High School Sports

Mike Fields' notebook: Highlands, Trinity are state finals fixtures

Mr. Football candidate Lamar Dawson (5) has helped Boyle County reach the Class 4A state championship game.
Mr. Football candidate Lamar Dawson (5) has helped Boyle County reach the Class 4A state championship game. Mark Cornelison

An all-football notebook as six state champions are crowned in Bowling Green this weekend:

■ It's hard to wrap your brain around just how dominant Highlands and Trinity have been in football. Each program will be seeking its 20th state title on Saturday, but here's a more fascinating fact: Highlands and/or Trinity have taken part in 39 of 52 championship weekends since the playoffs were created in 1959. You have to go back to 1993 to find the last time neither of them made it to a title game. Highlands is 19-5 in the finals. Trinity is 19-4.

■ You don't think coaching a football powerhouse is a year-round job? Highlands Coach Dale Mueller was asked how long it was after last year's championship victory over John Hardin before he started thinking ahead to next season. "I took a complete break until we got on the bus and headed back home," he said. "We talked pretty much non-stop about what we were going to do in January and February, about spring football, about personnel ... what guys we could possibly move from one position to another."

■ If Highlands beats Christian County, Dale Mueller will be the first football coach in Kentucky to win nine titles. He's currently tied with Mike Yeagle, who won eight at Beechwood. Trinity's Bob Beatty is closing fast on the leaders. He's won seven since 2001. Mueller sounds like a guy who's going to stick around for a while: "People sometimes ask about getting burned out. I don't understand that. Everybody volunteers to coach youth leagues, and I've done that. This is one coaching job I get paid to do, and I love it."

■ Larry French has done a lot of winning in recent years. He's 42-1 in three seasons at Boyle County. Before taking over the Rebels he was 21-5 his last two years at Lincoln County. That's 63 wins since 2006. Only Bob Beatty of Trinity and Dale Mueller of Highlands have more, with 64 apiece. French is looking ahead, not behind, however. "You're always hungry," he said. "You're never satisfied with what you did in the past; it's what's taking place right now that's important."

■ Boyle County linebacker Lamar Dawson began the year as the front-runner for Mr. Football. As the season comes to a close he still looks like the leader. "This is one more opportunity for us to showcase Lamar," Larry French said. "He's a team player and not worried about individual stuff, but people can see the talent he has." Dawson, who has 158 solo tackles and 926 yards and 15 TDs rushing and receiving, is considering UK, Louisville, Tennessee, Florida, Michigan, Oregon and Southern Cal.

■ Of the 24 players who've been chosen Mr. Football, 18 made it to the state finals as seniors. The exceptions: Calloway County's Pookie Jones (1989), Evarts' Scott Russell (1991), Leslie County's Tim Couch (1995), Hopkinsville's Curtis Pulley (2004), Fort Campbell's Micah Johnson (2005) and Male's Douglas Beaumont (2006).

■ Central Coach Ty Scroggins thinks his junior star Anthony Wales will be a Mr. Football candidate next year. Wales is compiling impressive credentials. He's rushed for 5,100 yards and 73 TDs in three years.

■ Central followed a familiar script by playing (and losing to) several 6A teams in the regular season. The Yellowjackets did the same thing on their way to state titles in 2007 and '08. This year they lost to Seneca, Ballard, Male, Manual, St. Xavier and Pleasure Ridge Park. But here they are, 8-6 and looking for a third 3A title in four years. Ty Scroggins had to work to keep his team on course this year, though, because he had only eight seniors who'd been through the grind before. "Once we got to the sixth loss, we started losing a few kids mentally," Scroggins said. "We had to get them back, telling them we were headed down the backstretch." Scroggins overcame a health issue early in the season, too. He missed two games because an abscess behind his tonsils was shutting off his windpipe. "Kind of scary," he said.

■ Boyle County sophomore kicker Will Harris has made a state-record 83 consecutive extra points. That's an impressive streak. The NFL record, however, is simply mind-boggling. Matt Stover, who played most of his career for Baltimore, made 469 consecutive PATs over 12 seasons.

■ Manual Coach Oliver Lucas has an informed opinion on the state finals. His Crimsons lost to Trinity twice (regular season and playoffs), and to Highlands. Manual beat Male and Central. Lucas thinks Central will beat Belfry because the Yellowjackets were toughened up by their schedule. "By the time the district came around, they were ready to roll." Lucas picks Highlands to beat Christian County. "I think they'll continue their winning ways because they're too stubborn to know anything different," he said with a laugh. Lucas is pulling for Male because it's in the same district as Manual, and "because it'd be nice to see somebody (besides Trinity) dance with the queen. But you have to go with Trinity. They're talented and well-coached, and they've got history on their side."

■ Johnson Central Coach Jim Matney got an up-close look at three finalists. The Golden Eagles lost to Boyle County to start the season, and fell to Highlands in the playoffs to end the season. Midway through they beat Belfry. "All are very talented, and all have very good coaches," Matney said. "Highlands is more diversified offensively, but they're all predominately run teams, too." History shows that when the weather turns cold, teams with strong running games have an edge on teams that throw the ball a lot. As an example, Matney cited the Highlands-Leslie County showdowns in 1995. When they met in the season opener in August, Tim Couch's passing led Leslie County to a 44-42 victory. When they met in the semifinals in November, Highlands prevailed 47-12 as Justin Frisk ran for 303 yards and four TDs. "A (38-point) swing from warm weather to the cold," Matney said.

■ Coaching Belfry to the finals is nothing new for Philip Haywood, whose 337 career victories include state titles in 2003 and '04, and second-place finishes in 1985, '86 and 2007. But Belfry's run to the finals this year is special because it wasn't expected. "We've surprised most of the people in our area, especially in our community," Haywood said. "This one is kind of special in that we fooled a lot of people." With a relatively inexperienced team at the start of the season, Haywood had to be as much a psychologist as a coach to his players. "We told them they may get popped playing a tough schedule, but if they'd just hang in there, we would get better and could really take off once the playoffs got here. That's what happened. I think we've gotten better in the playoffs than we did the whole regular season."

■ Hazard Coach Mark Dixon has the Bulldogs in the state finals for the second time in three years. The Dixon name is synonymous with football in Hazard. Dixon played for his uncle Bill Dixon at M.C. Napier. Bill Dixon's son Maurice "Mo" Dixon coached at Hazard, and is now an assistant at North Gwinnett, Ga., under former Lexington Catholic coach Bob Sphire. Bill Dixon is an associate athletic director at Hazard and drives the team bus. He raves about the job his nephew has done with the Bulldogs. "He really knows the kids, really understands them and their personalities. I'm so proud of him." Even though he's been out of coaching for a while, Dixon said he still gets "those stomachaches" before a big game, and he's sure he'll have one before Friday's kickoff.

■ KHSAA commissioner Julian Tackett celebrated a milestone birthday Friday. If you see him at the football championships, ask him if he still remembers the days of leather helmets, The Galloping Ghost, and the advent of the forward pass.

■ Bell County and Boyle County had memorable semifinal showdowns three years in a row, making it a terrific post-season rivalry. Now it's kaput. Realignment will drop Bell County to 3A. That's too bad. Last week's semifinal in Pineville was entertaining even before kickoff. There was heated "conversation" between Bell County and Boyle County administrators about whether Boyle County could videotape the game from atop the press box. Law enforcement officials were called twice to help settle the issue. At the same time, a propane tank caught on fire just outside the end zone where a group of fans had gathered. There was concern the tank might explode, so Boyle County players warming up on that end of the field had to back off. After several tense minutes, somebody used a fire extinguisher to douse the flames.

■ Hopkinsville football coach Dixie Jones resigned. He had a 33-37 record in six seasons. The Tigers were 3-7 this year and missed the playoffs for the first time since 1990.

■ Joshua Broyles of Boyle County, Chris Couch of Bell County and Chance Anthony of Breckinridge County are among 50 national semifinalists for the high school football Rudy Award. You can check out their stories and cast a vote at HighSchoolRudyAwards.com.

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