It’s been awhile since this town produced a football team that has gone this deep into November without dropping a game. That’s exactly what the Paris Greyhounds have done this season.
Not bad for a program that five seasons ago lost its school-record 22nd consecutive game, dressed as few as 12 players and was far removed from its three state titles.
Coach Brian Washington, who in 2012 returned for a second stint at the helm after briefly leading the Greyhounds from 2005-06, has Paris out to an 11-0 start and in the region finals for the first time since 1994.
Paris is 46-23 under Washington’s leadership, the only losing season coming in his first year. The school’s record between his two tenures? 6-46.
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Washington, who played at the once-intimidating school from 1987-1990, is excited that the kids playing football there today finally are getting a taste of how things were about a quarter-century ago.
“They’re finally feeling what everybody told them Paris used to be,” Washington said. “These kids weren’t born during those eras when Paris was what Paris is supposed to be.
“They’ve heard all the people put those expectations on them ... they’ve all heard about it but never got to feel it.”
I’ve had this group since they were middle schoolers. So if they decided to fail, I would be the reason for them failing.
Brian Washington, Paris football head coach
Quarterback Aaron Maggard said it’s been great to be part of the resurgence. The sophomore signal caller who splits time with senior Koebe Garrard is humble about his role.
“Our seniors have led us,” Maggard said. “I’m just along for the ride.”
It’s a ride wrought with familial bonds. Maggard’s father, Robert, was a part of state-title runs in 1981 and 1982. This year’s leading receiver, junior Jekobi Wells, is the son of William Wells, who played alongside Washington.
James Clark, a senior running back who has 1,369 yards and 20 TDs this season, broke the school’s record for rushing TDs this season. The person he passed was his father, also named James.
Clark said before the season he set out to claim the record for his own.
“It’s pretty amazing,” he said of realizing that goal.
The elder Clark was also on those Paris teams in the early ’80s and is currently an assistant coach under Washington — his cousin. Assistants Lawayne Edwards and Collier Mathes played with Washington. Mathes’ son, Peyton, is a senior lineman on the team. Assistants Allen Hedges and G. Davis Wilson played at Bourbon County but have long been friends of Washington. The only Greyhounds coach without a “direct” connection to Paris is Dan Prater, who played at Rowan County but whose father attended Paris in the ’70s.
That family atmosphere has seeped into the entirety of the team regardless of blood ties. Washington spoke of this group of seniors — the first class he’s been with for the entirety of high school — like a father reflecting upon a child he’s raised from diapers and sent into the world.
“I’ve had this group since they were middle schoolers,” Washington said. “So if they decided to fail, I would be the reason for them failing. ... That I take a lot of pride in.”
‘The greatest show on Earth’s coming’
The Greyhounds are three wins away from the ultimate goal: a state title. Next up on the schedule is Paintsville, also unblemished. The Tigers bring to town Mr. Football contender Kash Daniel and an offense that’s churned out more than 3,000 rushing yards.
While Paris is by no means overlooking Paintsville, Washington said his players seem more loose this week than when preparing for Fairview. A scheduling quirk — the Greyhounds were the only playoff team to receive a bye in the first round rather than host an overmatched opponent — might have contributed to last week’s tightness in practice.
“We’ve played in round two a lot and just hadn’t got over the hump so it’s almost like that was more the trap game than this game,” Washington said.
46 The number of wins Paris has under Coach Brian Washington (2005-2006; 2012-present). Also the number of losses accrued by Paris in the time between Washington’s tenures (2007-2011).
Paris jumped to a 23-6 lead against Fairview, a start Washington admitted was surprising after the team’s second bye in a three-week span. The lull may have manifested itself late, however — Fairview got to within 31-30 in the third quarter before Paris extended its lead back to 14 points late in the fourth. The Eagles scored with 17 seconds left but failed to recover an onside kick. Paris ended up winning 44-38.
Dealing with that late-game pressure — something the Greyhounds didn’t face too often in the regular season — helped them show what they’re made of, Clark said.
“We’re gonna fight ’til the fourth quarter,” Clark said. “Until zero-zero-zero is on the clock.”
If ratings are any indicator, the Greyhounds will need every bit of fight they have. Of the eight remaining teams in Class A, the Cantrall Ratings have Paris pegged as fifth best. Paintsville (third) is rated 18 points better. Likely semi-state and finals opponents Pikeville and Beechwood are ranked second and first, respectively.
Maggard expects Paintsville to play aggressively and try to impose its will early.
“They’re gonna try and pound us and let Daniel do what he does,” Maggard said, “but we just gotta stop ’em.”
How will they advance to the semifinals for the first time since 1989?
“I guess you’ll have to see.”
Senior linebacker Demond Dorsey, who leads the team with 85 tackles, made a similar statement to anyone out there thinking they should be somewhere else on Friday night.
“7:30, Blanton Collier Stadium,” Dorsey said. “Make sure you’re there.
“The greatest show on Earth’s coming.”
Cantrall Ratings: Class A
1. Beechwood 75.4
2. Pikeville 68.9
3. Paintsville 68.2
4. Russellville 55.3
5. Paris 50.2
6. Hazard 49.3
7. Louisville Holy Cross 44.7
8. Bethlehem 40.4
Paris in state championship games
1973: Defeated Elkhorn City 21-12
1981: Defeated Bellevue 19-7
1982: Defeated Cumberland 35-6
1984: Lost to Beechwood 35-26
Paintsville at Paris
What: Class A, Region 3 championship
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Blanton Collier Stadium, Paris
Series: Paris leads 10-2 (first postseason meeting)
Records: Paintsville 12-0; Paris 11-0
Paris under Brian Washington
Paris between Washington’s stints