Back to the future in Bowling Green: The state football finals, which have been in Louisville since 1979, have relocated in Bowling Green for the next two years. This isn't the first time the championships have been contested at Western Kentucky University's L.T. Smith Stadium. They were also played there in 1975.
For Lone Oak Coach Jack Haskins, whose team faces Boyle County in the Class 4A title game Friday, this is a return trip. He coached Heath to the '75 finals at WKU. "We lost to Ludlow 7-6," Haskins said. "We had a two-point conversion and a touchdown called back."
Haskins, who has been coaching since 1968, is making his sixth trip to the finals. He was as an assistant at Paducah Tilghman when it was state runner-up three years in a row. He also led Lone Oak to the finals in 2007 when it lost to Lexington Catholic. "One of these years, maybe I'll get lucky and win one," he said.
State finals (at WKU's L.T. Smith Stadium)
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CLASS 4A — Boyle County (14-0) vs. Lone Oak (14-0), Noon: Rebels' Rees MacShara is 122 yards shy of rushing for 3,000 this season.
CLASS 2A — Fort Campbell (14-0) vs. DeSales (11-3), 4 p.m.: Antonio Andrews is 28-0 as Fort Campbell's starting QB the last two seasons.
CLASS 5A — Highlands (14-0) vs. John Hardin (14-0), 8 p.m.: Bluebirds, rated No. 6 in nation by USA Today, look for a three-peat.
CLASS 3A — Somerset (14-0) vs. Paducah Tilghman (8-6), Noon: Somerset hopes for its first state title after runner-up finishes in 1988, '83, '81 and '78.
CLASS A — Lexington Christian (13-1) vs. Mayfield (13-1), 4 p.m.: Mayfield is 7-7 in state title games. LCA was runner-up in 2007.
CLASS 6A — St. Xavier (13-1) vs. Trinity (10-4), 8 p.m.: The Shamrocks beat St. X in finals in 2007, '05 and '03.
Breaking down Friday's games
Class 4A: Boyle County vs. Lone Oak
Kickoff: Noon (EST)
Records: Lone Oak 14-0; Boyle County 14-0
Cantrall ratings: Lone Oak 81.3; Boyle County 89.4
History lesson: Boyle County won a state-record five consecutive titles from 1999 to 2003, and was runner-up in '04. Lone Oak is in the finals for the second time in three years.
Measuring stick: Lone Oak's biggest win of the regular season was a 52-49 shootout over Lexington Catholic, which humbled the Purple Flash 49-7 in the 2007 state finals. Coach Jack Haskins scheduled the Knights "to see if we had matured enough and progressed enough to play one of the best programs in the state," he said. "We showed we had."
Lone Oak's leaders: QB Cameron Looper has thrown for 3,168 yards and 36 TDs, and been intercepted only once. Joe Starks, Felix Colon and Matt Starks have combined for 119 catches for almost 2,000 yards and 18 TDs. Lone Oak has a strong running game, led by Matt Starks' 1,034 yards and 20 TDs. "They can really stretch the field," Boyle County Coach Larry French said. "They're going to cause us some problems."
Boyle County's leaders: Rees MacShara has been phenomenal, rushing for 2,878 yards and tallying a school-record 47 TDs. He may be the best cut-back runner in the state. QB Boone Goldsmith has done a solid job directing the Rebels' attack. Lamar Dawson, a junior who has a scholarship offer from UK, is a strong receiver, runner and linebacker. Logan Tritapoe has been a big play maker on both sides of the ball. Grant Aumiller has been sensational on the defensive line.
Key to victory: Lone Oak averages 44.5 points and Boyle County 43, so the team with the better defense will prevail. The Rebels may have an edge, considering they held Bell County to 10 points last week, 32 below its average.
Class 2A: Fort Campbell vs. DeSales
Kickoff: 4 p.m. (EST)
Records: Fort Campbell 14-0; DeSales 11-3.
Cantrall ratings: Fort Campbell 83.3; DeSales 71.0
History lesson: Fort Campbell is two-time defending champ. The Falcons also won state titles in 1976, '78, '79. DeSales was state runner-up in 1981.
Emotionally charged: As we've seen the last two years, Fort Campbell has special motivation — playing for its military family fighting overseas. This week's announcement that many more troops are headed to Afghanistan will only make the Falcons more determined to win another state title.
Fort Campbell's leaders: QB Antonio Andrews leads the team in rushing (1,442 yards, 28 TDs) and passing (1,589 yards, 27 TDs). Troy Turner has run for 1,129 yards and 21 TDs. Tre Powell has 34 catches, 754 yards and 17 TDs. The Falcons lead the state in scoring (50 ppg) and margin of victory (50-8). Their defense, led by Darian Crank and Powell, is athletic and fast, too.
DeSales' leaders: Andrew Beeler has been the Colts' workhorse, rushing for 1,683 yards and 8 TDs, and catching 16 passes for 202 yards and a TD. QB Ryan Johnson has thrown for 956 yards and 13 TDs.
Key to victory: Fort Campbell will have to play a sloppy game for DeSales to have a shot. The Falcons may be the most athletic team in the state, regardless of class.
Class 5A: Highlands vs. John Hardin
Kickoff: 8 p.m. (EST)
Records: Highlands 14-0; John Hardin 14-0
Cantrall ratings: Highlands 93.4; John Hardin 83.9
History lesson: Highlands is going for its 19th state title, third in a row and seventh since 1998. John Hardin is making its first appearance in the finals. Bulldogs Coach Mark Brown won a 4A title at Nelson County in 1996.
Close to the goal: Before the season began Highlands Coach Dale Mueller let himself imagine his team challenging for not only a state title, but a national title. "Is that realistic for a school in Kentucky with 400 boys? I don't know. But if we can go 15-0, we've got a shot," he said in August. One win away from a perfect season, the Bluebirds are No. 6 in USA Today's national ratings, and No. 10 in Rivals' rankings.
Highlands' leaders: Despite missing four games because of injury, Austin Collinsworth leads the Bluebirds in rushing with 1,326 yards and 20 TDs. Sophomore Patrick Towles (grandson of baseball Hall of Famer and U.S. Senator Jim Bunning) took over at QB early in the season and has thrown for 1,122 yards and 10 TDs. Nick Buten leads the team in receiving for the second year in a row. He has 32 catches for 780 yards and 8 TDs. Highlands' swarming defense, led by linebacker Brandon Roller, may be the team's strong suit.
John Hardin's leaders: The Bulldogs' balanced attack features QB Alex Dingle, who's thrown for 2,100 yards and 28 TDs; Landon Savoy and Michael Wright have combined to rush for 2,100 yards and 25 TDs; and Jeremy Harness and Matt Simmons have 68 catches for 1,200 yards and 19 TDs between them. Cornerback Damien Biggs leads the defense.
Key to victory: Despite injuries to key players throughout the season, Highlands has kept on rollin'. It is relatively healthy again, so it's hard to imagine a scenario that would allow John Hardin to pull the upset.