A day after Thanksgiving's smorgasbord, the high school football playoffs offer a semifinals smorgasbord:
Somerset, in its 104th year of football, is still alive in search of its first state title. Collins, in only its third year of existence, is already on the cusp of the finals. Ditto for 5-year-old schools Cooper and Harlan County.
Highlands and Trinity, with 21 state titles apiece, are favored to add to their trophy collections. It's the same-ol', same-ol' with Mayfield vs. Beechwood. Fairview is having a magical season. Hazard is proving its staying power. Lexington Catholic again carries the banner for the state's second-largest city. And Belfry still rules the mountains.
■ Belfry Coach Philip Haywood's first head coaching job was at Prestonsburg in 1975. That was three years before Bourbon County Coach John Hodge was born. Haywood's Belfry Pirates host Hodge's unbeaten Bourbon County Colonels in the 3A semifinals.
Haywood, in his 38th season overall, is the state's all-time winningest coach with 361 victories, including two state titles and five runner-up finishes. Hodge is in his first year as a head coach "If you know anything about football in Kentucky, you know about Coach Haywood and what a fantastic person he is to go along with being an unbelievable coach," Hodge said.
■ Highlands hasn't been shut out in its last 100 games, not since Lexington Catholic blanked the home-standing Bluebirds 17-0 in the 2005 playoffs.
■ Highlands Coach Dale Mueller is so impressed with Lexington Catholic sophomore QB Reese Ryan's strong arm that in practice this week he's had the Bluebirds use a youth-league size football. "We don't have a scout-team quarterback who can throw a regular ball 60 yards down field, so we've been using a smaller ball to simulate how far (Ryan) can throw it," Mueller said.
■ When Fairview returned home after its Class A playoff victory at Pikeville last Friday, the lights were on at the Eagles' stadium and the team was greeted by a big crowd and fireworks. Fairview's first region title in the program's 42-year history was a big deal.
Coach Nathan McPeek said he was worried about his team's post-celebration "psyche," but he's been pleased with his players' attitude as they get ready to host defending Class A state champ Hazard in Friday's semifinals.
■ In this day of pass-happy offenses, some teams still grind out their success. Fairview rushed for 625 yards at Pikeville last week, pushing its season total to more than 5,300 yards. The Eagles have a chance to break the state record of 5,780 rushing yards set by Mercer County's 2006 title team. Fairview has three players — Chris Brewer, Elijah King and Devon Turner — with more than 1,000 yards on the ground.
Harlan County, which hosts Cooper in 5A, has rushed for almost 5,000 yards, led by Jake Middleton's 2,090. And Belfry is Belfry, which means it rarely throws the ball.
■ Scott County practiced on Thanksgiving Day for the first time in 2004 under Jim McKee. "We were just beside ourselves because it was something new," McKee said. Now it's become a tradition. The Cardinals have practiced on Turkey Day five years in a row. After Friday's semifinal at Trinity, Scott County will have been in 20 playoff games since 2008. Figure in all the extra practices and accompanying success, and it's no surprise the Cardinals have become a 6A power. "It's not hard to change the climate of a program, but it takes years to change the climate," McKee said. "I think we've done that in my 16 years here."
■ Newport Central Catholic visits Somerset in the 2A semifinals. These teams have a playoff history. NewCath beat the Briar Jumpers in the semifinals in 1984, 2005 and 2006 on its way to state championships. Somerset's last playoff win over NewCath was in the 1983 semifinals. The Jumpers lost to Fort Knox in the finals.
■ Just like last year, Bowling Green and John Hardin sport 13-0 records going into a Class 5A semifinal showdown. John Hardin hopes to make amends for last year's 62-20 loss to Bowling Green. The turnover-plagued Bulldogs fell behind 34-0 in the first quarter.
John Hardin Coach Mark Brown said he was "really surprised" by his Bulldogs' unbeaten season, considering they had to replace nine of 11 starters on offense and more than half their defense.
John Hardin doesn't have as much speed as last year, but junior QB Patrick Anderson and senior running back Wade Holtsclaw have sparked a formidable offense. Bowling Green had to replace most of its starters, too, but a talented junior class that includes QB Devin Hayes and wide receiver Nacarius Fant has been dazzling.
■ Mayfield and Beechwood, who have 19 state titles between them, clash in the Class A semifinals in northern Kentucky.
This will be the fifth time they've met in the playoffs in the last 10 years. In 2002, Mayfield beat Beechwood in the state finals. In 2009, Beechwood prevailed in the semifinals on its way to the state title. The past two years Mayfield has bested the Tigers in the semifinals. The Cards won the state title in 2010, and were runners-up last year.
■ Franklin County scored 736 points this season, 11th-most in state history. It averaged 56.6 points a game second on the state's all-time list behind Ashland's 59.1 in 1930. Highlands averaged 56.6 last year.
Franklin County was led by Ryan Timmons' 45 TDs and 2,651 all-purpose yards. In the past three years Timmons totaled 6,337 yards and 96 TDs. He scored one out of every three times he touched the ball. QB Logan Woodside, who has commited to Toledo, passed for 5,511 yards and 70 TDs over the past two seasons.
■ Nelson County QB Dylan Beasley threw for 4,522 yards this year, fifth-most in a single season in state history. He had the third-most completions (301) and attempts (476) in state history. Over the past two seasons, Beasley threw for 7,418 yards and 62 TDs.
■ Mike Glaser's 31-year reign as St. Xavier football coach came to an end with the Tigers' 15-14 loss to Trinity last week. Glaser had a career record of 336-78 (fourth-most wins in state history), with seven state titles. He's proof that nice guys can finish first multiple times.
■ Madison Central, the only Kentucky team to beat Trinity in boys' basketball last season, will meet the Shamrocks again in the Fast Lane Tip-Off Classic pre-season scrimmages at Sheldon Clark on Saturday.
The schedule: Henry Clay vs. Johnson Central, noon; Madison Central vs. Trinity, 1:45; Bulitt East vs. Knott Central, 3:30; Sheldon Clark girls vs. Knott Central, 5:15; Tug Valley, W.Va., vs. Shelby Valley, 7; Sheldon Clark vs. Betsy Layne, 8:45.
■ Bullitt East, led by UK signee Derek Willis, has a challenging first week of the basketball season.
The Chargers host Lafayette on Monday, face Henry Clay in the Mr. Basketball Classic at Tates Creek on Thursday, and play defending 2nd Region champ Hopkinsville in the Marshall County Hoopfest Saturday (Dec. 1).
Coach Troy Barr said Bullitt East's schedule is "one of the toughest in the state." It also includes a showdown with Madison Central at Valley on Dec. 15, the King of the Bluegrass the week before Christmas, a tournament in Dallas, Texas, in late December, and a visit to Lexington Catholic in early January.
Besides Willis, Bullitt East returns guards Trey Rakes and Chris Embry, 6-5 Rusty Troutman, and 6-7 Elliott Young, who was a starter last year before a back injury in December sidelined him for the rest of the season.
Coach Troy Barr has a deep bench, too, that includes 6-7 sophomore Tyler Bacon.
■ Ballard, No. 1 in most pre-season boys' basketball ratings, opens at Scott County on Tuesday. Ballard is led by junior guard (and Louisville recruit) Quentin Snider, Lavonne Holland and Kelan Martin. Scott County returns guards Quin Richardson and Trent Gilbert, and has added 6-9 Jordan Tribble, a transfer from Florida. Neil Bunschoten, a 6-10 exchange student from Europe, has yet to be ruled eligible.
■ Sheldon Clark senior point guard Katelyn Newsome signed with Hillsdale College, a Division II school in Michigan. Newsome made the Sweet Sixteen all-tournament team as a sophomore. Also a standout in the classroom, she was a Governor's Scholar this past summer.
■ Tates Creek senior Chandler Morgan will sign to play college golf at Akron. Morgan tied for 15th in the state tournament last month.
■ Allison Leigeb, who helped Henry Clay to a third-place finish in the state golf tournament this year, and eighth place in 2011, signed to play at Northern Kentucky University.
■ Lexington Catholic all-city volleyball player Cody Michaels signed with Quinnipiac University, a Division I school in Connecticut.