicks' membership in the Owensboro Jaycees, then asked Hicks to manage his run for president of the National Jaycees. Ford won, and used that as a stepping stone to International Jaycees president, U.S. Senator and Kentucky governor. Jack Hicks knew how to win.
■ Haven Buckner is the first girls' lacrosse player at Tates Creek to sign to play on the college level. She's headed to Asbury University.
■ St. Xavier certified itself as the No. 1 golf team in the state with an impressive victory in the 6th Region Tournament. Led by medalist Allen Hamilton's 6-under par 66, the Tigers were 12-under as a team at Nevel Meade and won by 18 shots over Trinity. Matt Liston shot a 68 for St. X, Michael Sass a 69 and Billy Basham a 73. The Tigers will be favored in the Leachman/KHSAA State Tournament at Bowling Green Country Club next weekend. St. X is coached by Tates Creek grad Daniel Utley, who played college golf at Louisville and won the State Amateur in 1994. The girls' state tournament is Tuesday and Wednesday in Bowling Green. Three-time defending champion Sacred Heart, led by Maddie Hamilton and Meredith Moir, will be among the favorites again.
■ Andy Green, a former Lexington Christian Academy and UK standout, was interviewed for the Arizona Diamondbacks managerial job this week. Green had a remarkable career at LCA. He won the Tommy Bell Award in 1996 as the outstanding high school student-athlete in Fayette County. He was senior class president and valedictorian. In baseball he set school records for batting average, RBI, runs, stolen bases and on-base percentage. In basketball he set school records for points, assists, steals, three-pointers and games played. In soccer, he was two-time all-district. At UK, Green broke five school records in baseball, and as a senior batted .368.