The football playoffs are down to the final four in each of the six classes. Nineteen of the 24 semifinalists have been to the finals before. The five schools looking to make it to the championship game for the first time: Anderson County, Collins, Covington Holy Cross, Garrard County and Southwestern. At the other extreme, Highlands has been to the finals 25 times and Trinity 24 times, and each has won 20 state titles.
■ Covington Holy Cross got the biggest win in school history by beating defending 2A champ Newport Central Catholic 24-21, avenging a 31-14 loss to the Thoroughbreds a few weeks ago. Kyle Fuller threw for two TDs, ran for a TD and kicked a game-winning 32-yard field goal with 10 seconds left to give the Indians the region title. NewCath beat Holy Cross in 16 of the previous 17 meetings. The Indians' other win came in the 2006 regular season, but NewCath won the rematch in the playoffs that year. Holy Cross Coach Bruce Koserski, a former standout center for the Cincinnati Bengals, said last week's win was the ultimate tribute to John Wysong, who started the Indians' program in 1998. Koserski was Wysong's assistant before taking over as head coach in 2004. Wysong died in 2004, but his spirit lives on. "He's still a huge part of what goes on here," Koserski said. "He lives within these kids' lives, and certainly in the way I approach the game. With all my past football experience, it's crazy, but a lot of it comes back to what he taught me." How would Wysong have reacted to last week's upset of NewCath? "He'd be in his glory, laughing and yukking up a storm," Koserski said.
■ In Rob Lucas' first two years as Somerset coach, the Briar Jumpers didn't lose a game until the playoffs. They fell to to Paducah Tilghman in the 2009 state finals and to Belfry in the 2010 semifinals. Somerset lost four games this regular season (to Breathitt County, Glasgow, Whitley County and Perry Central), but Lucas says his players are better prepared as they take on Covington Holy Cross in the 2A semifinals Friday night. "Those undefeated seasons were nice, and those kids worked really hard to attain those things," Lucas said. "But we know what we've got this year because we've been tested in about every way. We've seen Hazard's strength and speed; Breathitt's physicality; Whitley's man-child running back (Boston Bryant); every athlete imaginable playing Danville, LCA and Glasgow; and West Jessamine had about five or six kids who were special players. I hope all that has prepared us for Holy Cross." Somerset is led by quarterback Alex Lange and receiver Storm Wilson, who've made big plays for the Jumpers all season.
■ John Hardin visits Bowling Green in a battle of unbeatens. "I'm glad we're here. I think we're the two best teams in 5A," Bowling Green Coach Kevin Wallace said. "Both of us are big and physical, both of us have guys who can make big plays, and both of us have guys who run real well. It shapes up as a great game." John Hardin Coach Mark Brown's main concern is containing Bowling Green QB Scooter Hollis, who has 2,300 yards and 30 TDs passing and running. "A dual-threat quarterback makes it so much tougher on your defense," Brown said. John Hardin's Wing-T attack is led by Jeremy Harness, who's rushed for 1,545 yards and 22 TDs. But Bowling Green can't just focus on the run. Bulldogs QB Eli Mitchell has passed for 1,481 yards and 20 TDs. John Hardin beat the Purples 28-21 in the 2009 semifinals. Bowling Green beat the Bulldogs 27-23 in the 2007 quarterfinals.
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■ Anderson County senior Matt Sprague made his first TD reception of the season a memorable one. It came with 43 seconds left against Conner in the 5A quarterfinals last week and tied the game 30-30. Bill Rose's extra-point kick gave the Bearcats their first region title in the program's 63-year history. The late-game drama left Anderson County Coach Mark Peach emotionally drained. "I told the guys they don't have to show character like that every week, that it's OK to take an early lead and never relinquish it," Peach said with a laugh. The Bearcats host Southwestern Friday night. Peach called the Warrriors' Dustin Powell "a fantastic high school running back" and said he's also impressed by versatile threat Alan Williams and lineman Rob Lewis. "All you have to do is put in the tape, and it doesn't take long to see how good Southwestern is," Peach said.
■ Beechwood travels to Mayfield in a showdown of 1A powers. The teams have met three times in the last 10 years, and each time there's been a lot at stake. In 2002, Mayfield beat the Tigers in the state finals. In '09, Beechwood won a semifinal battle on its way to the championship and, last year, Mayfield whipped the Tigers on its way to the title.
■ In 6A, Butler beat Henderson County in overtime last week to win its first region title in 18 years and earn the Bears a shot at Trinity, rated No. 1 in the nation by Sports Illustrated and Rivals.com. "I told the kids, 'Look, this time of year, everybody's great. You didn't think our next game would be easy, did you?' " Bears Coach Scott Carmony said. Butler isn't obsessing over Trinity's supposed invincibility. Carmony said the Bears are "going to worry about us and work all week on blocking, tackling, playing great defense and running the football." Butler is led by fullback/linebacker Alonzo Brock and Kiante Northington, who plays just about everywhere. Butler and Trinity last met in the playoffs in 1993, and the Bears won 21-0.
■ Unbeaten Scott County hosts Boone County in the 6A semifinals, making this the fourth year in a row the Cardinals have still been playing football Thanksgiving week. "When it first happened, we didn't let the kids enjoy it as as much as we should have," Coach Jim McKee said. "Now we try to make it a good time for them." Scott County had a Thanksgiving dinner in the school cafeteria Wednesday night and an open practice for family and fans Thursday morning. "Thanksgiving is the best holiday," McKee said. "It's not commercialized, and I don't have to go out and buy 400 gifts." As for Boone County, McKee expects more of what Scott County has seen out of the Rebels the last several years. "They're always well-coached and physical; they like to run the ball and play good defense," McKee said.
■ Garrard County hosts Belfry in the 3A semifinals in a game of contrasts. The Golden Lions have never been this far in the playoffs. Belfry has been to the state finals seven times and won three titles. In his 37th year as a head coach, Belfry's Philip Haywood has a state-record 349 victories. In his fourth year as a head coach, Garrard County's Mark Scenters has 26 wins.
■ Defending 3A champ Central blanked Bell County 26-0. Anthony Wales was kept in check most of the night, but he broke loose late for a 71-yard TD. He finished with 130 yards to push his career total to 7,909 yards. He is 315 yards behind Derek Homer, who is second on the state career rushing list. Central travels to Fort Campbell for the semifinals.
■ Hazard is in the 1A semifinals for the fifth year in a row under Mark Dixon and has made it to the state finals two of the last three years. It hosts Pikeville Friday night. The Panthers, led by QB Randy Maynard, are trying to reach the state finals for the first time since 1991.
■ Unbeaten Glasgow plays at Murray in the 2A semifinals. Glasgow hasn't been to the finals since it was runner-up to Boyle County in 2000 and 1999. Murray's last championship game was in 1994, when it lost to Beechwood in the 1A finals.
■ Franklin-Simpson, which was bumped from the 4A playoffs the last two years by Lone Oak, beat the Purple Flash 20-7 as cousins Darrius and Jerrell Wickware combined to rush for 304 yards and three TDs. The Wildcats host Collins in the semifinals.
■ Former St. Henry star Jordan Griffin, a walk-on at Coastal Carolina, had eight points in a 71-63 win over Louisiana State last week. Griffin hit a pair of three-pointers in a 21-5 first-half run that helped the Chanticleers to a 34-24 halftime lead.
■ The Fast Lane Classic at Sheldon Clark annually features some of the best basketball teams and players in the state scrimmaging the day after Thanksgiving. This Saturday is no exception. The featured matchup among the eight scrimmages has Trinity, led by highly touted transfer Darryl Hicks and Nathan Dieudonne, going against Bullitt East, led by 6-9 junior Derek Willis. The schedule: Russell vs. Logan (W.Va.), 10:30 a.m.; Bryan Station vs. Betsy Layne, noon; Madison Central vs. Jeffersontown, 1:30; Bullitt East vs. Trinity, 3; Sheldon Clark girls vs. Mingo Central (W.Va.), 4:30; Shelby Valley vs. Mingo Central, 6; Sheldon Clark vs. Buckhorn, 7:30; Perry County Central vs. Rowan County, 9.
■ Lafayette senior pitcher/first baseman Emily Kincaid will play college softball at EKU. She has a career pitching record of 25-9 with a 1.70 ERA, and has a career batting average of .333.